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Support to societal healing and reconciliation – Interpeace

Young black men soldering iron
Support to societal healing and reconciliation – Interpeace
(c) European Commission

The adverse impact of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi still weighs heavily on Rwandan society today, particularly high levels of trauma and other mental health conditions. The fact that most of the hard core perpetrators who were handed longer sentences are now completing their prison terms and will be returning to their communities in big numbers over the next five years, makes the situation even more complex.

The Rwanda Mental Health Household Survey conducted in 2018 revealed high prevalence of mental health disorders countrywide, particularly among the survivors of genocide; among whom post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases were found in more than 50%.

Through the Interpeace project, FPI is supporting the implementation of an innovative and holistic trauma healing programme in Rwanda that includes the   investment in mental health and enhancing social cohesion. Through a partnership with the Ministry of National Unity and Civic Engagement (MINUBUMWE) and Prison Fellowship Rwanda, this project contributes to Rwanda’s efforts to address the invisible but deeply-felt wounds, and complement the remarkable investment and progress already made by the Government of Rwanda and local civil society organisations towards trauma healing, social cohesion and improved livelihoods.

As the country prepares to release over 20,000 prisoners in the next few years, the programme supports individuals grappling with anxiety and trauma, and the host communities to ensure effective reintegration.

“After 26 years of being in prison, they have not witnessed the tremendous changes that the Rwandan society has gone through. They need to be able to be brought into the reintegration process in communities,” said Scott Weber, President of Interpeace. “Prisoners need to become productive members of the society once again. Everyone hopes that they don’t go back into prisons through new crimes,” he added.

This trauma healing programme is even more important for families with children experiencing adverse intergenerational trauma, where young people who did not live through the genocide experience post-traumatic stress disorders or other significant negative experiences. A survey conducted in Bugesera by this programme in 2020/21 revealed that up to 27% of youth born after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi experience inter-generational transmission of trauma.

The scale of need across Rwanda shows how important it is to come together and support Rwandans to care for each other’s mental well-being.

The programme was piloted in Bugesera District, which is among the districts hardest hit by the Genocide Against the Tutsi in 1994. With funding from an EU member state, Sweden, the programme has been scaled up to 5 more districts.

On 25-26 October 2021, Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission travelled to Rwanda where he visited the project and underlined the will to build a better future.