Rwandans deal with genocide trauma through education

Psychotherapists have been helping Rwandans to de-traumatise especially after the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. Indeed given the trauma that came with a hundred bloody days that left at least one million Rwandans dead, many needed counseling; victims and perpetrators alike.
Rosine Mukeshimana.
Rosine Mukeshimana.

Psychotherapists have been helping Rwandans to de-traumatise especially after the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. Indeed given the trauma that came with a hundred bloody days that left at least one million Rwandans dead, many needed counseling; victims and perpetrators alike.

Through its many peace and reconciliation programs, the government has helped survivors to receive counseling while being taught to forgive and reconcile even in cases where those who hurt them are not ready to seek forgiveness.

In doing this the government was trying to find healing ways of rebuilding Rwanda’s torn social fabric. Perpetrators or suspects would be kept under close scrutiny and security ensured for the victims; fourteen years down the road, the approach seems to have worked, as peace seems to have been restored in the communities.

However what most counselors (therapists) missed was finding out what the survivors needed most for their full recovery and security for their future lives.

For instance genocide survivors who were still in school at the time found it difficult to forgive and forget and have their wrecked lives focused once again.

Mostly affected are those who had to stop schooling to take up community responsibilities during the post-genocide era and orphans who ended up heading whole households.

Rosine Mukeshimina 34, is one of such genocide survivor. With eighteen orphans under her care, Mukeshimana says she could not find any peace after losing all her relatives and most importantly failing to attain an education, her most cherished dream.

In 1990 while in senior two, due to her ethnicity Mukeshimana was forced to drop main stream education and take up type-writing classes.

“It was not my choice neither was I dull but the government policy was not in favour of my desire,” complains Mukeshimana.

By 1994, Mukeshimana was a young woman of twenty, who had forgotten all about secondary education and ready to live in the world of secretaries; that is if she could ever get a job any where in the country given her ethnicity.

Unfortunately the genocide shattered even the little hope she had in life. She lost all her relatives and remained as the only adult to take care of eighteen orphans who included a two-year old baby.

A resident in the Fund for Genocide Survivors’ (FARG) settlement in Kimironko, and a market vendor Mukeshimana is able to take care of the now secondary school going children, proudly announces that two of them are now married.

Meanwhile, Mukeshimana can now afford a smile after all these years of grumbling about life not because she is a grandmother to some toddlers but a secondary school student in her mid-thirties.

“I had failed to come to terms with life, it was so unfair having had to look after these children, struggle to feed and meet their demands and forget all about my own education. I did not know that God was always by my side and that I would one day find myself in a classroom,” muses Mukeshimana says. She is one of the many survivors who would get traumatized by the mere thought of her future.

In 2006 going back to school was therapy for Mukeshimana a dream come true as she  enrolled in school and waits to sit for her senior six exams next year.

Kamarampaka Adre 22, is another genocide orphan, having been obliged to take care of his only sister, Kamarampaka is studying hard so that he can take good care of the two of them.

“I don’t want to look a destitute before the people who killed my parents. Of course that is what they wished for us,” Kamarampaka stresses.

The evening class students know that with education, they will be able to get good paying jobs and most important pursue carriers that can help them fight for the less privileged people’s rights; if they attain their dream of studying law at university.

The two are among the 70 private candidates sponsored by Christian Initiative of education for sustainable peace and development (CIESPD), which also provides counseling to genocide and HIV victims among other activities.

Having started alternative secondary education in 2003, the project boasts of having had 15 out 0f 20 genocide survivor students complete their secondary education and about 70 others await their senior six certificates through a similar program.

According to Goretti Mukanzigiye, the project coordinator, counseling alone had failed to help the children heading families she had worked with.

“I would take them into other healing programs but on return a few days later I would find them discussing about their dead parents and relatives,” she said.

Mukanzigiye a survivor herself went as far as inquiring what they valued in life that would help them stop mourning the dead when they had a life to live.

“When I demanded the cause of their trauma they said they had nothing to do most of the evenings and every time they gathered the only thing to talk about would be the dead,” she said.

She said that they demanded to go back to school so that they acquire a new focus in life but the problem was the timing since most of them had to fend for their siblings.

Mukanzigiye was left with no alternative but seek for funds and conduct alternative evening classes to satisfy their special needs.

“Their study calendar in made in such a way that during the national mourning period, these students are preparing for exams and cannot get traumatized since they have exams to worry about,” said Mukanzigiye noting that it has been healing enough that they have got some thing to deter their thoughts from their dead relatives.

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