Local support groups continue to play an important role in assisting survivors of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi who are still battling trauma.
The groups meet regularly and provide an environment for survivors to share their stories and receive social therapy.
With 136 groups spread across 23 districts in the country, the gatherings have become a lifeline for survivors who are still battling trauma and mental health challenges. Through the support of psychotherapists from local non-governmental organisations, the groups provide a sense of community and solidarity to help survivors overcome their struggles.
For Esther Mukashema, a resident of Kamonyi District and survivor of the genocide, the groups have been a godsend. Since joining in 2019, she's found a sense of belonging and friendship that she thought was lost forever.
"My situation has majorly improved since 2019," she says. "I have been able to make friends again for the first time in years, for instance. My children and neighbours tell me I have changed and that makes me proud. I am always looking forward to the meeting. During hard times, the conversations keep me going."
She says the importance of the group cannot be gainsaid, as they provide a sense of community and solidarity for her and others who may otherwise feel isolated and alone.
The support groups meet weekly and bring together survivors, psychotherapists, and local NGOs to provide support. They groups offer a haven for those who continue to struggle with the harrowing experiences of the genocide, which claimed over 1 million lives.
The support groups also have a savings wing, which provides financial support to the members. Patricie Mukandutiye, who oversees mental health support programmes at AVEGA Agahozo, an association of widows of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, says the group provides the necessary financial literacy.
She said for some widows, the trauma they experienced left them unable to work, while others lost their families and livelihoods.
“The focus groups have become the most efficient way to follow up and help our members. Through these groups, we not only provide social support but are able to follow up with those who are, for instance, chronically ill or are facing other challenges,"Ms Mukandutiye told Rwanda Today.
The support groups are more than just a safe space for survivors; they're also playing a role in decentralizing mental health services. With 36 percent of genocide survivors experiencing depression, the need for mental health care is high.
Rwanda Biomedical Center has been working to deploy more psychiatrists at health centers from two to 16 since 2005.
“We are working to employ more psychiatrists at local levels. We also provide annual training to community health workers, so they know how to help survivors in their communities,” said Anne Marie Bamukunde, a mental health officer at RBC.
Ms Bamukunde added that upon noticing an increasing number of trauma cases among people born after 1994, the center has deployed mental health officers in schools.