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Your location>Home>Publications>PeaceWays>Fall 2007

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Executive Summary

“Now, I am human,” said Komezusense Samuel, a thirty-seven year old released prisoner from southwestern Rwanda who had attended a Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop last summer. We had been traveling around Rwanda for two weeks and were just finishing up our interviews, when Samuel’s statement filled the room with a tender stillness. The simple phrase struck a cord, articulating the complex feelings of many people that we had talked to in our assessment of the impact of HROC. It simultaneously alluded to a newfound ability to feel all that had been made numb and forcibly forgotten in the past thirteen years and also to a basic kinship between all human beings which had been long abandoned in Rwanda, since the genocide. Samuel sat before us that day a different man, and he was not alone. As we interviewed more and more people, it became clear that HROC had had a transforming influence on the lives of all of its participants; influence which precipitated inner changes and defied quantification. Thus the results we present here are not displayed with charts or graphs, but lie in the voices of those touched by HROC. They point to an undeniable spirit that is steadily building throughout the country and bringing with it a new Rwanda.

With funding from the United States Institute of Peace, the Thomas H and Mary Williams Shoemaker Fund, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s Bequest Funds, the American Friends Service Committee, and individual donors plus support from the African Great Lakes Initiative’s general funds, the Friends Peace House of Rwanda has held 75 Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops throughout Rwanda since 2003. To evaluate the impact of these workshops, we have interviewed 25 past participants, facilitators, friends of participants, and community members to see how HROC has touched people’s lives and how it can be improved upon in the future. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Those who were interviewed described significant changes in their lives since attending the workshop as well as the lives of those around them. From a decrease in trauma symptoms to a newfound desire to seek and grant forgiveness, participant after participant recounted personal transformations precipitated by HROC.

Throughout the interview process, there were five main themes that emerged. The first relates to culture. Although the program was developed in the Great Lakes region, some of the teachings are derived from Western psychology, and we wanted to assess how the culture of HROC and Rwandan culture interacted in the workshops. What we found was that HROC both complimented the national culture and simultaneously encouraged it to embrace reconciliation. By gathering people to discuss their problems, incorporating song and dance into the lessons, and having a shared meal everyday, interviewees felt that HROC faithfully reflected their culture. They further commented that the workshops represented their hopes for the future. In the words of Mukagakwandi Amina, a released prisoner from Kibuye, “Workshops were better than Rwandan culture”; comprised of values such as mutual respect, peace, and unity, they signified what many hoped Rwanda could one day become.

The second theme concerns the trauma-healing aspect of the program. For most participants, the workshop was the first time they had heard or understood the word trauma. Being able to identify and put a name to the physical symptoms of trauma that they had been experiencing since the genocide validated many unacknowledged feelings. Furthermore, it helped to bridge the divide between survivors and released prisoners by enabling them to see one another in a different light. Instead of hatred, there was a new sense of commonality and mutual understanding, which then led to the third theme of rebuilding relationships. Using the images of the Tree of Mistrust and the Tree of Trust, participants examined the processes of destroying and rebuilding trust and said they found a renewed hope.

This increased awareness about trauma and trust gave way to the fourth theme: forgiveness. Although forgiveness is not one of the main goals of HROC, it was nonetheless a welcomed by-product of the workshops. Interviews revealed that participants, who had vowed never to forgive, now felt empowered to release their lingering anger and reconcile with people who had killed their loved ones.

The last theme concerns the long-term effects of the HROC workshops. In addition to the great individual transformations we saw during the interviews, we also found that HROC had effected entire communities. From counseling others, to educating friends and family about trauma, to resolving neighborhood conflicts, to forming associations, HROC participants took what they learned and brought it into their communities.

In the end, participants recommended more workshops and further support for participants following the three day trainings. “I wish everyone could attend,” said Komezusense Samuel, a released prisoner. “Do more workshops,” echoed Mukayiranga Béatrice, a genocide survivor. Throughout the two weeks of interviews, these sentences were the foremost recommendations we heard from people. The praise for HROC was overwhelming and so was the demand for more - more workshops, more participants, more days, more facilitators, more help! Some interviewees suggested targeting specific groups of Rwandans to more efficiently spread the message; some stressed follow-up visits from facilitators; still others suggested a certificate program. The point was abundantly clear; we could not stop here or be satisfied with what had already been accomplished. No, we needed to push beyond the praise and go deeper, improve our methods, and take the program farther.