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Report on the First Basic HROC Workshops in Rwanda
April to July 2003

By Adrien Niyongabo, Coordinator, HROC-Burundi

After the one-month trauma healing training held at the Friends Women’s Garden Center in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 28, 2003, a meeting to plan further activities was held. To that end, fifteen trauma healers met with David Bucura (Legal Representative of Rwanda Yearly Meeting), Marcelin Sizeli (Clerk of Rwanda Yearly Meeting), David Zarembka and Cecelia Yocum (from AGLI), and Adrien Niyongabo (from Burundi Yearly Meeting). In that meeting, four full time staff members and an Executive Committee of seven people were chosen for HROC. Also, a three-month program, focused primarily on conducting twenty-six three-day trauma healing workshops, was set up and I was appointed as the coordinator for that program. The activities started on April 24 and ended on July 24. Let us have a look on what happened in between.

There were twenty-five three-day trauma healing workshops held in nine of the twelve provinces of Rwanda. Four hundred and ninety people - interested, active men and women, struggling with their heavy traumas - were trained. Those who attended these workshops, essentially composed by young adults, came from different backgrounds: genocide survivors, released prisoners, Twa, and community, church, and local association leaders.

In each workshop, several key topics areas were covered - understanding trauma, including trauma definitions, causes and symptoms; effects of trauma on a person; listening skills, understanding loss and grief, dealing with anger; and trust and mistrust. These modules were set up with the help of Cecilia Yocum from AGLI. Small group discussions were also included to provide participants with an opportunity for deep sharing. Also some “lite and livelies” were provided in the workshops. Through the schedule was very tight, facilitators were able to attend a three-day in-service training session under the leadership of David Cimbora from Biola University in La Mirada, California. We also had two days of group clinical supervision.

Healing and Rebuilding Our Community (HROC) facilitators were blessed to meet with very enthusiastic audiences in each of the places where the workshops were held. The primary message was helping participants to understand that trauma is not a shameful word or name. Neither are traumatized persons. Respect was given to whoever was in the room. Information was shared with simplicity and no ambiguity. Connection was established among the entire group, laughing together and being mutually supportive of crying. New ways to restore hope were sought. All were overjoyed to see how these simple trauma healing modules, used by non-professional trauma healing workers, have impacted and enriched lives and have thereby started a path to healing. It has been clear that these workshops were highly appreciated by the participants as their specific needs were effectively responded to. As comments demonstrate, participants did not hide their satisfaction about getting skills that helped them to better understand what they have been going through and how to deal with its consequences:

• I didn’t realize that I was traumatized. I was surprised to find myself with many of these trauma symptoms you told us. Thank you so much for helping me to know what I am suffering from.

• In this workshop, I have discovered that there are many kinds of trauma. Before, I was thinking that only having lost family members is traumatizing, But now, I have see that the wrongdoer can be traumatized by the horrible things she/he did.

• Being in the group, where you talk about your stories, is comforting. Hearing someone else’s story, you could realize that you are not alone in the struggle. And when it came to telling others about your story, it was like some thing heavy was pulled out from the heart and you felt happy.

• We were forgotten and marginalized for years and years. I am thankful, not only me but also the other Twa I came with, to those who invited us to attend this workshop. This happiness I received from this workshop is unforgettable for it was my first time, since I was born, to reach that stage of happiness. Praise the Lord!

• I thank God for having been invited in this workshop. Since 1994, I could not have a quiet sleep night and day. But, after the second day of our workshop, I slept like a baby. It was a new good-morning again after such a long time!!!!! If you keep coming to our communities with these workshops, I tell you the truth, you will prevent many from becoming mad. Comment by a sixty year-old grandmother.

• For sure, the more you talk about the story, the more you come to end with the experience and less painful your emotions will be.

Some difficulties were observed during our work. In some of our workshops, only two facilitators had to conduct the training because some of the facilitators could not get permission from their employers. For logistical reasons many of those who heard about the workshops and came without being invited were sent back home. Many times, facilitators had to travel back and forth, mornings and evenings, because the lodging and workshop facilities were not in the same compound. Also, one of the twenty-six workshops scheduled had to be cancelled because of budget constraints caused by increased prices. The main difficulty was the fact that follow-up after the workshops could not be planned. If this follow-up system had been set up, it would have allowed HROC to be in contact with many of those who attended the previous workshops during their own healing process. In that way, the old victims would become the new helpers for others in need of healing.

In all of the workshops conducted, participants expressed their deep willingness to have further training, for themselves and for others who did not come. In addition to that request, specific groups (orphans, demobilized soldiers, HIV/AIDS people, widows, and others) asked for specific training. The Twa case had also attracted the attention of the facilitators. In fact, as Twa have been discriminated against for a long time and suffered from many other injustice systems, a particular case would be envisioned. On behalf of the facilitators, their main request has been for more in-service training, as they need to shape their knowledge.

It is worthy to congratulate all those young facilitators who afforded the three-day workshops with courage and abnegation. They made themselves available and ready to facilitate the workshops whenever they were asked to do so although they were volunteers. They have given their time and accepted to be away from their lovely families. They conducted the workshops without fear and made themselves humble in all the circumstances. This commitment contributed a lot to the success of the scheduled activities. HROC staff also merit special appreciation for their great efforts in managing the tasks that were given to them. Particular thankfulness goes to the HROC executive committee members for their many valuable advices in how to manage the program, day by day. We need to recognize the remarkable role of the Friends Church in Rwanda regarding the administrative and logistic facilities offered to HROC. The needed papers were sent to the local government administration leaders and for the churches and classrooms where the workshops took place. We express our deepest thanks to AGLI/FPT for their considerable involvement in the implementation of the trauma healing program in Rwanda and ongoing support to peace activities done by Friends in the African Great Lakes region. We address our sincere thanks to all those who, from near or far, have played any role in the accomplishment of our activities.

Will all these efforts, HROC was able to go forward. Our success has come from a group effort. Let us all together be happy!!!