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Rwanda Survivors confront their traumatic past 25 years after the genocide

Press release | London, 4th April 2019, 12:00 GMT

On Sunday 7th April, Rwandans will begin commemorating the Tutsi genocide, in which more than 800,000 people died in 1994. Twenty-five years on, one in three people still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder [1]. Humanity & Inclusion (HI) continues to assist the victims of this violence. As part of its response, launched in the aftermath of the genocide, HI has already provided psychosocial support to more than 25,000 people.

Over a period of one hundred days, starting in April 1994, more than 800,000 people - men, women and children - were killed in Rwanda. Many others were beaten and tortured. This senseless violence left deep scars that are yet to heal, twenty-five years later. Nearly 29% of people - one third of the population – who lived through the genocide continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. More than one in five people suffer bouts of depression.

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," explains Chantal Umurungi, coordinator of HI’s mental health projects in Rwanda. “During the commemoration period, memories, feelings and emotions will return to the surface. The victims will be ‘confronted with their suffering’. People will talk about it and it’s going to be very powerful. They may relive panic attacks, the loss of loved ones and so on. The after-effects are still being felt today. It’s essential people support each other through this time of suffering, and it is very liberating to share feelings.”

HI also addresses the indirect consequences of the genocide: "Its 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 offering this approach to community mental health, by allowing people to share their feelings, and by rebuilding bridges, HI wants to break the vicious cycle of violence and poorer mental health," adds Chantal Umurungi.

HI launched its response 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 still supports direct and indirect victims of the genocide. Since 1996, the organisation has implemented more than 46,000 psychosocial support sessions for more than 25,000 people.

People like Agnes. Agnes witnessed the tragic and violent death of her husband and two of her three children during the genocide. This harrowing experience left her in a state of great distress, which led to psychological damage. HI’s team met Agnes and invited her to attend the weekly support sessions. With HI’s support Agnes has slowly begun to deal with her past.

"Before I met the group, I was afraid to reach out to other people. I lived in isolation, submerged by my anxieties and grief at the loss of my husband and two children. When I first told my story here, I cried like a baby. It was such a relief!"  said Agnes.

In 2018, more than 5,800 people took part in psychosocial activities to overcome their trauma, including in Kigali (Gasabo district) and Ouest Province (Rutsiro and Rubavu district). Under its community mental health approach, HI organises listening and discussion groups where people can express themselves and talk about their trauma, in the company of a psychologist or a community volunteer. Self-help groups also enable them to set up collective business projects, such as livestock breeding and small shops, in order to enhance their self-reliance and self-confidence.


Notes

[1] Munyandamutsa, Nkubamugisha, Gex- Fabry, & Eytan, 2012

Interview available upon request with HI’s spokespersons

 

Press contact

Marlene Manning, Humanity & Inclusion UK

Email: media.uk@hi.org

Tel: +44 (0)870 774 3737

 

About Humanity & Inclusion

Co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Humanity & Inclusion (the new name of Handicap International) is a charity working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster. We work tirelessly alongside disabled and vulnerable people to help meet their basic needs, improve their living conditions and promote respect for their dignity and fundamental rights.

 

 

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