Skip to main content

Mapping memories

Participatory media project moves from production to classroom.
October 5, 2011
By Karen Herland

Leontine Uwababyeyi is the only member of her family to escape the violence in Rwanda. Now in Montreal, she tells her story in classrooms giving local teenagers a concrete way to understand issues like cultural identity, migration and resilience.

She has been working with Concordia communication studies professor Liz Miller and a team of young refugees, students, educators, researchers and community organizers on Mapping Memories. This research/creation project helps young refugees articulate their experiences, primarily through digital media, and share them with their peers in Montreal.

Liz Miller (left) and Leontine Uwababyeyi during a bus tour organized in 2010 as part of the Mapping Memories project. | Photo courtesy of Liz Miller
Liz Miller (left) and Leontine Uwababyeyi during a bus tour organized in 2010 as part of the Mapping Memories project. | Photo courtesy of Liz Miller

During the last four years, Miller has built a network of contacts and partnerships in youth centres and refugee organizations that has led to media projects, ranging from photo exhibits to short documentaries, a bus tour and a music video.

Now, Miller and co-editor, Michele Luchs, coordinator of English-language arts programs for Quebec’s Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport, along with the youth participants, are launching the Mapping Memories training kit for educators that includes a workbook, DVD, website and speakers program.

“This is a resource for teachers who want to bring complicated issues into the classroom,” says Miller. “These stories can expand the notion of Canadian history, and help develop a richer, more inclusive cultural memory.” The training kit will be launched at Concordia.

When: Wednesday, October 12 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Room EV 11-725 (11th floor), Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (1515 Ste-Catherine St. W., Montreal).

“The book is our legacy after four years and 11 projects, leaving us with four documentaries, 16 digital projects and one music video,” says Miller of the Mapping Memories training kit. “It can be used to show the work in classes to sensitize young people about genocide and human rights abuses.”

Educators using the materials will find educational exercises on everything from how to talk about difficult issues in the classroom to drawing parallels between stories shared by the refugee youth and students’ own experiences. “We did not want to provide a checklist or template, instead, we offer questions to think about along the way, and examples.”

Throughout the project, the young refugees involved received training on everything from how to handle a video camera to how to handle the press. Miller stresses the importance of bringing Uwababyeyi, and the others, into classrooms. “The peer-to-peer element is critical,” says Miller. “I also want the young people involved in the project to have ‘speaking tour’ on their résumés.”

Although Uwababyeyi has become more comfortable talking about the violence and loss she experienced along her path from Rwanda to Montreal, finding herself in front of a room of students still brought surprises.

“They really followed every step of my story,” she recalls. “They kept asking me what the difference between Hutu and Tutsi is. I didn’t want to say something that would give them the wrong impression,” she said, acknowledging her own power to create or challenge stereotypes.

Miller hopes teachers will use the materials to help students learn their own family stories. She and Luchs are also developing training for teachers who work with students aged 13 to 17.

Teachers who attend the launch can get the book and DVD for free. Any donations will be used for a scholarship fund for the refugee youth who participated in Mapping Memories.

The participatory media project was developed through a research/creation project, Mapping Memories and the Life Stories Project, a five-year Community-University Research Alliances project based in Concordia’s Department of History through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Additional support was offered by the Canadian Council for Refugees and community partners.

Related links:

•  Mapping Memories
•  CURA Oral History Project: Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide and other Human Rights Violations
•  Concordia’s Department of History
•  Canadian Council for Refugees 


Back to top

© Concordia University