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Home > Public Resources > Trauma Blog > 1999 - Winter > International Organizations

International Organizations

January 1, 1999

Starting in April 1994, the swiftest genocide in history took place in Rwanda. Within a few months, about 800,000 Tutsis, the main targets of this horrific violence, were killed as were about 50,000 moderate Hutus and others who in some way were viewed as threats to the government or obstacles to the killing. Despite advance warnings about the danger of killings and even of genocide, the world community stood by passively, allowing the massacres to unfold.

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of people who are struggling to recreate their lives and overcome the physical, material, interpersonal, and psychological losses they have sustained. Without healing and reconstruction, another genocide is imminent. In response to this need, a collaboration has developed.

Ervin Staub, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and I have received a $232,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to conduct a project titled "Healing, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation in Rwanda." The project is a group healing intervention, which is nested within the context of research on healing and forgiving.

We have recruited psychiatrist Athanase Hagengimana, M.D., vice-dean of the medical school of the National University of Rwanda, to serve as Rwandan local project coordinator. The team will recruit and train local facilitators to run groups where participants will have an opportunity to write and talk about their experiences in a supportive environment. The sessions include minipsychoeducational lectures and discussions about healing, genocide, and moving into the future.

Staub and I both have histories of social activism. We will make our first trip to Rwanda in January 1999. We will meet community leaders, work with Rwandans to tailor the intervention to the local culture, and work with Hagengimana to select specific research instruments. We will return to Rwanda in June 1999 to train research assistants and facilitators who will then conduct the research and intervention during the remainder of the year.

The project represents an effort to integrate theoretical and clinical knowledge about traumatic stress and psychological knowledge about genocide to help victims of group violence. The partnership with Hagengimana is one of the team's steps to ensure the cultural appropriateness of the intervention. The team hopes to develop an intervention methodology that can be used by local people without extensive training to work with large groups of traumatized people. Interested individuals are invited to contact me at laurie.pearlman@snet.net.