The Center for Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) began as a way to help communities who were severely affected by the Rwandan genocide to heal from trauma. I was thirteen years old during the genocide. I witnessed many people being killed and was forced to flee to a refugee camp. My experiences during the genocide and subsequent war motivated me to become an Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator and to co-create the HROC program to help myself and others heal from trauma and reconcile.
At one of our workshops, we heard from a man (featured in the video above) who had been in jail accused of killing the family of his neighbor, a widow of genocide. When he was released, he was afraid to approach the woman, but through our program, they were able to meet and to find forgiveness. They are now good friends working for peace and reconciliation in their community.
Our workshops have been highly successful for communities affected by the genocide, and we have expanded the program to provide healing for people who suffer from any and all kinds of traumatic events. This includes working with survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and with the Twa, a small minority group in Rwanda who suffer from serious historical trauma. By working with Rwanda’s three ethnic communities (the Hutu, the Tutsi, the Twa), we create a cornerstone for rebuilding interconnectedness and trust in Rwanda.
After we conduct a series of basic workshops in a community, participants often feel the need to engage in a similar type of healing process either for themselves or for family members or friends who did not get to attend. In these cases, the HROC attendees elect trusted members of the community to become Healing Companions. These Companions are trained to listen compassionately and guide people through the personal journey of trauma healing. Healing Companions become integral parts of developing peace and reducing isolation in their specific communities. We hold approximately 15 Healing Companion workshops a year.
Since we believe that trauma healing and peacebuilding are deeply connected, we decided to offer HROC workshops paired with Alternatives to Violence Program (AVP) trainings. AVP began as a highly experimental violence prevention program within the New York prison system in 1975 and was introduced to Rwanda in 2001. AVP’s themes include: seeking that which is good in ourselves and others, cooperation, community-building skills (trust, respect, and inclusiveness), communication skills (deep listening, speaking with clarity and responsibility), and conflict transformation.
In addition to our community-based workshops, we are promoting peace education to establish a future generation guided by values of nonviolence and harmony. We conduct a scholarship program in which we pair youth who were orphaned by the genocide, war, or HIV/AIDS, or who are living in extreme poverty, with sponsors who help cover the cost of education. We also provide these youth with a yearly Peace Retreat that teaches peacebuilding methodology and healing. Our peace library, which opened in April 2012, provides children with books containing messages of nonviolence, fun interactive activities, and peace/peer mediation workshops that focus on tolerance, cooperation, dealing with frustration/anger, and other peace skills.