“Now, I am human,” said Komezusense Samuel, a thirty-seven
year old released prisoner from southwestern Rwanda who had attended
a Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop last summer.
We had been traveling around Rwanda for two weeks and were just finishing
up our interviews, when Samuel’s statement filled the room with
a tender stillness. The simple phrase struck a cord, articulating the
complex feelings of many people that we had talked to in our assessment
of the impact of HROC. It simultaneously alluded to a newfound ability
to feel all that had been made numb and forcibly forgotten in the past
thirteen years and also to a basic kinship between all human beings
which had been long abandoned in Rwanda, since the genocide. Samuel
sat before us that day a different man, and he was not alone. As we
interviewed more and more people, it became clear that HROC had had
a transforming influence on the lives of all of its participants; influence
which precipitated inner changes and defied quantification. Thus the
results we present here are not displayed with charts or graphs, but
lie in the voices of those touched by HROC. They point to an undeniable
spirit that is steadily building throughout the country and bringing
with it a new Rwanda.
With funding from
the United States Institute of Peace, the Thomas H and Mary Williams
Shoemaker Fund, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s
Bequest Funds, the American Friends Service Committee, and individual
donors plus support from the African Great Lakes Initiative’s
general funds, the Friends Peace House of Rwanda has held 75 Healing
and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops throughout Rwanda since
2003. To evaluate the impact of these workshops, we have interviewed
25 past participants, facilitators, friends of participants, and community
members to see how HROC has touched people’s lives and how it
can be improved upon in the future. The feedback has been overwhelmingly
positive. Those who were interviewed described significant changes
in their lives since attending the workshop as well as the lives of
those around them. From a decrease in trauma symptoms to a newfound
desire to seek and grant forgiveness, participant after participant
recounted personal transformations precipitated by HROC.
interview process, there were five main themes that emerged. The
first relates to culture. Although the program was developed
in the Great Lakes region, some of the teachings are derived from Western
psychology, and we wanted to assess how the culture of HROC and Rwandan
culture interacted in the workshops. What we found was that HROC both
complimented the national culture and simultaneously encouraged it
to embrace reconciliation. By gathering people to discuss their problems,
incorporating song and dance into the lessons, and having a shared
meal everyday, interviewees felt that HROC faithfully reflected their
culture. They further commented that the workshops represented their
hopes for the future. In the words of Mukagakwandi Amina, a released
prisoner from Kibuye, “Workshops were better than Rwandan culture”;
comprised of values such as mutual respect, peace, and unity, they
signified what many hoped Rwanda could one day become.
The second theme concerns the trauma-healing aspect of the program.
For most participants, the workshop was the first time they had heard
or understood the word trauma. Being able to identify and put a name
to the physical symptoms of trauma that they had been experiencing
since the genocide validated many unacknowledged feelings. Furthermore,
it helped to bridge the divide between survivors and released prisoners
by enabling them to see one another in a different light. Instead of
hatred, there was a new sense of commonality and mutual understanding,
which then led to the third theme of rebuilding relationships. Using
the images of the Tree of Mistrust and the Tree of Trust, participants
examined the processes of destroying and rebuilding trust and said
they found a renewed hope.
This increased awareness about trauma and trust gave way to the fourth
theme: forgiveness. Although forgiveness is not one of the main goals
of HROC, it was nonetheless a welcomed by-product of the workshops.
Interviews revealed that participants, who had vowed never to forgive,
now felt empowered to release their lingering anger and reconcile with
people who had killed their loved ones.
The last theme concerns the long-term effects of the HROC workshops.
In addition to the great individual transformations we saw during the
interviews, we also found that HROC had effected entire communities.
From counseling others, to educating friends and family about trauma,
to resolving neighborhood conflicts, to forming associations, HROC
participants took what they learned and brought it into their communities.
In the end, participants
recommended more workshops and further support for participants following
the three day trainings. “I wish everyone
could attend,” said Komezusense Samuel, a released prisoner. “Do
more workshops,” echoed Mukayiranga Béatrice, a genocide
survivor. Throughout the two weeks of interviews, these sentences were
the foremost recommendations we heard from people. The praise for HROC
was overwhelming and so was the demand for more - more workshops, more
participants, more days, more facilitators, more help! Some interviewees
suggested targeting specific groups of Rwandans to more efficiently
spread the message; some stressed follow-up visits from facilitators;
still others suggested a certificate program. The point was abundantly
clear; we could not stop here or be satisfied with what had already
been accomplished. No, we needed to push beyond the praise and go deeper,
improve our methods, and take the program farther.