Rwanda; Testimonies of Trauma and Turmoil

Women Chapter International(WCI) conducted its second webinar on the 24th of April on the topic “Rwanda Testimonies of Trauma and Turmoil: Psychological Repercussions of Unresolved Trauma”. The webinar was hosted by Shumu Haque, one of the board members of WCI.

The Panelists included:
● Wiola Rebecka, psychotherapist, and author of the book “Rape. A history of shame. Diary of the survivors.” Currently, she is a clinical director of the Residential HANAC program, a Rape counselor at the emergency room of the Presbyterian Methodist Hospital, and a private practice therapist working with and for war rape survivors.”
● Liliane Umuhoza is a Rwandan public speaker, human rights advocate, and founder of the “Women Genocide Survivors Retreat” program, supporting women survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda psychologically and financially. She currently works for Foundation Rwanda as a project officer.
The program started with Shumu introducing Wiola to the audience. Wiola introduced Liliane to the audience after reflecting on the theme of the webinar.

Liliane Umuhoza shared her personal story of growing up without a father in aftermath of the genocide. She was only two years during the genocide and therefore does not have memories. However, she described her generation as “still traumatized.” According to Liliane, the trauma consequences last for generations. After she studied Peace and Conflict in the US, she started working with the survivors. Even though she herself is a survivor and knew the history, she found it shocking to talk to the survivors. Liliane shared that the survivors “talk as if they are still in the moment.” Even though it was daunting, she persisted and eventually founded the retreat program for the women genocide survivors, which aims to provide a safe space for them to share their stories in order to heal. The positive impact of the program was obvious in the relieved faces of the attendees. She shared the story of a survivor who was HIV positive and had stopped medications as she did not want to live. But after attending the program, she felt alive again. A short video about the retreat program was screened after Liliane’s speech.

The next panelist Wiola shared how her family’s story as Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland during the second world war contributed to her motivation to take up this cause. Her Grandma was imprisoned at Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp during the Holocaust. She was raped by a Russian soldier upon the camp’s liberation. She discussed the long-term consequences of transgenerational trauma which is passed down by generations of survivors, including high anxiety and inability to trust others. Shumu posed a question to Wiola about how she deals with the pressure to censor her work, as they are deemed to be too triggering. Wiola reflected that it is human nature to try to escape from a traumatic subject. It is due to this reason that not every story that she came across during her fieldwork can be made visible, although they are in her mind. Wiola concluded her speech at the end of the session by highlighting some of the main obstacles behind the rehabilitation of survivors, including the notions of shame and victim-blaming manifested by the patriarchal system.

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