Trauma happens on many social levels including very intimate violence, to car accidents, to terrorism, to genocide (and many other levels in between). Following the visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial as well as talking with Rwandans about the recovery process, we have discovered many parallels in terms of how trauma manifests, when symptoms show up, and what kind of response is effective.
People in this country who survived the genocide have spent the last 20 years rebuilding their country as well as trust between people. The children who were orphaned have grown into adulthood and, while life is clearly not easy for many, there is movement beyond their horror and loss. Re-integration between survivors and perpetrators is occurring now and very strict laws are in place to eliminate racial division (which have been very effective by the way); these two things must occur together in order to prevent further violence. Rwanda has done an excellent job in the first phase of recovery from trauma. Naturally I cannot help but to compare.
Trauma therapists know that there is a certain recipe for recovery that is necessary to lift ourselves out of our past. Here is a general description:
1. Safety must be established first. Basic needs must be met.
2. Acknowledgement that the bad thing happened.
3. Validation that the bad thing was indeed bad and any kind of associated grief is appropriate.
4. An appropriate response must be offered. Responsibility must be appropriately assigned.
5. A plan for justice, reconciliation, forgiveness, letting go must be developed.
Generally if a trauma is acknowledged, that is the first necessary ingredient for moving towards trust (in others and in safety). Often in the United States, we get stuck here. It is very difficult for us to acknowledge the bad thing without blaming the survivor or denying it all together. Unfortunately a survivor of some sort event is often put on a timeline for recovery, is blamed for what happened to them, are not believed, and of course the other ingredients can only be added if the basics are addressed.
Rwanda has been able to do several things that has allowed the country to move towards healing. The first, as mentioned before is the acknowledgement that racial division is dangerous; it is not allowable to identify people based on ethnicity. One Rwanda One People. The second is responding appropriate by building community and helping people in concrete ways. There has been a significant effort to provide justice to survivors at a community level; survivors have a voice in that process and it is very intimate. As a result, Rwanda is now the safest country in Africa and has crime rates lower than the majority of states in the U.S. Citizens are required to give back to their community every month (it’s the law!). As a result, Rwanda is spotless; there is no trash anywhere! Rwanda’s economy is stable and strong and growing. There are laws supporting women~for example there must be a certain percentage of women in governing positions. Leveling the playing field between ethnic groups and gender has fostered a very stable and growing economy; one of the strongest in region.
Rwanda has figured out how to recover and thrive following a very recent and horrific tragedy in their country; we can all learn from what they have done.