Survivors still need empathy, support to heal

Monday April 12 2021
Healing process

As the whole world stands with Rwanda in this sobering period of commemoration, some things have unfortunately remained the same 27 years later, while others even got worse with time.

Genocide survivors and their unbelievably heartbreaking stories remain as vestiges of the dark episode of Rwanda's history, but their perpetual lives of misery and pain 27 years later remain a point of shame for all of us. Many of the genocide survivors still suffer trauma and other mental health problems related to the horrific times they lived through.

Although trauma is a condition they live with on a daily basis, a number of factors contribute to the worsening of the condition such as poverty, homelessness and negative words from perpetrators intended to cause fresh hurt.

Some survivors live deplorable lives yet those who killed their families and destroyed their properties go on with their lives, not having even compensated or paid for the properties they destroyed. The government and other relevant authorities ought to revisit the cases of perpetrators who the Gacaca courts ruled pay survivors, and see to it that survivors are paid what they are owed.

The coronavirus pandemic with all its restrictions has also exasperated the problem of trauma among genocide survivors since it broke out last year. To many genocide survivors, the lockdowns and other virus containment measures evoked the painful memories of fear and hiding to survive the killings during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, sending many into a spiral of trauma.

One of the coping mechanisms of survivors with trauma has been meeting and talking to people, but this option was largely taken away by the pandemic. The pandemic also increased household poverty especially for those who were already fragile, which led to a spike in trauma.


Survivor organisations and the government collaborated on training more specialists in trauma counselling as well as trauma responders at the community level.

Although response is necessary, it is important that the relevant authorities work towards addressing the underlying drivers of trauma like household poverty among survivors.

Survivors organisations also ought to identify genocide survivors who have faced coronavirus-related setbacks and try to lobby for how they can be supported to get back on their feet.

The pandemic will come to an end but the genocide survivors will remain with us and they will continue dealing with the trauma they suffered as a result of what happened to them. Let us all take responsibility of being empathetic and support them to heal.

As we commemorate the genocide for the 27th time, let us honour the memory of those we lost by supporting those they left behind. It starts by avoiding adding salt to injury through genocide denial and revisionism.

Support can also come in the form of doing small things like visiting a genocide survivor to talk to them and give them comfort in a time like this. Listening to them can also make a world of difference.