More than 830 community members (489 female and 347 male), comprising of genocide survivors, genocide perpetrators, their descendants, as well as former and current genocide convicts from Musanze, Nyabihu, Nyamagabe, Ngoma and Nyagatare Districts, completed Sociotherapy healing dialogues/spaces, which aimed to stimulate mutual healing, strengthen social cohesion and enhance trust and reconciliation among the participants. The latter were selected and allocated into 50 community-based healing spaces/groups (25 for adults, and 25 for youth). An additional 12 were created in four correctional facilities (Musanze, Nyamagabe, Ngoma and Nyagatare), to provide appropriate support after conducting a rigorous screening process to assess trauma levels and identify specific needs. These healing spaces, facilitated by trained sociotherapists, fostered dialogues on events related to the Genocide and history, with the goal of establishing the truth, promoting mutual healing, rebuilding trust, and where possible, seeking and granting forgiveness.
The establishment of the healing spaces aligns with the Societal Healing Programme in Rwanda, titled “Reinforcing community capacity for social cohesion and reconciliation through societal trauma healing in Rwanda,” funded by the Government of Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). It is being jointly implemented by Interpeace, Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR), Haguruka and Dignity in Detention Organization (DIDE), in collaboration with the Government of Rwanda through the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement (MINUBUMWE), Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) and Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS). The programme takes a holistic approach to address mental health, strengthens social cohesion and reconciliation, and promote sustainable collaborative livelihoods among Genocide survivors, Genocide perpetrators, their descendants, and prisoners.
The community-based healing spaces have contributed to reducing trauma and other psychological distress by fostering increased safety, trust, cohesion, and reconciliation among participants. Similarly, the healing spaces within correctional facilities contribute to improving prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration processes by providing psychosocial support to inmates nearing their release. Participating prisoners also acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to cope with their psychological distresses and live in peace and harmony with their fellow detainees. Through healing dialogues, prisoners are prepared to peacefully reintegrate with their families and communities. These dialogues enable mutual healing and provide opportunity for prisoners to express their willingness to seek forgiveness from the families they have offended. Moreover, the dialogues help prisoners reorient their lives and reconnect with their family and community members.
Graduates of community-based healing spaces receive support in acquiring business and entrepreneurship skills, along with seed capital to start small collaborative businesses. These ventures enable them to stay together and strengthen the bonds formed during the healing spaces. In prison, inmates who graduate from prison-based healing spaces are facilitated in acquiring Technical Vocational Education and Training (TEVT) skills, which aid them in earning a living after their release and successfully integrate into their communities.
A total of 836 individuals have graduated from the healing spaces, comprising 489 females and 347 males. Among them, 327 are young people, and 509 are adults. The prisoners who have participated in the programme amount to 173, including 119 females and 54 males. Specifically, in Musanze, there were 178 graduates, with 46 of them from Musanze prison. In Nyabihu, there were 147 graduates, Ngoma had 135 graduates, with 45 from Ngoma prison. Nyagatare had 186 graduates, including 40 from Nyagatare Juvenile Prison. Finally, Nyamagabe had 190 graduates, with 42 from Nyamagabe prison.
In addition to Sociotherapy, the Societal Healing Programme implements other interventions such as Multifamily therapy and Resilience-oriented therapy, which address intergenerational transmission of genocide legacies, marital conflict, improve intrafamily communication and cohesiveness, and strengthen the mental resilience of individuals and communities. The programme commenced as a pilot in Bugesera District in October 2020, reaching a total of 7,313 individuals, comprising 3,323 males and 3,990 females. Looking ahead, the programme aims to expand its reach, with a target of reaching over 20,000 individuals in Musanze, Nyabihu, Nyamagabe, Ngoma and Nyagatare within the next three years. With continued support from the Government of Sweden and other collaborative efforts of implementing organizations, it is poised to make a lasting impact on the lives of those affected by the Genocide, promoting healing, forgiveness, and a brighter future for Rwanda.
Murebwayire Emerita is among the survivors of Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 from Cyanika Nyamagabe, she is a witness of Mvurankuvure program under Societal Healing Project. She says “I never thought how important were these Sociotherapy healing dialogues/spaces contributing towards the healing of all kinds of affected Rwandan groups mentioned such as the survivors, perpetrators, ex-combatants and the returnees who had fled the country since 1959, she further narrates on how currently the genocide perpetrators are also experiencing burdens of guilty conscience about genocide crimes that hence forth need more support through societal healing program.