Rainbow colored artwork of a young boy looking up. There are rainbow colored flowers on each side of the piece.
Artwork shown at Rwanda Cultural Night held at the Joe Crowley Student Union on Wednesday, Feb. 26. Emilie Rodriguez/Nevada Sagebrush.

Rwanda: a beautiful country with a rich and colorful culture, which many had the chance to experience at the Rwanda Cultural Night hosted by UNR on Wednesday, Feb. 26. 

Music overtook the first floor of the Joe Crowley Student Union as Niyonsenga Pacifique, a local resident of Kigali, surprised the audience with a traditional warrior dance. With a long blonde headpiece, spear, shield, colorful skirt and bells tied to his lower legs, Pacifique shocked the audience with his menacing gaze and powerful movements. 

The warrior dance consists of particular steps, posture and costume. The movements of the body are elegant yet abrupt and sharp to make the dance menacing. The head, shoulders and arms are held in a specific manner to evoke fear in the enemy.

While the dance was mesmerizing, it was just one of many elements at the cultural night. Members of Pacifique’s team, as well as other UNR students, helped put up artwork by local Kigali artists and served a traditional chicken or vegan potato samosa, which is a baked or fried pastry with a savory filling. 

The artwork displayed at the event was for sale to the audience with 60 percent of the profits going toward the artist and 40 percent going towards Pacifique’s non-profit, the Niyo Foundation.  

The Niyo Foundation has dedicated its efforts to supporting street children and single mothers living in poverty in Kigali. The organization uses artistic gifts like cultural dances and artwork to provide education, food, shelter and health care for the children. 

The Niyo Foundation, while fundraising in Kigali, also pairs up with other outside outreaches. 

“When I do these visits, it’s to raise awareness and to fundraise,” said Pacifique. 

Pacifique’s organization aligns with a UNR group who works together in bringing awareness about the foundation, as well as the cultural centre for children.  

The Niyo Foundation uses the Niyo Cultural Centre to help children and families reach their fullest potential. Children attend the centre three times a week and learn various artforms, such as dance, music and painting. 

While the children don’t get paid for their performances, the organization relies on donations and funds from selling the artwork to keep the centre going. 

While the organization’s main focus is on the children, it also has a women’s program. In this program, the women of Kigali learn to use sewing machines to create clothing and crafts. This program aids women in being financially independent. The program supports a total of 24 women and hopes to grow. 

In learning new skills, women can provide for their families as well as their children who may be attending the Niyo Cultural Centre. 

  The Niyo Foundation also has three separate projects: Art Therapy, Support of Albinism and the after school project which helps individuals in a variety of ways. Art Therapy consists of therapeutic painting and African dance classes. In this one hour class, children drum, dance or paint. In 2018, the organization completed 40 classes.  

The Albinism support project is mainly in the Gisenyi Western Province of Kigali. Albinos are a minority population and face a lot of dicrimination. This discrimination can result in people not finding jobs, prohibiting them from buying necessities such as food or sunscreen, which is essential in protecting the skin from the sun. The Niyo Foundation raises awareness about Albinism and provides sunscreen for people through the project.

The after school project teaches Kigali youth Rwandan heritage and culture through the arts. The art is also sold through the Niyo Art Gallery, which Pacifique started in 2015.  

While the night touched on Rwandan culture, it also gave great insight to the care and aid the Niyo Foundation is giving to the children in Kigali. 

While the event spread awareness, it also gave students of UNR and community members a look inside the Rwandan way of life. 

More information about the Niyo Foundation can be found here https://niyofoundation.org/ 

Emilie Rodriguez can be reached at ryleejackson@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.