Simon Nsabiyeze, CAFOD’s programme officer in Rwanda, talks to a woman in Musha
In April 1994, a campaign of brutal ethnic violence swept Rwanda. In the space of 100 days a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
Today, despite taking great strides, Rwanda is still one of the poorest countries in the world. After a long time of numbness, most genocide survivors are just beginning to mourn their loved ones. Simon Nsabiyeze, CAFOD’s country representative for Rwanda, talked to Sarah Davison about the healing process.
My official position is Psycho-social Programme Officer. I work with seven partners to promote trauma healing and contribute to unity and reconciliation in Rwanda.
Most of the NGOs based in Rwanda aren’t interested in funding trauma work for genocide survivors. People are concerned only when a crisis is happening, or about particularly ‘hot’ issues like HIV and AIDS. I think that’s because it’s difficult to see the direct impact of trauma healing work. There is little difference in the short-term but long-term, trauma work will help to heal Rwanda and bring about lasting change.
People went through a brutal period of conflict. You have to help them reintegrate, and meet the former perpetrators. It’s progressive work – you can’t make someone forgive but you can create the right conditions for forgiveness.
If someone’s family has been wiped out, you can’t bring them back. But you can help to improve their living conditions, renew their confidence and help them understand that life is still possible.
Creating decent living conditions is vital – it’s one of the basic aspects of reconciliation. If you’re living next door to someone who killed your family and they are living a better life than you, it feels unjust.
Our programme works on trauma in many different ways, including access to justice, house rehabilitation, education for children, and promoting peace and reconciliation.
I am a Rwandan. Having local staff is one of CAFOD’s great strengths. As local people, we understand, we can integrate. CAFOD started work just after the genocide. We work to strengthen organisations and listens to Rwandese voices – we don’t dictate.
If you want to promote unity and reconciliation you must work with perpetrators as well as survivors. The church helps everybody, regardless of their history. If you reinforce people to focus on themselves and their groups, you reinforce the divide.
We bring groups together in church . Before, people would pray together but they weren’t sharing emotions, they didn’t have peace in their minds. Now people are sitting together, sharing food together, sharing problems.
Responding to additional needs, not only trauma, is so important. You can counsel someone but at the end of the session they might have to sleep rough because they are homeless. Or we might do group counselling with a woman who says: “thanks for your help but I have five children who don’t go to school. What can I do?”
In the last five years, our partners have been able to respond to some of these needs. They have gained confidence and we are reaching more people than ever before.
People in Rwanda are regaining hope. They’re saying “I need to get on with life, I need to start a business”.
Today you see widows who want to get involved in group associations. They understand that engaging in a CAFOD project, is engaging in a ‘life’ project. They see a future ahead.