Trauma: How can teachers help?

April 7 marked the beginning of the 24th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. During this time, Rwandans mourn and pay tribute to the victims of the Genocide during which over one million innocent people were mercilessly slaughtered. 

People – young and old – were affected by the brutal events that took place in the country 24 years ago and, as a result, many remain traumatised.

It is, therefore, not rare to find students who ‘dodge’ school because of the trauma; it is also possible that if they do make it to class, they are unable to concentrate, hence affecting their performance.

A report published by Rwanda Biomedical Centre in 2009 indicates that a third of the youth aged 14 to 35 suffer from trauma connected to the tragic events.

Yvonne Kayiteshonga, the head of the Mental Division at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, argues that children who suffer from ‘inherited’ trauma may have kept distressing memories and images, which can be triggered in the mourning period.

She says that students who suffered early childhood trauma have a lot to deal with; for example, they sometimes have difficulty in learning or show poor developmentskills. They could be moody or unfriendly, lack confidence, and havepoor communication skills or a poor appetite, to mention a few.

University of Rwanda’s psychology professor Vincent Sezibeera says that students with signs of trauma and other forms of depression sometimes show signs of change in character and that teachers should take note of these changes.

Sezibeera adds that students should be kept from stressful settings.

Edward Gasana, the head teacher of Alliance High School, says that though many remember the horrific ordeal, some were too young to remember, and most likely ‘inherited the trauma from people around them.’

Fred Mushabe, a teacher at ESA Nyarugunga, says that helping students who suffer from distress first and foremost starts with parents or guardians. Care for them, show them love and support and that it’s okay to grieve their loved ones. Grieve with them. Re-assure them – that the future is bright if they persevere and work hard.

Sandra Umutoni, a student at Kagarama Secondary School, says school is a second home for students, therefore, administrators, school counsellors and teachers should make it a priority to create a safe and soothing environment.

Valentin Inyamibwa, a student at Ecole Secondaire de Ruhango, says that some students suffer with distress but cannot identify it. However, with keen interest from teachers, it can be detected by monitoring behaviour and performance.


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