Latest News
  Home About AGLI AGLI Programs Countries Get Involved in AGLI Contact AGLI    
      Most Recent AGLI Articles AGLI Appeal Letters      

Your location>Home>Publications>PeaceWays>Spring 2010

                Print Issue  

Download report

Quicklinks in Report

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


Learning From Within: The Transformative Power of HROC

What do you remember most about the workshop?” asked the facilitator. “I remember the Mistrust Tree. All of my children, but my youngest son, were killed in the war. So I told myself that I would raise him telling him all that happened to our family so that once he was grown he could seek revenge for us. But then I learned about the Mistrust Tree and I realized I must teach him good things if I want this war to stop.
Male Participant, Group Session

Nearly half a century of ethnic division and violence have caused many people in North Kivu, like the man quoted above, to desire revenge against those who hurt and/or killed their families. Many people would probably describe this as a “natural” reaction to profound pain and suffering caused by seeing your family murdered, raped, or losing all of your belongings to lootings. Yet what are the long term consequences of trauma? For one person? For a community?
This is one of main questions that HROC participants grapple with throughout the 3-day seminars. And it was by far the most memorable part of the HROC workshop for virtually all the participants we interviewed.

HROC does not use didactic lecture methods to teach about the definition, origin, symptoms, or consequences of trauma. It also does not provide a prescription for how to manage grief, loss, anger, and desires for revenge. Rather, it uses participative games and activities which allow participants to come to their own conclusions based on their own experiences.
For instance, in the quote above, the man mentions the “Mistrust Tree.” This is an activity in which the facilitator draws a tree on a piece of newsprint and asks participants to write or say what they believe are the “roots” of mistrust in the eastern DRC. The facilitator then asks the participants to contemplate what “fruits” a tree rooted in mistrust would yield.
When we asked participants to recall keywords from the workshop, participants in both the individual and the group sessions frequently spoke of the Mistrust Tree. They recalled realizing that among the fruits of mistrust were “rape,” “violence,” “hatred,” “looting,” and “killing.” One participant then added, “The mistrust tree grows and grows until it bears fruits, like war. Then it can even spread its seed.”

This exercise allows participants to see the causal relationship between old ethnic divisions and conflicts and the current situation in the Kivu provinces. Participants ask themselves, “What causes me to mistrust my neighbor?” And then, “What has this mistrust led me to do or desire to do in the past?” The metaphor of a fruit tree also leads participants to see how mistrust and violence beget more mistrust and violence.

The facilitator then draws a second tree asking participants what they believe the roots of trust are. Similarly, they follow up by asking, “What are the fruits of trust?” Participants described the fruits of trust to us as “peace,” “security,” “safety,” and “friendship.” Once again, a causal relationship was drawn, but this time between trust and the possibilities for long-term peace.

After the exercise, participants are then given time to discuss in small groups how the roots of trust can be planted in North Kivu; however, the facilitator never provides a prescriptive answer. Rather, after the group session, s/he organizes a game which helps participants understand how scary and difficult—as well as rewarding—taking the first step of trust can be. One such game is the “trust walk,” an exercise in which participants are paired, with one person in each pair blindfolded and led outside by the other person who tries to ensure that the blindfolded partner does not trip or fall.

Rebuilding trust in conflict and post-conflict environments is not easy. As described in the short history of the conflict in North Kivu, the development of ethnic division and conflict in the region has a long and complex history. However, the HROC program does not pretend that this is an easy process. Rather, the program works to give participants tools and empower them to understand and locate their experience within the broader context of the conflict. Participants must ask for themselves: How do my actions fertilize a tree of mistrust? How could my actions fertilize a tree of trust? How do my actions affect the larger community?

Participants must each find their own answers to these questions; HROC could not itself provide answers that would be sincere or that would address the variety of traumatic events that individuals experience in conflict situations. But as seen in the quote at the beginning of this section, at least this man came to the conclusion that he must teach his son good things if he wants this war to stop. Here are some other participants’ responses:

We must begin to uproot these seeds of mistrust within ourselves Only then can we also help others. It is a slow process, but possible, once you realize you can take control, that you can take the wheel.
Female Participant

To revenge has no benefit, it only increases conflict. Now I work on my own anger, because it was pushing me to revenge.
Female Participant

Now I try to reach out to my enemies. I realized that if I sought revenge, it did no good. I would likely hurt myself or even be dead in the process. Now, I seek to do good.
Male Participant

Before, I couldn’t stand people who were not from my ethnic group But now, those of us from the workshop are trying mix together to build trust.
Male Participant

It is clear from these quotes that even a year or two years after people participate in a HROC workshop, they are on a path of personal transformation which encourages them to do good and act peacefully in their communities. But the transformative power of HROC does not stop there. It also touches the deepest core of a person’s heart. To bring together the words of HROC participants into a conclusion:

Trauma is the inner wounds of someone’s heart. I used to go for days in silence without speaking to anyone. I used to get angry and yell all the time. I used to cry and cry. People thought I was crazy. Then there was that exercise, Johari’s Window, which makes you think about what others know about you and what only you know about yourself. I learned about myself then. I realized that if you hold on to trauma, it will physically make you sick. Knowing that, you can learn strategies to manage these emotions.
Melody of Voices, HROC Participants

Next Article: The Worst Place to Be a Woman