Trauma-Induced Identity Transformation

A survivor receiving mental health support
A survivor receiving mental health support

The following is an extract from “Trauma Transforms: Female Survivors of the Rwandan Genocide” by Denise Sandole, M.S.

Denise, along with her supervisor, Professor Carl Auerbach, from the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University in New York, came to Rwanda to research the experiences of female survivors of the genocide and concluded that there are five interventions critical to their post-genocide recovery. Through a grounded theory methodology they analysed the testimonies of beneficiaries of Foundation Rwanda, a programme which SURF coordinates in Rwanda.

Healing Interventions

Through their interviews with Foundation Rwanda, these women told us what they need in order to recover from their trauma. Remarkably, they tell us that there is hope for them to heal:

Support Groups: Survivors need to relate to other women with similar experiences to process their trauma & recognize the inner strength which they used to survive:

“Avega called us in Kibuye and they identified people who went through violent rape and they gave us training how to cope with the aftermath of rape. It is then that I got the courage.”

Access to Specialized Medical Treatment: Survivors need access to more medical attention sensitive to their post-traumatic injuries:

“When I went to the government hospital for ARV’s [antiretroviral drugs], I would be in the same line with all these people that did all this havoc in my life and I faint there. So I opted not to take the drugs because the whole process was traumatizing. But since that program started where there are only survivors, I am comfortable and I can take them there.”

Employment Opportunities: Survivors need a greater number of work and leisure options as a route to self-sufficiency, which can lead to increases in self-esteem and self-worth:

“I’m saying if I could get something to start like a business I would be able to run it myself and I can, I’m still strong. I can work.”

Education for Their Children: Survivors need more assistance and higher rates of acceptance into institutions of higher education for their children so they know their futures will be protected:

“What I really want is she [her daughter] studies, she gets knowledge and wisdom, she becomes employed and she survives.”

Awareness: Survivors need recognition of their traumatic experiences by both the Rwandan and International communities. This validation will help them to integrate these experiences into their current lives so that they do not remain detached events:

“My message would be to the world that there is a group of people called the Tutsis in Rwanda who have really suffered. Who have been tortured, who have been discriminated against, who have been treated as second-class citizens for a long time. Until 94’ when they were all killed, almost, and the message I would say, let this thing not happen again.”

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