“I’m going to be like a seed that is planted.”
A participant in a trauma healing workshop in Kirehe
Twenty-three years after the genocide, Rwandan communities are facing new challenges. Our Healing Our Communities program collaborates with three Rwandan partner organizations, each of which brings its own expertise in reconciliation. These partners are weaving their work together into a new, comprehensive approach, with guidance from Karuna Center's Rwanda in-country program manager, Rosette Sebasoni.
April 7 marks the beginning of Kwibuka in Rwanda, an annual 100-day period of national remembrance that commemorates the genocide. Our project has guided community members to become healing companions, who will be new resources on hand to help their neighbors during these 100 days and beyond. Even for young Rwandans who were born after the violence, it is a time when a nation's trauma comes to the surface, to the extent that some people require emergency medical care for post-traumatic stress episodes during memorial events.
“Curing the heart is not something easy.”
A participant in the Muyange dialogue club, who participated in the genocide
In order for the country to heal and progress, it is not only the genocide survivors whose needs must be addressed, but also the former perpetrators and their families. Otherwise, unmet grievances could eventually lead to new cycles of violence. Our program has been working in eight communities that serve as our program hubs throughout Rwanda; this will expand to 16 communities during year two of the program.
Youth volunteerism: helping all neighbors in need
In January, youth volunteers in Kirehe reached out to a 22-year-old woman in their community who had been struggling. Her husband is in prison, and she has no relatives nearby. She does not have her own home, and had been scrounging every day to find food. Her 14-month-old son was so malnourished he could not walk, so she carried him everywhere.
The program's youth volunteers raised enough money to hospitalize her son and plant a vegetable garden for the small family. They continue to raise funds for food or share an extra kilo of something their family has farmed. While the young mother still faces major challenges, her garden is thriving, and when Karuna Center program manager Ginny Morrison visited toward the end of February, her son had begun to walk.
- HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities) has trained 256 people in trauma healing as part of this project—including 32 people now serving as Healing Companions who offer trauma education and support to others throughout the program's eight focus communities. The symptoms and effects of trauma are not widely understood locally in Rwanda. HROC's model is uniquely effective in that it trains survivors and former perpetrators of genocide together, by teaching them about their common experience of psychological trauma—whether it came as a result of surviving mass violence, witnessing it, and/or perpetrating it—and helping participants come together to reconcile and heal.
- Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) has trained 16 community dialogue facilitators (one woman and one man per community) who are now leading biweekly Dialogue Clubs in each of the eight communities. The clubs involve survivors, former perpetrators, and returnees to understand their genocide and post-genocide experiences and to engage in joint problem-solving for their communities. In some locations, Dialogue Club members were keen to learn trauma healing, and they bring that knowledge into the clubs.
- Aegis Trust-Rwanda has mobilized more than a hundred youth and young adults to support the goals of this project. Youth activities currently include documenting reconciliation stories, which will be disseminated nationally through a later stage of our program; and helping to meet community needs identified within the Dialogue Clubs, such as building homes or planting gardens for impoverished neighbors.
Lifting up the stories of reconciliation
Youth in Muyange produced their first video at the end of February. It tells the story of a group of women in their community—wives of survivors, and wives of perpetrators. This wives' group has been meeting together monthly for 10 years to discuss their experiences, overcome their differences, and move forward together. Though the group was originally convened by a priest, the women expanded it, and went on to create a group for their husbands. As prisoners returned after serving genocide-related sentences, the wives' group convinced them to sit down for discussions with survivors, bystanders and rescuers. The reconciliation groups the women started continue to meet, and now number more than 100 people.
Aegis Trust is training youth in digital media production so that they can document stories of genocide rescue and reconciliation. The pieces that youth create will be publicized during our program's national Twubakane Days, where anyone in Rwanda will be able to call in, hear and discuss these stories, and respond with their own stories.
Our team in Rwanda held the program's first "Twubakane Day" events in each of the project's communities. The idea of holding Twubakane Days is a new one, developed by our program team. Twubakane is a kinyarwanda term meaning "let's build one another." On these days, participants in dialogue clubs, trauma healing companions, and youth volunteers all meet together to share about their activities and to be in dialogue with each other about meaningful topics.
At this first Twubakane Day, participants engaged in a first round of intergenerational dialogues. Older community members brought up their frustration with the "idleness" of youth—and youth members, meanwhile, expressed their frustration at the lack of employment opportunities and feeling misunderstood. These dialogues are not only opening up important conversations within communities, but also raising important needs and concerns that we will support communities to advocate through official channels.
During the 100 days of Kwibuka, everyone around the world is invited to leave a message of remembrance or support (http://www.kgm.rw/guestbook-intro/) in the digital guestbook of the Gisozi Genocide Memorial, which was created through a government collaboration with our partner Aegis Trust.
“I didn’t know I had something to contribute to the community, but I learned I do.”
Edison, a Healing Companion in Mbogo