Interviewed at the Ohio State Fair by Sandra Grady
30 July 2011

Rwandan Women in Action (RWIA) is a Columbus-based organization founded to empower women from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo through education. It offers training in managing an American home to recently-arrived refugees from the Great Lakes region of central Africa. As part of its work, the organization developed a dance group, which allows the women to engage in familiar cultural activities and provides some therapeutic release to them for the trauma most have endured. In addition to its therapeutic value, dance has allowed RWIA to perform traditional dance to raise awareness of this refugee community in central Ohio. RWIA hopes to offer traditional dance classes to the greater Columbus community as a money raising venture for the organization, and because traditional dance offers great opportunity to exercise and break down barriers between groups.

RWIA was co-founded by Norah Bagirinka and Tatiana Adams. Both have settled in Columbus, where the population of refugees from the Great Lakes area is smaller than in other areas of Ohio, but is ethnically mixed with both Hutu and Tutsi people. Their goal was to create greater unity between the two ethnic groups since most of the refugees here have the same needs in resettlement: instruction in English, and help navigating a new way of life. They started by encouraging craft activities, such as weaving, that bring women together regardless of tribal affiliation. Practicing crafts has promoted healing, and they see dance as having the potential to do the same thing. Their dance groups have performed at various events in Ohio, at Cornfest near the Ohio State University in June 2011, at churches and schools in the greater Columbus area, and at the Midwest Trade Fair. The group has also performed at the Ohio Governor’s Mansion.

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