Africa-Press – Rwanda. In a bid to address mental health disorders, particularly trauma that resulted from the effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Interpeace, an international peacebuilding organization and its local partner institutions, initiated a societal Trauma Healing Programme, called “Reinforcing community capacity for social cohesion and reconciliation through societal trauma healing,” which uses a holistic approach to tackle mental health, fosters social cohesion and reconciliation and promotes economic livelihoods.
Through its local partners, Interpeace engaged survivors of the genocide, perpetrators, and their relatives in healing dialogues that lead to truth-telling strengthened reconciliation, and thereby contribute to social cohesion. This approach was first piloted in Bugesera district from October 2020 to September 2022, in partnership with Prison Fellowship Rwanda; and in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health (through RBC), National Unity & Reconciliation Commission (and later MINUBUMWE) and other local civil society organisations such as Rwanda We Want. This pilot phase was funded by the European Union.
The programme encompasses five protocols, namely, social therapy, multi-family therapy, resilience-oriented therapy, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration curriculum and collaborative livelihood. Due to its success, the programme has since been extended to five more districts of Ngoma, Nyagatare, Nyabihu, Nyamagabe and Musanze, with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through the Embassy of Sweden in Rwanda.
Over the last two years of the pilot phase, more than 5,400 people, with 2368 men and 3040 women, graduated from different trauma healing initiatives in Bugesera District alone.
Strengthening mental health resilience by supporting the national mental health system
According to the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), only 5% of people with mental health disorders seek medical treatment.
In order to decentralize and raise awareness about mental health services in Bugesera District, Interpeace donated a mobile mental health clinic to district residents.
Healing sessions take place in communities to facilitate truth-telling, forgiveness, mutual healing and reconciliation among Genocide survivors and perpetrators
As a result, 2,684 people were screened for mental health status in a three-week-long campaign across the district, and 223 were referred to nearby health centres or ADEPR Nyamata Hospital for specialized treatment.
“Interpeace’s programme came at the time when cases of mental health illnesses were high and needed special attention. After the programme trained our staff and supported us with necessary tools and logistics, we are now able to reach more people in the communities,” said Dr. William Rutagengwa, the Director General of Nyamata Hospital.
Dr Yvonne Kayiteshonga, RBC’s Mental Health Division Manager, recognizes the contribution of the programme to strengthening the national mental health system and implementation of national mental health strategic plan (2020-2024).
“We are happy that the programme is aligned with existing national strategies and initiatives. The community-based and group-based approaches that Interpeace uses are adapted to the realities of the context given the big number of people who need treatment. The fact that the programme does not look only at mental healing but also considers improving the socio-economic conditions of individuals is something unique and much appreciated,” she said.
Fostering reconciliation, social cohesion, and family cohesiveness
More than 1785 people graduated from trauma-healing dialogues, called Mvura Nkuvure (loosely translated as ‘let’s heal each other’), in Bugesera District alone.
Francoise Mukaremera, 50, a resident of Juru Sector, has been able to heal and reconcile with Innocent Gatanazi, who killed her sister during the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Mukaremera, a Genocide survivor forgave Innocent Gatanazi who killed her sibling during the 1994 Genocide. They are now good neighbours and support each other.
“I had long carried wounds in my heart. I always had a terrible headache that would cause me to burst into tears. When I heard Gatanazi confessing to having killed my sister, I felt sad, but it was the beginning of my healing journey. Now, the wounds I carried have been healed and I have forgiven those who killed my relatives – something that was not going to happen before attending Mvura Nkuvure,” Mukaremera said in a somber voice.
After his release, Gatanazi, 60, was still haunted by the crimes he committed during the genocide. “Though I was free from jail, my heart was still chained,” he said. “I had no peace; I sometimes dreamt of people I killed, and I always thought that my neighbours saw me only as a killer. But after attending Mvura Nkuvure, I was able to apologize to Mukaremera and I have now.”
In multi-family therapy sessions, ex-genocide perpetrators and survivors as well as their children engage in open discussions about the genocide and history of the country.
Through truth-telling, families address the intergenerational transmission of trauma and are given the emotional tools needed to strengthen family cohesion.
Community-based businesses to foster economic livelihoods and cohesion
Interpeace’s programme also focuses on the economic wellbeing of its beneficiaries, through supporting small businesses. The programme has supported 33 community-based enterprises or cooperatives involved in income-generating activities, including agriculture, beekeeping, retail, and livestock.
About 140 young people from vulnerable families who graduated from healing dialogues, acquired vocational training in tailoring, welding, hair dressing and masonry. Four youth business hubs were created to allow them to work together and earn a living while fostering social cohesion.
In 2003, when Charles Mugabonake was released after serving his sentence for his role in the genocide, Innocent Nyandwi, a survivor whose relatives Mugabonake had killed, was unsettled. Thanks to the trauma healing programme, Nyandwi, 56, and Mugabonake, 52, have reconciled. Deputized by Nyandwi, Mugabonake is the president of a farming association made up of survivors and perpetrators of the Genocide against the Tutsi that was supported by Interpeace.
“Working together is good not only because we earn from it but also because it enables us to live in unity, without fear,” said Mugabonake, adding that, “more people are joining our cooperative because they want to learn from us.”
Prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration
As part of the trauma healing programme, Interpeace works with the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners who committed genocide into their communities. With over 20,000 genocide perpetrators due to be released in the coming years, Interpeace supported RCS to develop and launch a nationwide prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration curriculum. Interpeace has also introduced healing dialogues inside the prisons, targeting those who are about to complete their sentences, to prepare them for life after prison.
“We are very happy with the results; the programme has achieved more tangible results than we had set out to achieve. For example, the curriculum for rehabilitation and reintegration wasn’t in the original plan,” said Frank Kayitare, Interpeace’s Country Representative.
Kayitare appreciates the generous financial support of the donors, such as the European Union and the Embassy of Sweden in Rwanda and invites others to invest in this initiative that supports Rwanda’s efforts to build a more resilient, peaceful, and cohesive society.
Julienne Uwacu, the Executive Director in charge of Community Resilience at the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement appreciates Interpeace’s contribution to revolutionizing the approach used in trauma healing by developing fact-based protocols that guide the trauma healing and peacebuilding processes.
“The good thing is that Interpeace did not keep its protocols to themselves. They developed, tested, and made them available to anyone, be it government institutions or local organisations, who would wish to use them. The contribution of this programme to fostering reconciliation and strengthening the resilience of individuals, communities, and the country at large is commendable,” commented Uwacu.
A mobile clinic for mental health moves across Bugesera District to help those who are suffering from trauma or other mental health disorders.
Genocide survivors, perpetrators and their children are engaged in healing dialogues to address intergenerational transmission of genocide legacies and foster family cohesion