Healing Among Former Enemies: Cox and Jacobsen Train in East Africa

By Purnell T. Cropper | September 16, 2011

By Michelle Tooker ’07,’10M

Drs. Amy Cox and Bill Jacobsen, adjunct professors in Arcadia’s International Peace and Conflict Resolution program, traveled to Burundi recently to become trained facilitators in the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program and developed important reconciliation skills they plan to share with their students.

This year’s session marked the first-ever HROC international training and included participants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sweden and the United States. The program brought former enemies together as part of a three-day healing and training workshop that builds trust within the group through experiential activities and cooperative exercises. The program also aims to train facilitators so they can bring the HROC model to other countries.

“Now that we’re trained facilitators, we can work with African immigrants and other communities who wish to work through traumatic experiences and the aftereffects of war, trauma, violence and genocide,” says Cox.

“HROC has been an amazingly effective agent of reconciliation and healing and is well received in communities throughout Burundi and Rwanda and more recently, following the post-election violence, in Kenya,” adds Jacobsen. “Since individual trauma affects families and communities, and community trauma affects families and individuals, the program works at all three levels.”

Jacobsen’s connection to HROC stems from his volunteer work at Graterford Prison, where he serves as a facilitator of the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). He’s witnessed many positive outcomes from the project, which also is active in East Central Equatorial Africa through the African Great Lakes Initiative. Jacobsen says that after the genocides in Burundi and Rwanda, AVP facilitators in those countries worked with trauma specialists from the United States and England to develop a new trauma-healing program that helps to rebuild communities in the aftermath of serious violence, thus creating HROC.

Cox spent the first few days training near Rutana, working at a camp for civil war refugees and internally displaced persons, while Jacobsen stayed in Kibimba, which was the site of a horrendous massacre of several dozen Tutsi students in 1993. Afterward, the group reconvened in Burasira where they spent two weeks training to become officially certified in facilitating trauma-healing workshops.

“There were so many highlights of the experience,” says Cox. “Learning about how East African cultures work, how life works, how people spend their time, what values they have, what is important to them—you can’t learn that from a book. It needs to be experienced to understand.”

“I have little doubt that a highlight of the trip was people we worked most closely with for the three weeks of the training, people we grew to love, from Uganda, the DRC, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, Sweden, and the U.S. (including two African immigrants), as well as the three African facilitators, from Burundi, Rwanda, and the DRC. They will have a profound and long-lasting impact on us,” adds Jacobsen.

As far as translating their experiences back into the classroom, Cox and Jacobsen developed skills and firsthand experiences that will be instrumental in educating their students about reconciliation and healing after genocide.

“The experiences I gained in Burundi offer me an opportunity to bring first-hand, intercultural, conflict transformational experience into the classroom,” he says. “We lived and worked in villages where the only electricity was from generators, where people threshed their wheat in hollowed out logs and dried their cassava and beans in the sun, where water had to be carried, and plumbing was often a hole in the ground. We lived and studied peace work with people for whom the trauma of genocide, rape, HIV/AIDS, and malnutrition are daily realities. These experiences are life changing and will bring both a new level of sobriety and a new level of vision into the classroom. In addition, we learned a set of skills that are already being used in transformative ways in post Genocide Africa, skills that can be taught. Finally, it is my belief that praxis is generative and that practical experience in conflict work offers a vital balance to academic work in the world of international peace and conflict resolution.”

“I would love to have IPCR students go through the workshops and then get trained in trauma healing and take the opportunity to develop some additional and specific conflict resolution skills and work with communities trying to resolve conflict at the local level,” she adds.

In related news, Deogratias ‘Deo’ Niyizonkiza, a native of Burundi who is chronicled in the book Strength in What Remains, will speak at Arcadia on Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. Strength in What Remains served as this year’s summer reading selection for new students and details Niyizonkiza’s struggles in coming to the U.S. after witnessing ethnic violence in his home country.

“I can share that Deo’s story is exceptional because he escaped and many Burundians didn’t get the chance to come to the U.S. and get an education, many died, many suffer daily because of their experiences from the war, many were displaced, lost their families and homes,” says Cox. “What a testament to the human spirit that he survived and can now share his story and try to help other Burundians who suffered the way he did. The work we did in Burundi continues the efforts people like Deo make, trying to find ways to help and rebuild a broken and traumatized country.”