Rwanda_DRC_July08 152So after more travels than I expected (with a surprise trip around Burundi tacked on to my original plan) I am now back in Bujumbura, with computer access which means I will hopefully be able to a little more editing than my last post (sorry!) as well as include some pictures (top to bottom: Lake Kivu, Rwandan countryside, HROC participants and facillitators in Gisenyi, Lac Vert in DRC).

As I mentioned in my last post, tensions between Rwandans and Congolese in the border towns of Goma and Gisenyi are quite tense, and also overlaid by other intergroup (“ethnic”) tensions that were greately exacerbated by the recent conflicts. One person mentioned that in the volcano that leveled part of the city of Goma in 2002, some people said they would rather cross hot lava than cross the border – a bit hyperbolic perhaps, but it illustrates the point.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 046 So does the work of HROC help the situation? In Goma, DRC I attended the third day of a HROC training, at the end of which people testified about how the training had helped them. One woman, who I learned had cried a good part of the second day of the training, told the story of her troubles: She had been married to a person of another ethnicity, and when the violence came her in-laws cast her out along with her 7 children. While later her husband did help some of her children to attend school, it was still quite difficult to feed everyone, and so she had great hope that her oldest child would be able to provide income when she graduated from secondary school. On graduation day, though, her child had suddenly collapsed and died, along with the dreams of her mother.

Like many people who participated, before the training she had not had any opportunity to speak about or explore her trauma, or recognize that trauma is something that needs and can be addressed. The opportunity to share her story with others in the training allowed her to let go of the burden she felt and begin to move forward. She was visibly quite moved, and hers is only one story among many.

The stories of people living in the IDP camps were similarly both grim and also inspiring. People told me horrific stories of fleeing from violence, witnessing the death of loved ones and rapes, and then of the difficulty of living in the IDP camp. In the light of such terror, I wondered if people would find much use for a three-day workshop, and in my questions I also tried to probe whether they would just rather us help them to feed their families, educate their children, and improve the material living situation in the camp.

Rwanda_DRC_July08 119 But I left overwhelmed with the sense that HROC is deeply important to them. While there may be a tendency among participants to tell someone like myself what they presume I want to hear and thus only praise the program, I felt like it was possible to see beyond such superficial displays to get to authentic praise and statements of need. Person after person urged me to do what I could to conduct more trainings for their neighbors and countrymen. Some of them claimed that the trainings were more important than other material resources, because without healing they felt that they could not go on with their lives and thus food and shelter were of no real use.

Consider another example, told to me by a man in the Bulengo IDP camp who in September of last year witnessed 7 people being killed in his village. He and his wife hid behind a latrine while their house was burned, and they managed to flee through the forest and arrived in Goma. Afterward, though, they were so traumatized by this experience that they were not eating nor were they engaged in trying to improve their lives (everyone in the camp has to find some form of work since the food distributed is insufficient to live on). Before the training he wanted to see Rwanda_DRC_July08 216a doctor because he felt like his heart was beating too fast, but after the HROC training his symptoms went away and he shared what he learned with his wife.

Now AGLI has a rule of not giving out stipends to people participating in our workshops (in contrast to other NGOs, which sometimes give quite large stipends), but after the workshop all of his neighbors noticed the change wrought in him by the workshop so clearly that they were convinced that he must have received money. To explain what had instead transformed him, he brought out his workbook from the HROC training and began to teach his neighbors about trauma healing. As he told me this and urged me to help everyone in the camp to receive HROC trainings, he held his HROC workbook in his hand (like many of the participants), tattered from frequent use.