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On the Long Road: Burundi
By Alexandra Douglas and Dr. Alexia Nibona


War and Health

Health and Peace

A Community Peace and Health Model

FWA’s Philosophy

On the Long Road: DRC
By Alexandra Douglas and Zawadi Nikuze


The Story You Need to Hear

Learning From Within

The Worst Place to Be a Woman



Hatred is slowing down due to this peace work. I realized that if people had gone to these trainings before, it would have reduced the violence.
Kaembe Majumbuko, Chief of Nyamitaba

The trainings Chief Majumbuko is referring to are the 3-day Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops run by the Ebenezer Peace Center in the North Kivu province of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). With original funding from the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams and further support from the Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian Friends Service Committee, and individual donors, the HROC-North Kivu program has held over 70 workshops in the North Kivu region since May 2007, primarily in the Masisi Territory and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps located around the provincial capital of Goma.

The HROC program was developed in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, predominantly Rwanda and Burundi, to address the on-going effects of violence and trauma in the lives of individuals and communities. Partially adapted from the Alternatives to Violence Project, HROC is a 3-day curriculum which uses a participatory approach (including the use of games, songs, and discussion) to teach participants about the concept of trauma (definition, origin, symptoms, and consequences), facilitate the initial stages of expression of loss, grief, and mourning, establish mechanisms to deal with anger, and build trust between individuals and within communities which have histories of violence and betrayal. HROC is based on the underlying philosophy that in every person there is something good, that each individual and community has the inner capacity to heal and recover from trauma, and that trauma healing is fundamentally connected to the possibilities of long-term peace. HROC’s approach relies on participants’ own knowledge of their experiences to facilitate a healing process.

HROC was introduced to eastern DRC with the goal of “bringing the community back together and helping people live in unity.” There has been deadly conflict in the North Kivu province since 1992 and the majority of people in the region have suffered some degree of trauma through the direct (fighting, rape, lootings) and in-direct (disease, poverty, malnutrition) consequences of violence. The conflict in North Kivu has intensified already deep ethnic divisions and has caused people to fear living side by side. Given the success of HROC programs in Rwanda and Burundi in addressing the hidden pain lying just below the surface due to war and genocide, it was deemed appropriate to bring/adapt the HROC program to the DRC context.

In January 2010, AGLI performed its first evaluation of the impact of HROC workshops in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (a copy of the full evaluation report is available at As Chief Majumbuko’s quote captures so clearly: the HROC program is having a real, significant impact on the communities where it works.

Over four days, we—Zawadi Nikuze and Alexandra Douglas—individually interviewed 12 past participants and facilitators, as well as held a group session with 39 past participants, to see how HROC has impacted their lives over time and how the HROC-North Kivu program can be improved in the future. In addition, we spoke with two rape survivors who participated in HROC North Kivu’s new trauma healing initiative for women who have experienced sexual violence.

The feedback we received from the evaluation was overwhelmingly positive. On the one hand, the impact of the HROC program is quantifiable. Chief Majumbuko testified that the number of court cases in Nyamitaba has noticeably dropped since community members began participating in the HROC workshops. People engaged in land and property disputes as a result of the war have begun to settle these problems peacefully between themselves, without involving or even dropping previously instigated court cases.

On the other hand, the impact of the HROC program in the North Kivu province is intangible, as it lies in the hearts and minds of the people who participated in the program. People reported having fewer flashbacks and other trauma symptoms, reaching out to neighbors or community members who killed their family and/or looted their home, choosing to not join the army or militia, deciding not to seek revenge, and—as so many participants described it—learning “to feel” again.

The positive impact of the HROC program can be summarized into three overarching and recurrent concepts: trauma-healing, reconciliation, and context.

Trauma Healing
Most participants had never heard of trauma before coming to a HROC workshop; those who had heard of trauma said they did not know what it meant. Nonetheless, almost all participants in the evaluation expressed relief at finally being able to name and understand what they had been experiencing and feeling since their initial moment(s) of trauma. Such validation then enabled them to see a path forward in their own stages of healing.

Worthwhile noting is that the impact of the HROC trauma healing workshops seems to go well beyond addressing the direct outside pressures of war (lootings, banditry, theft, land scarcity, killings,rape, etc). Many participants stated that the teachings also address painful and debilitating household conflicts such as domestic abuse, the stigmatization of pregnancy outside of marriage or due to rape, children of one marriage being pitted against the other, relations between a widow and her in-laws, etc., thus demonstrating that the program works within a more holistic understanding of conflict.

In areas of deadly conflict, the staggering outside pressures of war often manifest themselves in domestic or intra-familial disputes. One woman described how, despite living through more than a decade of war and fleeing to an IDP camp, the “most traumatic moments in [her] life were seeing [her] husband coming home already drunk.” Such personal trauma is often overlooked or sidelined by peacebuilding projects; yet HROC, which uses participants own experiences to facilitate understandings of trauma, is able to access these personal issues as a springboard for further learning and recovery.

The second concept leading to HROC’s positive impact on the lives of participants is reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not concepts which are themselves taught in the 3-day HROC workshops; however, they were reported as frequent (and welcome) byproducts of the trainings. As a previous evaluation on HROC programs in Rwanda reported, the HROC program recognizes that “to choose to forgive someone is a deeply personal and tremendously difficult process. No one knows how a person will react after learning about trauma, grief, and trust or hearing the truth about what happened to a slain relative… [HROC] does not outwardly promote forgiveness or even discuss it directly; rather the program seeks to empower participants to make their own choices and creates a unique place for people to begin rebuilding broken relationships of the past.” And indeed it does.

North Kivu HROC participants reported frequently reaching out to neighbors and former friends who had killed their family members or stolen all of their belongings. Many women also reported reaching out to their in-laws who had abandoned them after the death of their husbands and/or making amends with parents who had thrown them out due to pregnancies. As forgiveness itself is not taught, these stories of reconciliation grow out of a process of internal understanding and awareness of what it will take to break the enduring cycle of violence in their own lives and in the eastern DRC.

It is this internal process of understanding that forms the basis of reconciliation which leads to the long-term positive impact of the HROC program. The post-conflict environment brings with it a myriad of challenges. Returned refugees find that their land is occupied or that their belongings are gone; so-called “victims” and “perpetrators” return to living side by side in their villages; rape survivors face extreme stigmatization and ostracization from their communities; and the list goes on. These challenges often become court cases presented to a juridical sector which is broken and powerless after years of deadly conflict. Therefore, people often leave court with little resolution, even more frustration, and a deeper mistrust in the state’s ability to administer justice. At this point, people often take matters “into their own hands,” carrying out acts of revenge or retribution and thus continuing a cycle of violence.

The HROC teachings illuminate the root causes of violence (mistrust, hatred, etc) and allow participants to draw their own conclusions about how to move out of the cycle of violence. Very often, their conclusions point them to reconciliation. Because reconciliation is drawn from participants’ own self-knowledge and conclusions, it has a deeper and longer-lasting foundation than any teachings of forgiveness could possibly have.

The final concept which leads to HROC’s success in the DRC is context. When the HROC teachings first came to the DRC, many participants were skeptical (or even fearful) of teachings which were “imported” from Rwanda, given Rwanda’s role in the DRC conflict after 1996. However, the ultimate success of the program in the DRC is due to the ability of HROC to adapt to varying contexts and cultures. While many of the games and teachings were derived from other East African and Western concepts, DRC facilitators quickly adapted such games and activities to be appropriate for their participants. Moreover, as the content of the teachings is derived from participants own experiences, all participants with whom we spoke found that they could relate to the HROC program.

Facilitators also work to create a safe-space for all participants. This includes ensuring an ethnic make-up of both participants and facilitators which is reflective of the community where the program is being conducted. More recently, this also includes holding HROC workshops entirely for women who are rape survivors. Such context adaptability is essential to HROC’s success as it allows people to feel safe sharing their experiences, which is critical to their healing and learning processes.

In the end, participants were very pleased with the work of HROC over its almost three years in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They recommended more workshops, in more villages, with more local facilitators, with more focused constituent groups, with more resources, with more help. Participants, like Chief Majumbuko, truly believe that HROC will make a difference on the long road of peace, despite the many challenges that lay ahead.

In the next few pages, you will hear more about the transformative power of the HROC program in the lives of DRC participants. The article “Learning from Within” discusses how participants internalize the HROC teachings and begin their own processes of recovery and reconciliation. Then, “The Worst Place to Be a Woman” gives a more focused report on the use of rape in the eastern DRC conflict and how HROC North Kivu is creating a trauma healing program to work with women who have experienced sexual violence. Finally, we will conclude with a discussion of the hopes and challenges that lay ahead for HROC’s trauma healing program in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. However, to begin, we have tried to provide you with a deeper understanding of the conflict in North Kivu.

Next article: The Story You Need to Hear