From Within: The Transformative Power of HROC
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
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.
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
participants to come to their own conclusions based on their own
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.”
exercise allows participants to see the causal relationship between
old ethnic divisions and conflicts and the current situation
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.
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?
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.
To revenge has no benefit, it only increases conflict. Now I work
on my own anger, because it was pushing me to revenge.
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.
stand people who were not from my ethnic group But now, those of
us from the workshop are trying mix together
to build trust.
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:
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
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