April 7th marks 25 years since the horrific genocide in Rwanda began. Men, women, and children were tortured, raped, and massacred over a period of three months and more than 800,000 people died. The deep scars left by this senseless violence continue to be felt today. Nearly one third of the population in Rwanda still deal with genocide-related post-traumatic stress disorder. And more than one in five people struggle with depression.
Humanity & Inclusion 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, our team 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 help 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. Our team will prepare them to manage trauma crises and assist genocide victims at memorial sites.
“The after-effects are still felt today.”
“From day to day, people tend to bury and repress genocide-related trauma,” explains Chantal Umurungi, Humanity & Inclusion’s mental health and psychosocial support advisor in Rwanda. “During the commemoration period, memories, feelings, and emotions will resurface. The victims will confront their suffering.
“For some, it’s 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 and 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 difficult time. 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.”
Supporting victims for 25 years
Since 1996, Humanity & Inclusion 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. Our teams coordinate listening and discussion groups, where people can express themselves with support from a psychologist or community volunteers.
Small business projects
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 gives them dignity and independence.
“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.” Chantal adds. “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.”
Photo: Olive, 50, was injured during the genocide. Sometimes she has so much pain that she can’t leave her bed. Today, she is selling fruits thanks to the rehabilitation care and economic support she receives from Humanity & Inclusion.