Rwandan Peace Builder and Trauma Healer Shares Techniques With IPCR Students

By schwartzsa | October 25, 2011

On Oct. 18, special guest speaker Theoneste Bizimana, co-founder, facilitator and trainer of the African Great Lakes Initiative’s Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) Project, led a workshop on the organization’s unique approach to restoring peace in African communities devastated by genocide. Drs. Amy Cox and Bill Jacobsen, Adjunct Professors of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, who recently became trained facilitators of the project in Burundi, coordinated the event to help Arcadia’s IPCR students learn from these peace building and trauma healing techniques.

A citizen of Rwanda who lived through the Rwandan Genocide, Bizimana explained that his experiences contributed to his interest in peace and conflict resolution. As a counseling psychologist, he believes we all have the inner strength and capacity to heal from trauma. This philosophy drives HROC’s unique method of establishing peace, which takes 10 people from each side of the conflict and guides them through a three-day workshop. Within this methodology, trauma healing and peace building efforts must happen simultaneously.

“Rwanda and Burundi life is about family, it’s about sharing, it’s about community but because of war and genocide, it’s lost; it’s not there,” says Bizimana. “People cannot live within boundaries. So what we are trying to do is to help people heal their trauma and bring back this sense of community that was lost because of war and genocide.”

“Some people ask us, why don’t you work [with groups] separately? There are other programs that just try to work within the boundaries of certain groups, but for us in Rwanda, people may kill each other, but we know that each and every one of us there is something good; they still have this inner power of healing and rebuilding. We’re all victims and perpetrators. We believe that it’s most beneficial to bring people together to help each other and to heal from trauma and rebuild their relationship or connection. Up to now, that’s what motivates us. And we feel that if this trauma is not dealt with it can be transformed in to a great hatred, which can cause more violence and more conflict in the future.”

The workshop included clips from ICYIZERE: hope, a documentary featuring HROC’s encouraging results addressing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and conducting a series of group exercises that help to build trust.

During Bizmana’s visit to the U.S. he will work with HROC facilitators to run basic workshops. Cox and Jacobsen are excited to be hosting the first basic HROC workshop in Philadelphia with Bizimana on Oct. 29-31 at the Friend’s Peace Center.

Students who are interested in participating should contact  Cox or  Jacobsen and sign up for the three-day workshop.

“We welcome members of the Arcadia Community and students to participate in this as well as future HROC workshops,” says Cox. “It’s a tremendously important tool for healing and reconciliation personally, as well as developing professional skills for those interested in building sustainable peace.”