Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16847 Gaining Voice Through the Process of Sharing Personal Stories In Post-Genocide Rwanda

Friday, January 13, 2012: 8:30 AM
Roosevelt (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Regine U. King, PhD, SAMI Fellow, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, ON, Canada
Purpose: Extreme forms of trauma and psychosocial issues observed in post-conflict situations present unique problems for the mental well-being of individuals and communities and a threat to sustainable peace and economic reconstruction efforts in countries recovering from wars and genocide. Addressing psychosocial trauma may be most problematic in countries of the South that lack resources and programs to address not only the impact of the traumatic event of massive violence, but also the multiple related distressing issues including HIV/AIDS, extreme poverty, and continued interethnic tensions and injustices. Given the negative psychosocial consequences of multiple distressing issues on individuals and communities, investigating mental health approaches that promote the psychosocial healing of individuals and communities in the contextual realities of a particular situation is important. The author presents data from an ethnographic study that examined the role of sharing stories of personal experiences through the Healing of Life Wound (HLW), a community-based mental health program using designed to bring together Hutus and Tutsis, the two opposed groups in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Methods: Using a multi-method ethnographic qualitative study, I conducted participant observation with a group of 23 participants who attended the three-five day modules of HLW on bereavement, dealing with emotions, and forgiveness. Participants were purposively recruited from a waitlist of a local association implementing the program in a southern district of Rwanda. Among the participants, I conducted in-depth interviews with a select group of ten participants before and after they attended the intervention. Self-reflexive notes taken throughout the investigation and documents produced about the HLW were part of the collected data. Dialogic performance analysis methods were utilized to analyze and triangulate the different data sources. The major finding of the study was that the HLW program assisted participants to regain voice and construct a protected space through which they were able to share their personal stories with trusted people. Results: The study suggested the crucial role of allowing affected individuals to share their personal stories in a space that facilitates expression and cultivates moral virtues of compassion, care and action. According to participants' perceptions, the process of telling and listening to each other's allowed new understanding about self and others and created trustworthy individuals one could share one's suffering. As a result, participants reported feeling re-humanized and positive about themselves and others in the community. This provided motivation for positive attitudes and actions towards themselves and their immediate communities including family members, neighbours and the broader community. Implications: The data provide promising results that may improve the mental well-being of individuals who feel lonely and overwhelmed by negative emotions sadness, anger, hopelessness and hatred, and increased cohesion among community members who formerly considered themselves enemies. In addition, the HLW program may establish tools necessary for forgiveness and reconciliation processes.