Partner profile: ARCT-Ruhuka, Rwanda

Members of a group therapy session in Kigali, as part of the USAID Dufatanye Urumuri project in Rwanda. © Jimmy Adam Ndayizigiye/International Alert

ARCT-Ruhuka is the national association of trauma counsellors in Rwanda. They develop and support innovative psychosocial approaches to mental health services and strengthen professional capacity in understanding, treating and preventing mental health problems.

They deliver mental health and psychosocial support, conflict management and peacebuilding interventions in all 30 districts of Rwanda. International Alert has been working with ARCT-Ruhuka since 2007 to help support reconciliation between those affected by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi as well as to facilitate open and inclusive dialogue on contemporary sensitive issues in communities, schools and universities.

Issues of trauma, anxiety, depression and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder remain very high among Rwandans, almost 30 years on from the genocide. Yet, stigma around mental health and psychosocial wellbeing can make it challenging to reach those who most need support. “Because when you have those wounds, then it is not easy to open up,” explains Jane Abatoni, ARCT-Ruhuka’s Executive Secretary.

“In our partnership, we have an approach that is a community approach, where we bring together different categories of Rwandans. And we have recognised that mental health is a key problem among people. Especially where there is conflict, it is always related to, somehow, mental health problems.”

Interview with Jane Abatoni, ARCT-Ruhuka’s Executive Secretary

ARCT-Ruhuka’s community-based intervention model uses cognitive behaviour therapy and humanistic approaches. They train local volunteers in basic mental health and psychosocial interventions, with technical and clinical supervision from professional counsellors to prevent indirect trauma and burnout, so they can provide quality individual and group therapy support as well as facilitate dialogue sessions in communities.

During the community dialogue sessions, members “sit and discuss the key issues that are affecting them – specifically that affecting their peace of mind and peaceful cohabitation in the community,” explains Jane.

ARCT-Ruhuka then provide the groups with livelihoods opportunities, to further strengthen community cohesion and support economic resilience. “It is a three-level approach … because we believe that mental health and psychosocial support is a key aspect for healing of people, especially the Rwandans.”

By the end of 2022, 150 community facilitators were trained and providing therapy sessions to genocide survivors, returning refugees, ex-prisoners, ex-combatants as well as young people – to prevent transgenerational trauma. Between them, they formed 255 therapy groups with a total of 2,917 members.

These groups serve as safe and confidential spaces where members can express their emotions, and exchange and learn from each other about healing, social cohesion and resilience building. Members have reported reduced symptoms of trauma, such as fear, anxiety, isolation, anger and guilt, and an increased sense of belonging to one’s family and society.

“On our way to the hall and back home and during the meeting, we had interactions with one another day after day,” recalls Mediatrice, a genocide survivor from Kigali city. “We also established a solidarity fund that we used to provide urgent support to people in need. We supported one another with farming activities, where the group tilled the land, planted and carried out weeding together. These served as a forum for continued interactions that led us to healing.” (Read Mediatrice’s story)

“I used to be held back by fear. But now I live in harmony with genocide survivors hurt by my actions.  We live together peacefully,” explains Bernard, a former prisoner from Kigali city. “We met at our local meeting hall and had an open conversation on the wrongs that we did to them.” Now, when a member of Bernard’s therapy group has a family event like a wedding, they invite the other members. “It pleases me a lot,” he says. (Read Bernard’s story)

You can read more about the impact of our work with ARCT-Ruhuka in our recent report, Peace of Mind, which demonstrates how peacebuilders can effectively incorporate mental health and psychosocial support in their own projects, drawing on lessons from our experience in Rwanda and Tajikistan.

Thank you to ARCT-Ruhuka for partnering with Alert in Rwanda.