Rwanda: A Lighthouse for Large-Scale RecoverySep 19, 2022
Rwanda: A Lighthouse in Large-Scale Trauma Recovery
I remember driving to work every day in 1994. My routine was to listen to NPR while I enjoyed the time alone before getting the day going. It was nice.
As I listened during April of 1994, there were an increasing number of stories focusing on an active genocide throughout the Rwandan countryside. No news programs or politicians were calling it a genocide yet, in fact it would take some effort on the part of Rwanda both to get international intervention and acknowledgement. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi killed somewhere between 600,000 to over 800,000 people in 100 days. Sexual violence was prolific and weaponized. Adults and children alike were murdered by those they knew.
There were explicit stories being told of horrendous violence between friends and neighbors (trigger warnings were not commonplace at that time). I couldn't tolerate the stories I was hearing. They were too much. I had to turn it off.
Anyone who is 27 or younger was alive when this happened. It was not that long ago.
Just like with a lot of other kinds of trauma, denial is often the first response. When unbelievable things happen, it's easier to dismiss their reality than to respond, acknowledge, or live with the fact that that kind of suffering exists. This is particularly true when we are powerless to do anything about it.
While this is an understandable reaction, there is simultaneously something uniquely cruel about being ignored or having your trauma disputed or denied.
There is a lot of history behind the genocide against the Tutsi...this blog isn't long enough to offer the entire story, but it is relatable on a lot of levels. If you are curious about how it started and ended, here is an abridged version offered on Wikipedia:
Meanwhile, my next blog will focus on the ingredients for genocidal violence given that division or polarization within any given group is one of the key features.
Back to Rwanda.
The violence erupted on April 7th and ended July 15th, 1994.
The Rwandan collective experienced these atrocities less than 30 years ago. It is now one of the safest countries in Africa. It is immaculate and kept clean by its' citizens. There is an ongoing effort to pursue justice, reunification, and reconciliation.
Rwandans now consider themselves one people, or One Rwanda.
There are so many things that were done correctly, and they follow the arc of trauma-informed recovery.
The first component of healing is safety. Before the trauma story can be discussed, processed, or acknowledged, safety must be established first.
Rwanda is safe. I'm aware that it isn't perfect. But the crime rate there is miniscule compared to what we see in the United States and other parts of the world. Here is a link with some numbers for you:
The second phase of recovery is to address the trauma itself. These are the ways in which the government has made efforts to do that:
- Rwanda is building its' mental health care system from the ground up
- The majority of Rwandan people have health insurance (94%, I believe)
- Pursuit of justice through the Gacaca courts - a community-based and intimate legal process that allows perpetrators and victims to pursue justice face-to-face.
Apologies were made here. Responsibility for actions occurred here. Consequences were issued swiftly and clearly. Justice happened here. Sometimes forgiveness happened here.
Here is a video produced by the Aegis Trust sharing a story about the genocide and the outcomes of the Gacaca courts.
Trigger warning: this video includes some specifics
of a survivor's story during the genocide.
More on what Rwanda is doing right:
- Gender equity: Rwanda has a representative parliament with 64% of the seats occupied by women, which is reflective of the composition of the country.
- Active efforts to address gender-based violence, or GBV.
- Medical innovation in effort to increase access to health care, as is reflected in this video that shows a company that delivers medical supplies to villages via zipline: https://fb.watch/fy7wJ9wcLF/
- Explicit denouncement of racism and other forms of division or oppression
- Recognition that racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of oppression hurt everyone
The forethought and intention behind the recovery has a lot to teach the world about not only how to recover, but how to prevent violence driven by division, hatred, and dehumanization.
There's a lot more that I could say. But for now, this is the reason for our next in-person retreat-style training being held in Rwanda. There is a lot we can learn.
I can honestly say that some of the most profoundly moving moments in my life have been experienced in Rwanda. I continue to learn from the other therapists I have met there who are working to treat the 25% of the population that still struggles with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder along with other mental health conditions.
Orenda's next in-person retreat-style trauma coach certification will occur in Rwanda this February. Together we will learn more about trauma, experience the beauty of Rwanda, meet some incredible people, and see some beautiful animals.
It's with gratitude and humility that I can host here in partnership with the Global Engagement Institute (GEI), who handles logistics once we are in country. Here is a link to their site:
It also an honor to continue to be a support as much as I can and offer consultation to mHub Rwanda, The Mental Health Hub. They are doing unique and wonderful work. Here is their site if you are curious:
The specifics of our delegation in Rwanda will be released in late September/early October 2022. Stay tuned!
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