Newswise — The Anne Frank Project (AFP), a social justice initiative of SUNY Buffalo State, has taken the maxim “Think globally, act locally” to heart.

AFP’s annual three-day conference that uses multiple disciplines to tackle difficult issues such as intolerance, genocide, and bullying and attracts thousands of visitors to campus, has garnered the attention of educational leaders in Rwanda. They want Buffalo State to bring its AFP storytelling curriculum into their country’s public school classrooms.

“After rebuilding the country following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda adopted some Western practices for education — the good and the bad,” said AFP Director and theater professor Drew Kahn. “We want to help them avoid our mistakes, such as solely depending on ‘chalk talk,’ where a teacher stands at the front of the classroom delivering one-sided knowledge with no student interaction.”

Kahn, along with Buffalo State School of Education faculty members and about a dozen students, will travel to Rwanda in January to introduce an interactive curricular model developed through AFP into classrooms in the district of Gasabo. “While current education trends may provide knowledge of how systems operate, they do not always teach tangible tools for navigating the complexities of students’ lives. Our drama-based curriculum offers students the vocabulary to tell their stories; thus they become advocates instead of bystanders in their lives and communities,” Kahn said.

“Through storytelling, children can develop conflict resolution, community-building, and the ability to synthesize their country’s history. It’s crucial for Rwanda’s success for the next generation to be able to tell the country’s history and understand it.”

The Anne Frank Project grew out of a 2006 theater department production of The Diary of Anne Frank that wove in a storyline about a Rwandan girl mirroring Anne Frank’s life. That play bloomed into an annual conference in which actors, poets, visual artists, musicians, activists, and genocide survivors deliver compelling presentations on different aspects of social justice that follow a theme. This year “Change Through Stories,” will take place September 8-10 throughout the Buffalo State campus.

Already, the message of Anne Frank has been traveling the world.

Since 2011, Kahn has taken a group of students for two-week educational trips in January to the Rwanda capital city of Kigali, where they visit genocide memorials, refugee camps, schools, and orphanages, as well as collaborate on theatrical productions with Rwandan college students.

That effort, coupled with a growing AFP educational outreach project in Western New York, attracted the attention of the nonprofit Global Engagement Institute, which handles short-term, high-impact projects in developing countries including Rwanda. Executive Director Michael Grosspietsch asked Kahn for help in developing hands-on, experimental learning.

Over the summer, Kahn met with stakeholders in Rwanda, including officials from the Rwanda government and the National University of Rwanda. The first phase of the AFP educational program will begin in January 2015. For three weeks, 15 Buffalo State faculty members and students in theater and education will work with primary and secondary school teachers to develop storytelling curriculum.

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