Rwanda: caring for the traumatised during the mourning period

Individuals can suffer trauma in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Trauma sufferers may themselves have seen their homes or communities destroyed and or victims of physical abuse such as rape, torture, and other violence. Trauma can also be induced by serious threat and harm to loved ones.

Individuals can suffer trauma in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. Trauma sufferers may themselves have seen their homes or communities destroyed and or victims of physical abuse such as rape, torture, and other violence. Trauma can also be induced by serious threat and harm to loved ones.

Individuals are often unable to cope with these extreme events, consequently inhibiting both their ability to carry on with life and to function in society.

Trauma can have a range of different cognitive, emotional, physical, and behavioral effects on individuals. Cognitive responses include memory difficulties, lack of concentration, poor judgment, inability to discriminate, and inability to make choices.

Emotional responses include depression, withdrawal, excitability, flashbacks, intense fear, feelings of helplessness, loss of control, loss of connection and meaning, generalized anxiety, and specific fears.

Physical responses include stomach pains, tightness of the chest, headaches, perspiration, and psychosomatic complaints. Behavioral responses include irritability, startling easily, hyper-alertness, insomnia, communication difficulties, and drug, cigarette, or alcohol abuse.

The 1994 horrific genocide in Rwanda was extremely difficult for survivors to overcome. A new word entered the Rwandan vocabulary in 1994, known as Ihahamuka which refers to a variety of psychological manifestations thought to originate from the genocide.

The word results from the coining of two words: ibihaha (lungs, respiration) and muka meaning without 1994 Victims suffered not only from post traumatic stress disorder, but also from chronic traumatic grief. The latter was widespread a year after the genocide.

Because many of the survivours did not have a chance to bury their relatives or perform mourning ceremonies, and nearly as many had not yet seen the remains of loved ones, the bereavement process has not been allowed to take its natural course.

The importance of tailoring healing techniques to local conditions is exemplified by the work done in Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide.

Lectures have continually been conducted to help victims understand why the genocide occurred, what effects these types of experiences can have on individuals and communities, and how healing can be achieved.

A series of radio and television programs have been produced and broadcast around the country to help people understand and deal with their feelings.

Such national programs that were set by the Rwandan government as measures to overcome trauma and its effects are essential for our community.

It is also worth to notice that trauma has a dramatic influence on communities. For example, when trauma becomes prevalent, society can lose the sense of trust.

Trauma also has a way of spiraling out of control. Human rights violations create massive trauma, which can in turn fuel additional human rights violations and so on.

Feelings of trauma can generate feelings of frustration and revenge that can produce a cycle of violence and also perpetuate feelings of victim hood on all sides of the conflict.

Unresolved trauma can also be transmitted across generations. There fore trauma induced social divisions can form the basis of historical myths that can come to be a central part of group identity.

Those who have experienced hardship and suffering often experience lasting trauma from the experience. Traumatic events can fundamentally change not only victims’ way of life, but also their psychological nature and outlook.

This is equally true for natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods as it is for man made catastrophes of genocide, terrorism and war.

Man made trauma is often more difficult to deal with, because frequently the perpetrators still live in close proximity to victims and thereby providing constant reminders of the past as well as the threat of further incidents.

Even if the immediate source of the trauma is removed, time does not necessarily heal all wounds. The survivour may continue to suffer and frozen with time.

With conflict remaining an unfortunately common reality for many, techniques have emerged to help trauma victims interpret and heal from their experience.

Healing can prevent future violence and facilitate reconciliation. There is no doubt that reconciliation is necessary if Rwandan people are to live together peacefully.

By reconciliation, we mean coming to accept one another and developing mutual trust and this requires forgiving. Reconciliation requires that victims and perpetrators come to accept the past and not see it as defining the future.

The ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter loudly yet if uttered, becomes solved more easily than when kept silent.

Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.

Trauma should always be actively confronted if it is to be cured forever. Psychological restoration and healing can only occur through providing the space for survivours to feel heard and for every detail of the traumatic event to be experienced more often in a safe environment.

However, trauma healing often requires long term support, and truth commissions alone cannot provide this. Therefore, immediate, intermediate, and long term support, including peer support especially for traumatic event survivours that foster connection is essential to the healing process.

Also on the social aspect, we should Create trauma informed disaster response and consider certain protocols that can be used for short and long term needs that helps to re-traumatize people and their families.

This also helps to improve the community conscious on trauma. Community focus and peer support interventions are important before one consider clinical treatment of trauma.


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