Stephen Joseph Ph.D.

What Doesn't Kill Us

After the Genocide in Rwanda

Stories of change, reconciliation and posttraumatic growth

Posted Jun 18, 2019

Back in July 2015, I posted about our visit to Kigali as part of the Rwandan Stories of Change Project. This was a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and based first at the University of Nottingham then at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in collaboration with the Aegis Trust and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda.

While the concept of posttraumatic growth originated in Western psychology it had only had limited attention in other cultures. It seemed possible that it may be a useful concept to explore with Rwandan individuals.

It is now 25 years since the Genocide against the Tutsi. For those who lived through the genocide, their memories remain and their losses are still real. Many Rwandan survivors had lost absolutely everything: their families, their homes, their belongings; their lives were completely destroyed. Many were left with severe physical and psychological wounds. Could people really grow after such extreme events?

We have now come to the end of the project and our book After the Genocide in Rwanda: Testimonies of Violence, Change and Reconciliation has now been published. In the foreword, Esther Mujawayo-Keiner writes that:

“The concept of post-traumatic growth tells us that if you have experienced such terrible things, then, of course, you have your stress and your trauma, but you can also grow. You can grow from that trauma….This philosophy is encapsulated in a metaphor: in the morning, when the cows go out, we clean out the shed and collect the manure. There is a place behind the fence, ‘Icukiro’, where we put the manure. After a week, a month, that place is really stinking. It is not a good place to sit and chat. You don't go there to chat with somebody. But if you grow a banana tree or a pumpkin near that stinking corner, you’ll produce a big one and a good one. So, let us use our stinking story, let us use our difficult past, at least to produce something. This is what we have been trying to do. And the bananas and pumpkins are big.”  

Esther Mujawayo-Keiner tells of her own loss in what is also a story of remarkable personal strength. Since experiencing the death of most of her family members, Esther has continued to touch the lives of many individuals in Rwanda and abroad, some of whom also share their testimonies in this book.

What transpires is that in, the aftermath of horrific violence, many Rwandan individuals recount stories that combine extraordinary struggle and resilience. The concept of posttraumatic growth does seem to offer a new and helpful way of thinking because it recognizes that after genocide people cannot be expected to return to the lives they had before, but that there is an ongoing process of moving into the future in full awareness of the social destruction and individual suffering and loss.  

All royalties from our book are donated to the Aegis Trust which is a UK-based NGO with offices in the US and Rwanda committed to genocide education and prevention. The Aegis Trust built and manages the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda and the Genocide Archive of Rwanda.

References

Grayson, H., Hitchcott, N., Blackie, L., & Joseph, S. (Eds.). (2019). After the genocide in Rwanda: Testimonies of violence, change and reconciliation. Bloomsbury Publishing.