Rwanda Chronicled!Feb 22, 2023
Well, we did it! We had a successful delegation to Rwanda. We laughed a lot. We learned a lot. We connected with each other and our Rwandan colleagues on a deep level. It was truly one of the best trips I have ever had there. I thought I would share the adventures with all of you as well as how we ended up in Rwanda in the first place.
Let's go back to the beginning....
My first trip to Rwanda was in 2015. The intention behind this initial visit was to connect with locals and conduct a needs assessment. I wanted to share my expertise with those in need of it who have less immediate access than we do in the west. After meeting with several local organizations, the emergent theme was that the main need was information and expertise.
Those are two things I have that I was more than willing to share.
Rwanda is a very organized country that relies on evidence-based practices in terms of interventions employed for all forms of health care, not excluding mental health. It is also a country that has experienced profound trauma following the genocide in 1994. It is approximated that 25% of the population meets criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. This is in comparison to the global average of 7% (Kisiel, 2014).
While the stories of suffering in Rwanda are often unimaginable, so are the stories of resilience. Some of the most beautiful tales of generosity, support and kindness are those that have been shared on these trips.
In addition to the inspirational acts of individuals towards each other is the large-scale response that Rwanda had on a governmental level. There are many lessons to be learned that are particularly relevant right now. Here are a few examples:
- Denouncement of division: Division and dehumanization is at the root of genocidal violence. Rwanda recognized this and responded with "One Rwanda." The essence of this is that it doesn't matter what your religion is, what your ethnicity is, or what your gender is. We are all humans and that's it.
- Representative government: The government truly represents the people. For example, 64% of elected officials are women because 64% of the population is comprised of women. The population of women is higher than that of men due to the number of those who were killed during the genocide.
- Gender-based violence is not okay and is officially denounced at a governmental level.
- Racism is not okay and is officially denounced at a governmental level.
- Economic security for all people is the basis for a healthy society. Rwanda responded to genocide by increasing economic and educational opportunities for its' citizens.
- Personal responsibility and individual investment in the community as is exemplified by the requirement for all people to spend one day a month cleaning up. Not surprisingly, Rwanda is immaculate.
- Swift and fair justice is a requirement for recovery. Rwanda relied on its' former justice system that utilized Gacaca Courts to prosecute perpetrators after the genocide. It also has plans for reunification and reintegration of perpetrators who will be and have been released following completion of their sentences. These efforts are designed to minimize the continuation of generational trauma by ensuring perpetrators are not put in a position to rely on criminal activity for survival. If you are curious about Gacaca, here is an inspiring video:
- Safety takes precedence over everything else, including individual liberties. The collective matters the most. Rwanda is invested in its' social fabric and the overarching health of its' citizens.
- Rwanda is highly invested in its' natural resources and is a world leader in some of its' conservation efforts. For example, plastic bags are banned. Plastic bottles are being phased out. Their safari is designed to protect their animals from poaching while simultaneously protecting local farmers and their livestock. It is completely enclosed - the animals can't get out and poachers can't get in. Additionally, the government made efforts to re-build the population of the various native animal species while simultaneously making room nearby for refugees who returned home after genocide. This is in addition to continuing to create spaces for more refugees from other high-conflict countries.
I could go on and on.
Nowhere is perfect. But Rwanda is pretty close!
Essentially, Rwanda was able to respond to its' collective trauma in a thoughtful, well-organized manner that illuminates what is possible in post-traumatic growth.
In the event you are curious about post-traumatic growth, here is an article that describes it on an individual level: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/11/growth-trauma
So, back to the story.
After traveling there initially, I created a training designed to share information about trauma between local professionals and those traveling from western cultures. The idea was that we could exchange ideas and learn about trauma alongside each other. These trainings were okay, but they really didn't do much in terms of expanding capacity for Rwandans to continue to meet the overwhelming demand for mental health supports.
The World Health Organization has been conducting research and making recommendations on "task shifting," or delegating some aspects of healthcare to those who do not have an advanced degree.
I created the Trauma Coaching course in response to this research and the recommendations that followed. The course was designed with the idea that we could expand access to care by sharing the workload. Providing trauma-informed skill development for survivors is a specialty of coaches and is something that therapists currently include in their work with clients. Therapists can't do this alone and there will never be enough of us out there to meet the global demand.
If you are curious about task shifting or task sharing, here is a recent research article that defines both and makes recommendations for implementation: https://human-resources-health.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12960-021-00605-zhush
This most recent delegation was the first for my team and I to present the coaching course to local professionals. We worked hand-in-hand with our local partners in order to ensure it was culturally relevant and would facilitate building capacity to serve more people effectively and safely.
Our International partners include:
mHub Rwanda: https://www.mhub-rwanda.org
Global Engagement Institute: https://www.global-engagement.org
This delegation was co-sponsored by The Orenda Project (www.theorendaproject.org) and Integrative Trauma Treatment Center @ www.traumacenternw.com.
mHub Rwanda will now continue to share our Trauma Coaching Course with local professionals on their own. It was highly rewarding to be able to share something concrete and applicable to such an inspirational country.
And yes, we absolutely went on safari! We saw elephants, tigers, lions, crocodiles, hippos and more. All of these animals now have a sanctuary that is all their own without the interference and risk posed by humans.
Check out our Instagram page for more images and information about our adventures! Our handle is @orendaproj.
Finally, in case you are wondering about future delegations - yes! We will host more in a variety of other countries and will return to Rwanda upon invitation!
Stay tuned for our announcements on the following delegation destinations:
South Africa Fall 2023
Vietnam Spring 2024
Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Kenya: some time in 2024
In the event you are interested in participating in an upcoming delegation and have questions, please feel free to reach out at [email protected]
Kisiel, C., et. al. (2014). Examining child sexual abuse in relation to complex patterns of trauma exposure: Findings from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice & Policy, 6, S29-S39
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