Peace of Mind: Alice’s story, Rwanda
The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994 has left deep scars in society, including among younger generations.
“I was conceived from rape perpetrated against my mother in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” says Alice Tuyishime, from the Southern province of Rwanda. This legacy has had a profound impact on her life, leading to quarrels with family members who questioned her identity and origins. At school, whenever the students were asked to write down their father’s name, it was a painful reminder for her that she didn’t know her father.
“This plunged me into a deep state of depression and sadness,” she recalls. “I was always angry.” She avoided interacting with her classmates and at breaktimes, when other students played outside, she stayed in the classroom. “That is where I felt peaceful.”
When International Alert first started our Duhuze project in her community, Alice initially didn’t want to participate. “It took them a lot of energy to convince me, because I felt the sessions were meaningless to me.”
The project, which ran from 2017 to 2022, delivered mental health support alongside group dialogue and livelihoods initiatives to help strengthen community cohesion and reconciliation in seven districts in Rwanda.
It was a partnership between International Alert and the national association of trauma counsellors, ARCT-Ruhuka, and a Rwandan human rights organisation, AJPRODHO-JIJUKIRWA, and was funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
One Wednesday, Alice made up her mind and attended one of the project’s group therapy sessions, which brought together genocide survivors and perpetrators. They also included orphans and children like herself who were born from rape committed during the genocide.
“The sessions focused on healing wounds and I finally felt I had found a safe place. We shared our grief. They pushed me to talk, which enabled me to open up. That is how I managed to heal progressively.”
The group also created a village saving and loan scheme. The idea was that members would save a set amount each week and, when needed, one of the members would be able to borrow from the savings.
“This saved me from engaging in social vices and begging,” Alice explains. “Whenever there was a need, I borrowed money from the group. I felt relieved in my heart. I used the money from the savings scheme to buy livestock like chickens.”
The group became more than the therapy sessions and dialogue meetings. “More important for my healing was their support in tilling my farm and providing financial assistance when I was sick.” Members of the group visited each other’s homes and became friends – even those who were responsible for the killing of other members’ families.
“That aroused in me a sense of love and humanity. I am no longer enslaved by grief and history. I am now able to provide therapy to people going through the same situation.”
“Had I stayed in my mood of the past, I was not going to be as successful as I am today,” says Alice. She has since started a family and especially loves to dance. “Everyone at church will tell you that Alice Tuyishime is known for her love of dancing! My heart is open now.”
Today International Alert and ARCT-Ruhuka continue to support communities in Rwanda through the USAID-funded Dufatanye Urumuri project. Building upon the achievements of Duhuze, the project involves activities in 30 districts across the country. Recognising the intergenerational legacy that the genocide has had in Rwandan society, Dufatanye Urumuri includes school and university students.
Mental health and psychosocial support such as that received by Alice is critical to building peace in communities around the world that are suffering the effects of past and current conflict. Our research, Peace of Mind, 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.