From April 7 – 13, Rwandans commemorated the 1994 genocide for the sixteenth time, at the lowest administrative unit, Umudugudu, throughout the country.
RTV and Radio deserve a bouquet for their spirited performance. Besides covering commemoration activities in all provinces, experts on trauma healing from various sections of society were featured on TV and Radio to share their views with us. RTV also broadcasted educative documentaries relating to the theme of trauma management/ healing.
One important lesson conveyed by CNLG, church leaders, ministers, genocide survivors, psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors and community leaders was that neighbors of victims of trauma can play a vital role in trauma healing.
It does not require a doctor to treat a person showing symptoms of trauma. Any one could give the necessary support to trauma victims as trauma is not a physiological condition that only requires medication but a psychological state which requires psychological support by a fellow human being.
The Message is: Don’t shun them, they are not mad; take time to listen to them, give them a `shoulder to lean on, talk to them and reassure them that you understand their condition
It is important for Rwandans and residents to know that trauma is natural after such violence as witnessed in 1994.
Research carried out in Rwanda by American psychologists, Professor Ervin Staub and Dr. Laurie Anne Pearlman, in1999 on psychological consequences of conflict, suggest that group violence has profound effects on all parties; victims or survivors, perpetrators and bystanders or witnesses.
The consequences manifest in post-traumatic stress, psychological woundedness and complex, deep changes in the people’s perception of themselves and the world around them.
According to the psychologist post-traumatic stress “includes avoidance of thoughts and feelings about one’s painful experiences, intrusive imagery and nightmares and hypervigilance”.
Hypervigilance includes startle responses (jumpiness) and sleep difficulties. Trauma may lead to observable reactions that include mistrust, fear, avoidance, hostility, aggression and seeing the world as unjust and somatization ( bodily responses such as physical pain without underlying physical illness or injuries).
Through RICH approach, the scholars suggest that trauma healing can be achieved over time through community participation. RICH means promoting (Respect, Information, Connection, Hope) approach as a path to recovering from trauma. This approach blends well with CNLG strategy of tackling the problems of trauma at grass root level.
Testimonies by survivors in their locality during the week illustrated that memory is important in the life of the nation, it demonstrated a sense of collective ownership of the problems, an opportunity to search for solutions and strategy of a better tomorrow for the whole community.
The importance of decent burial of the victims was underscored because it is one way of healing trauma as it enables one to accept that his or her loved one died which is a significant step towards recovery.
Such testimonies certainly encourage neighbors to assist in locating remains of those massacred and to communally arrange `for their decent burial. A Rwandan psychologist suggested that creating a physically, socio –economic secure environment is an important condition in trauma managemen.
This has been collaborated by studies referred to above and indeed, it is the immediate community members that assure one of security. So in addition to offering psychological support, we need to continue looking for ways of empowering survivors.
The government, civil society, private companies and individuals have been commended for their support to survivors, with FARG sponsoring over 5000 at university level, and about 39,000 at other levels currently.
However, from the testimonies, there is need for CNLG to closely follow the inheritance of young survivors especially at this time of land registration. It may not seem important to the youth today but in future it could be a problem.
The call by Minister Joseph Habineza, on the most recent Tuesday Forum, that institutions whether public or otherwise and individuals should endeavor to up lift the welfare of survivors can not be overemphasized.
As I watched the` programme with friends one commented Hon.Habineza had sponsored a student at KIE through a two year course in librarianship, so when he says ; listen to those traumatized , give them psychological support but when necessary help them with house rent, he leads by example.
Habineza observed that the youth demonstrated hope for although they did not participate in past mistakes they are sharing the consequences but with positive values .Judging by their ‘Walk to Remember’ during commemoration week and big numbers of youth who spent nights of vigil at the stadium, the minister expressed optimism as the youth are not compromised by any form of divisionism but united for a better future.
The policy of mobilizing Rwandans to participate in trauma healing, the experience of La Benevolencija , a Dutch NGO, running a reconciliation radio programme Musekeweya on Radio Rwanda could provide framework.
Grass root groups of local change agents have been formed who meet regularly to discuss community concerns including issues of trauma healing.
The change agents are trained and act as lay trauma support persons. They could be used to sensitize their fellow Midigudu dwellers..