Encounters with conflict and peace

Where does it hurt?

Rwandans often describe the process of recovery as a journey; some of their recovery education programs are known as ‘personal development' workshops.
Alphonsine, Rwanda
“The workshops help people face their frightening past, and even talk about it,” says Umulisa Alphonsine, who works with World Vision Rwanda. “The more they talk, the more relieved they feel.” For many Rwandans, being able to talk about what happened is the first step towards recovery.

Janvier, who was a young boy when he saw his sister brutally killed, says that talking with friends helps him sort out his memories. ”We will never forget a single scrap of truth about the genocide… we share our memories, we talk about it in the evenings and go over the details with one another. We are not interested in making things up any more, or exaggerating or hiding things… we are no longer muddled by the fear of machetes.”

We’re all hurting

Talking about what happened can be good for other people too. “Sometimes the stories they tell will help someone else to heal,” says Alphonsine. A young Rwandan girl from the Bugesera denies she has been hurt, even though her arms have large visible scars. It’s not until she hears another girl talking about an attack that she dares to tell anyone about her own experience and the painful reason why she did not die: they kept her alive to sexually assault her.

Hearing someone else’s story helped her realise that the same thing had happened to other people. She was not alone - someone else understood.
"You feel isolated, useless... ashamed.

"When you lose someone, it's like you have made a mistake. You are ashamed. Being a survivor or an orphan or a widow… these weren’t things we could accept easily. People just lost interest in life. Women who had lost their husbands or their children would say, 'Why have I survived? Am I better than my children?' They would blame themselves for being alive.”

“It was a very bad for the people in the refugee camps. Cholera, looting… you could see they had suffered. I remember seeing people who had walked back from Congo. They came back with no shoes, swollen feet… and some of these were people with PhDs.”             Josephine

Surgery for the mind damage

Josephine Munyeli, Rwanda
Josephine, a healing and reconciliation worker with World Vision in Kigali, says that the process is like surgery for the mind: “The trauma is so heavy, compared to the emotional strength they have. If it remains inside it can’t heal - it needs to be opened.”

But these are not things most people want to talk about. Why should you have to deal with it? After all, you’re the victim. It’s everyone and everything else that’s the problem. You feel it’s really unfair to ask you to do anything to help your own situation. You don’t want to talk about it - you don’t even want to think about it.

“People are carrying some terrible issues,” said Josephine. “Pain destroys your feelings, it destroys your thinking. You feel broken, you feel like you are not OK.”
Karinda, Rwanda
You know that thinking about what happened will re-open the wounds. You’ll feel afraid again, horrified again, ashamed, angry, helpless or confused again… you feel like you’ll get lost in it all again. You feel like you might die.

Josephine believes that, despite the pain, realising that you have been badly hurt and that you, too, need some fixing is an important step towards recovery. “You have to have sympathy for yourself,” she says. “It’s a long process… but it’s the start of a new journey,”

However, once you’re aware of how much you’ve been hurt, what do you do with that? What can you do to stop yourself from being swamped by the memories and the feelings? How can you find a little mental space - a little peace of mind - to let you start picking up the pieces of your life again?
Related pages
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Ntarama church
As trouble escalated, terrified Tutsis gathered in the Catholic church in Ntarama. When the militia attacked and killed 5,000 people, Janvier said, "I just lay there and made 'dead man's eyes'... more
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Going home
Within a few days Janvier, aged 14, and his brother, simply went back home. They found they house destroyed, so walked on to their grandfather's house, to find that he had also been killed...
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Janvier was one of thousands of people who hid from the gangs of killers among the papyrus and mud of the marshes around the Nyabarongo River. Survivors and killers remember what it was like...

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