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During a three-month period, from April to July 1994, more than 800,000 Tutsis and 60,000 moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda in one of the swiftest episodes of genocide and mass killing in history. It is estimated that 2.5 million Rwandans took part in these killings, which were based on a long history of intergroup conflict. Neighbors, friends, and family members turned against one another with machetes, knives, and clubs. Grenades and other explosives devastated the physical infrastructure of this tiny East Central African country the size of Maryland.

Today, the Rwandan people are trying to rebuild their communities, lives, and country. How do people recover from such massive violence and traumatization? How does a country of 8 million integrate a million refugees, Tutsis who have returned from diverse lands, speaking different languages? How do intermarried families and mixed communities renegotiate their relationships and begin to reconcile?

A small team of mental health professionals with backgrounds in violence and trauma hopes to help. Laurie Anne Pearlman, PhD, of Trauma Research, Education and Training Institute Inc. and Ervin Staub, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst spent two weeks in Rwanda in January 1999 to lay the groundwork for an action research project titled, "Healing Through Understanding and Connection."

Along with Alexandra Gubin, BA, of the University of Massachusetts and Athanase Hagengimana, MD, of the National University of Rwanda, Pearlman and Staub have developed a plan to augment ongoing programs in Rwanda. They plan to offer staff training to members of organizations that currently work in the areas of healing, reconciliation, conflict resolution, and community building.

The goals of the training are to promote healing from traumatic stress, contribute to reconciliation, and help reduce the likelihood of further violence.

While in Rwanda, Pearlman and Staub conducted a daylong session with trainers from community organizations and trauma counselors. The 20 attendees seemed eager for more knowledge and the interconnections among organizations that the project offers. In exchange for training in seven specific areas, which Pearlman and Staub plan to conduct in Rwanda in June, the organizations will participate in research aimed at assessing the impact of current approaches and the added value of the seven elements.

The training will include psychoeducational components about the origins of genocide, basic human needs, psychological trauma, and paths to healing. Experiential elements include healing through writing and empathic responding. The training also will include a segment on vicarious traumatization in wounded healers.

Each participating organization will decide which of these elements would best augment its ongoing work. An important component of the training will be to work with participants on ways of integrating the new material into existing programs.

The John Templeton Foundation is funding this project through TREATI as part of its research program on forgiveness. The umbrella organization for the work in Rwanda is the National University of Rwanda.