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25 years on, Rwanda remembers

Health
Rwanda

HI continues to help victims overcome their trauma, 25 years after the genocide in Rwanda. 

Innocent lost one of his legs during the genocide in Rwanda. Today, he participates to psychosocial support activities conducted by HI.

Innocent lost one of his legs during the genocide in Rwanda. Today, he participates to psychosocial support activities conducted by HI. | ©Giles Duley/HI

On 7th April 2019, Rwandans will begin commemorating the genocide in which men, women and children were tortured, raped and massacred over a period of three months. More than 800,000 people died.

The deep scars left by this senseless violence continue to be felt today, twenty-five years on. Around 29% of people - one third of the population - still suffer from genocide-related post-traumatic stress disorder. More than one in five people suffer bouts of depression.

HI launched its response in Rwanda in the aftermath of the Tutsi genocide in 1994 and implemented its first mental health project in 1996, providing psychological support to children who had lost their parents. Today, HI continues to support the direct and indirect victims of the genocide. In 2018, more than 5,800 victims of violence took part in psychosocial activities to overcome their trauma.  

HI will be working with mental health professionals, including psychologists, in conjunction with the National Mental Health Coordination Committee (Rwanda Biomedical Center - RBC) during the three-month commemoration period. The organisation will prepare them to manage trauma crises and assist genocide victims at memorial sites.  

“From day to day, people tend to bury and repress genocide-related trauma. During the commemoration period, memories, feelings and emotions will resurface. The victims will ‘confront their suffering’.  For some, its a ‘crushing’ experience. People talk about it and it’s very powerful. Some people tell us ‘I didn't sleep at all last night, I saw the people I lost again, I couldn't close my eyes’. They may relive panic attacks, the loss of loved ones and so on. The after-effects are still felt today. It is essential people support each other in this time of suffering - it is very liberating to share feelings. Group therapy allows people to confide in each other and share their experiences: ‘I’ve been through the same thing as you. I’ll tell you what helped me'. It's life-saving,"

explains Chantal Umurungi, HI’s mental health and psychosocial support advisor in Rwanda.  

Supporting victims for 25 years

Since 1996, HI has supported more than 25,000 victims of violence, including genocide-related violence, and implemented more than 46,000 psychosocial support sessions.

Today, HI's response takes more of a "community mental health" approach: the organisation sets up listening and discussion groups, where people can express themselves and overcome their psychological distress by listening to each other in the presence of a psychologist or community volunteers.

They are then converted into self-help groups to help people set up small business projects together, with support from HI , including small vegetable shops and livestock breeding. Taking part in a joint business venture makes them feel more self-reliant and self-confidence

“The genocide’s impact on mental health has given rise to other indirect consequences such as drug use, high-risk sexual practices, violence, and marital conflicts. This impoverishes families and weakens social ties.By proposing this approach to community mental health, allowing people to share their feelings and rebuilding bridges, HI wants to break the vicious cycle of violence and poorer mental health,"

adds Chantal Umurungi.

Key figures:

  • Following the genocide in 1994, HI immediately implemented food aid distributions and rehabilitation projects for victims.
  • Since 1996, HI has provided psychosocial support to more than 25,000 people victims of violence by organising some 46,000 individual and collective sessions.
  • Today, around 29% of people - one third of the population - still suffer from genocide-related post-traumatic stress disorder. More than one in five people suffer bouts of depression.
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