Social Therapy re-unites families in rural Rwanda

Social Therapy is playing a great role in reuniting several families in Gicumbi District (Northern Province) and thousands of residents are embracing it. Social therapy is a traditional and community-based counseling procedure where people suffering from personality disorders mostly caused by a history of violence are treated.
Members of the Social Therapy groups in Gicumbi district are re-uniting with their families. (Courtesy Photo)
Members of the Social Therapy groups in Gicumbi district are re-uniting with their families. (Courtesy Photo)

Social Therapy is playing a great role in reuniting several families in Gicumbi District (Northern Province) and thousands of residents are embracing it.

Social therapy is a traditional and community-based counseling procedure where people suffering from personality disorders mostly caused by a history of violence are treated.

The programme was started by Bishop Emmanuel Ngendahayo of Byumba Diocese, an idea he said he got from his childhood.

Ngendahayo says in the ancient days, the people of Rwanda used to live in harmony and helped each other in several duties and culturally solved the conflicts within their families and neighbourhoods.

“In the 1980’s, I thought of how I would help people with such terrible situations, this prompted me to become a Pastor because I thought it was the best career to deal with such cases,” he says.

Ngendahayo furthered his studies in Theology Counseling to equip himself with the necessary knowledge required to handle problem solving issues.

This was prompted by the increasing numbers of people who came to him for counseling—over 17 people at a go—this got too complicated for him to handle. He wanted to find a tool that would reach out to all Rwandans.

“These problems are created by people themselves and therefore they should be the ones to solve them,” Ngendahayo says.

He later advanced this problem solving technique to a team based approach, but unfortunately he had no financial means to train the support team that would help him facilitate these sessions.

“Lucky enough, I met some Dutch people who were curious to know what was being done in the country to help Genocide victims.

We introduced this idea to them and they got us the sponsors of this programme from Holland,” Ngendahayo said.

Currently, there are 600 social groups each having 10 to15 participants with at least two well trained facilitators.

A total of 7,545 residents have benefited from the programme. These counseling groups are set according to the status of participants namely; the youth and married groups.

Some income generating projects have been established to support the participants who are affected by poverty.

Francois Mukakarangwa, a facilitator of one group said some residents who are afflicted and living in self-denial of their situation are taught to have a hope and change their mindset toward for the better.

“We handle each individual’s case through interactions where we get ideas from every participant,” says Mukakarangwa.

“We normally meet women who are abused by their drunkard husbands because they are living in denial of their poverty; we have seen several of them getting re-united and living happily,” Mukakarangwa said. 

Jacqueline Bazabagira, a mother of three is a participant in the Social Therapy group facilitated by Mukakarangwa. Previously, her husband battered her every time he got drunk but after the therapy, they live together in harmony.

“From my social group, I learnt how to handle my husband especially when he is drunk. I learnt to not exchange any words with him that made him hostile,” Bazabagira says.

Another member, Olive Nkundizanyu, a mother of two, who once divorced her husband says they are now having a happy marriage after counseling from the Social Therapy groups.

“The members helped me to reconcile with my husband, he was a womanizer but now he behaves like a new creature,” says Nkundizanyu.

Emmanuel Mutabazi, a youth said: “I saw my friends benefiting in these social groups, some of them were drug addicts and I now see them running income generating projects. This prompted me to become a member.”

Hennry Slegh, a psychotherapist, who is currently training the social group facilitators, is impressed by how Rwandans are passionately responding to Social Therapy.

“This shows how Rwandans are motivated to build their country, because if you see all facilitators who are not paid for this work and keep on doing it, it’s incredible,” says Slegh.  

Therese Mujawamariya, the Vice Mayor in charge of Social Affairs in Gicumbi District, says her district is now relieved of social cases that used to be reported before.

“We no longer face several cases of home violence and other complicated issues and this has been attributed to the Social Therapy programme,” Mujawamariya says.

However, Ngendahayo emphasizes that in order for the programme to reach all Rwandans especially those living in rural areas, the promotion of consistent, managed interactions between staff and patients is necessary. This is a challenging step since the contract of the current sponsors—Cordait based in Holland, is nearing an end.

“This programme is not working well in other regions because of financial constraints,” he says, “more financial support is needed to advance the programme.”

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