African Great Lakes – April 2019

Trauma Healing and Anger Work in Rwanda

by Marian Liebmann

This article is a brief account of six weeks I spent in Rwanda February – March this year.

My first aim was to learn about a group trauma-healing model I had read about and wanted to experience. Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) was developed by Quakers in Rwanda and Burundi in 2003 to help communities there suffering from trauma following the genocide in 1994. The HROC Centre in Rwanda is based in Musanze in northern Rwanda, near the volcanic region where gorilla treks take place, and which is also a big vegetable growing area.

Because of the interest in their work, the HROC centre runs an International Training course twice a year. On my course the 9 participants were from the UK (me), Kenya and Rwanda – past participants have come from the US (where much of the funding comes from), Burundi, Congo, South-Sudan and Nigeria. Our facilitators were from Rwanda and Kenya. This meant that the course needed to be bilingual, in English and Kinyarwanda. In Rwanda older people speak French, younger people speak English, everyone speaks Kinyarwanda. The 3-week course included team building, attending a basic HROC workshop, training of trainers, and then running a basic HROC course ourselves for a local community group. I was paired with team members from Kenya and Rwanda and our allocated community group was young single mothers, a growing group in Rwanda.

The structure of a basic HROC workshop is:

  • Day 1: Introduction to trauma – definition, causes, symptoms and consequences
  • Day 2: Loss, grief and mourning, including time for personal reflection and sharing stories in the group; dealing with anger
  • Day 3: Building trust – trust walk, tree of mistrust, tree of trust, how to build trust

During the course of the workshop, we heard many distressing stories. Many participants had been children during the genocide, and had experienced death of family members, fleeing for their lives, being refugees in Tanzania or Congo, and the total dislocation of their communities.

After the HROC training course I went to Kigali to stay at the Quaker Peace Garden guest house and run courses on ‘Anger Management with Art’ for three groups organised by the Friends Evangelical Church Rwanda – one for youth (18-30), one for women, and one for church leaders. These took place in the local church. In these groups participants used art materials (some of which I had brought) to look at aspects of anger, such as:

  • What is anger?
  • Is anger good or bad?
  • Physical symptoms of anger
  • What’s underneath the anger?
  • Early family patterns
  • Anger and conflict
  • Triggers of anger
  • Ways of calming down
  • Trauma and anger
  • Relaxation

The groups went well, as people could see the links between their experiences and anger which caused ongoing problems for many people. Clearly I could not ‘magic everything right’ with a three-day workshop, but I hoped it could provide some helpful tools along the way.

The third aspect of my visit to Rwanda was visiting genocide memorials to see how Rwanda is trying to recover from the terrible time in which a tenth of the population was killed. Writing this now, I am reminded that Rwanda will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the genocide this April.

As well as commemorating the genocide, Rwanda has implemented many peace-building processes. Quakers have initiated many of these – Friends Peace House in Kigali lists HROC, Alternatives to Violence Project in all of Rwanda’s prisons, transformative mediation in the community (15 trained volunteers), children’s peace library and peer mediation in 5 cities, Women in Dialogue, and more. Other organisations also have peace and trust-building initiatives, and I met several inspiring individuals all working to repair the damage and make sure that ‘Never Again’ comes true for Rwanda. I think we have things to learn from them.