Peace of Mind: Mediatrice’s story, Rwanda
“I was watching when my children were taken away by killers during the genocide,” explains Mediatrice, from Kigali city in Rwanda. “They took them from me and drowned them in the Nyabarongo river.”
The genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 has left deep scars throughout Rwandan society. After the genocide, Mediatrice found it hard to sleep, because when she did she could see the faces of her relatives who had been killed.
When International Alert began working to reconcile communities affected by the genocide, including survivors and perpetrators, Mediatrice and others were understandably skeptical. “At the start of the Urumuri project, we felt that their teachings on unity and reconciliation were unachievable.”
The project delivers mental health support alongside group dialogue and livelihoods initiatives to help strengthen community cohesion and reconciliation in 30 districts in Rwanda.
It is a partnership between International Alert and the national association of trauma counsellors, ARCT-Ruhuka, and is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
At first, Mediatrice and others resisted the messages. “As the days went on, we finally embraced their messages. On our way to the hall and back home and during the meeting, we had interactions with one another day after day.”
As members of the group shared conversation, food and even money, “I realised we are united,” she says. “It came to a point where they supported me during the wedding of my daughter.”
“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,” recalls Mediatrice. “Now, we live together in harmony.”
Next year will be the 30th commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda and more people involved in the genocide will be released from prison. It is vital they receive the support needed to successfully reintegrate back into society and reconcile with their neighbours who are still trying to live with the trauma of the past, like Mediatrice.
Mental health and psychosocial support such as that received by Mediatrice 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.