Life after genocide

The human, social and economic costs of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide—in which over one million people were tortured and murdered over the course of 100 days—have been staggering. Global Development Group project J566N ‘Empowering Rwanda’, in partnership with Compelled by Love, deals with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and helps rebuild the lives, and indeed futures, of both victims and perpetrators.

“We have seen the importance of a holistic strategy that takes into account more than a person’s physical needs. For traumatised people, the first issue to address is their ‘trauma’, as it can prevent them from sleep, from engaging in their family and community, cause chronic pain and isolating behaviour as they seek to avoid being re-traumatised. The effects of trauma can involve a sense of hopelessness, lack of purpose or desire to make plans for the future… By helping people to be rehabilitated first, this then opens the way for empowerment through socio-economic enterprise or education initiatives that then enables people to reduce poverty and improve their lives,” says Dennis Nsengiyumva, in-country project manager.

He said further, “Participants this year have gained an understanding of the importance of forgiveness and a good understanding of how they can fight against ‘poisons’ by undertaking activities that produce ‘happy chemicals’ in the body. For many of the participants, it was the first time sharing their story and experiences—how they have lived with wounds and shame as a result of the genocide…Many participants were able to forgive their offenders and restore relationships.

Decisions were also made to change behaviours that were causing family conflicts, to stop seeking revenge, cease engaging in isolation behaviours and to talk again with their children and families…Sleep has also been restored to many participants as they practiced sleeping techniques. Participants have found more peace of mind in their identity and found a renewed sense of security and hope for the future, leading to a willingness to try and make a living and provide for their families,” Dennis said.

Alongside building resilience in people’s lives, the project operates additional programs to address broader needs, including socio-economic enterprise including jewellery and soap-making and mushroom-farming. The co-operatives generate income for members as well as providing much-needed friendship and support.

Education sponsorship and leadership development programs conducted by project J566N not only equip individuals with the skills and qualifications needed for employment and long-term sustainability, but also build the capacity of leaders and facilitators to multiply the work of healing, rehabilitation and the restoration of a nation.

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