Rwanda: Healing Hidden Wounds

Anne-Clarisse, 27, is one of the many survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis being helped through Handicap International’s mental health program in Rwanda. Below, she tells her story.

 “When the genocide against the Tutsis began in April 1994, I was seven years old. I was in the town of Cyangugu with my two brothers, my father, and his second wife, who is a Hutu. People began burning Tutsi houses, so we took refuge in the forest for the night. But armed men with machetes and clubs were there too, looking for Tutsis to kill. We left the forest to hide in the home of an old man. His sons were members of the Interahamwe militia, which was killing Tutsi, so he quickly asked us to leave.

We changed our hiding place, and for a few days we took refuge with my mother-in-law under a basket at the home of one of our neighbors. He was able to get news to my older brother, who joined us. We were hungry, so after three days, I went out to look for food. Because I was only a child, I was convinced the people wouldn’t hurt me.

That’s when they caught me. One of the militiamen pinned me down, while another sharpened his machete on the ground to “cut” me. I thought it was all over. But I was saved by a passer-by: he gave the militiamen some money, and they let me go. I can still hear the scraping of the metal on the ground.

My brother, mother-in-law, and I managed to reach the Congo border by bus. My mother-in-law wanted to hide us with her family, but that didn’t happen, because her family got it into their heads to kill us. So a neighbor hid us in a cellar.

When the Rwandan Patriotic Front (a Tutsi-led political and military group), took control of the area again, my brother joined the fighters. I moved to the capital city of Kigali, where I worked as a cleaner. But my extended family had all been killed and we’d lost everything.

When I was 18 I was raped by a young man in Kigali and I fell pregnant. I didn’t have any money and I was very depressed. That’s when I met the professionals from Handicap International. They asked me to join a discussion group and I was given one-to-one psychological support. I was even able to launch legal proceedings against the father of my son thanks to the organization, which helped me take the necessary steps and covered the cost of the DNA paternity test. I won my case! I’m doing much better now. I’ve got a small business, and with this income I’ve been able to rent a house.  If I hadn’t met Handicap International, I would have gone mad, like a lot of people you see in the streets now.”

After Genocide against the Tutsis, Handicap International began operations in Rwanda distributing food aid and providing rehabilitation. The first mental health project began in 1996, providing psychosocial support to children who had lost their parents. The project has been running ever since, and has expanded significantly. With your support, 7,200 people received psychosocial support in the past year.

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