“It is custom in the village to help your neighbors, but I could not bring myself to do it. My generosity was gone.”
These are the words of Donatile Uwicyeza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide which left her alone after her family was slaughtered. Almost three decades after the genocide, the wounds are deep and the need for healing is high.
The psychological wounds of a genocide deeply affect not just people’s attitudes, but also their ability to learn, work, make friends, and earn a living. Donatile recalls “The genocide swept out my family and I became very bitter, deeply sad and overcome by feelings of loneliness. I considered everyone from my opposite ethnic group as a perpetrator, accusing all of having orchestrated the death of my family.”
These wounds limited her ability to earn a living as a tailor. Donatile shared, “I could not work for a person that I thought to be a Hutu. When women would bring me fabric to work with, I would immediately think they had stolen the fabric after killing people like my family.”
Problems stemming from the trauma of the genocide were growing, and Donatile saw no way out of the darkness plaguing her thoughts. That is until USAID-funded Urumuri (which means “Light” in Kinyarwanda) came into her life.
“The Urumuri project came at the right time for me. I have changed thanks to the healing and the support I got from the therapy group sessions.”
Donatile receives individual and group psychosocial support from trained counselors. Her therapy group, made up of seven to 12 genocide survivors, meets twice a month for 12 to 18 weeks. Therapy groups organized by International Alert Rwanda, through the Urumuri project, create a community safe space allowing participants to share their experiences and develop healthy communication skills while learning ways to regulate their emotions.
As a result of the therapy sessions, Donatile now offers her tailoring services to every client, regardless of their ethnic background. She is actively working to undo the negative attitudes that have permeated all aspects of her life, and is especially focused on securing a peaceful future by changing the perspectives for her children.
There is still much to be done in reconciliation efforts. Many communities are still struggling to heal, and some are hesitant to accept the change in attitudes that come with these therapy sessions. USAID remains committed to funding reconciliation activities and providing psychological healing for the people of Rwanda.