Violence and war can destroy or damage social ties, which impedes the formation of mutual solidarity and inclusive communities. One of the aims of community based sociotherapy in Rwanda is to restore those social relationships that have been damaged or affected by the 1994 genocide.
For fifteen weeks, sociotherapy groups meet and discuss – under the guidance of a sociotherapist – various issues, and feelings such as shame, guilt, distrust and alienation. In this way, sociotherapy not only focusses on improving the psychological well-being of people affected by genocide, but also on deconstructing the strong psychological walls that often exist between offenders and victims, and on restoring the relationships between the two groups. By focusing on the community, meaningful social structures can be rebuilt, in which people can re-find and practice (self)-respect. This in time enhances people’s psychological well-being. Important to mention here is that most sociotherapists themselves were affected by the violence. Yet it is exactly their own experience that enables them to understand the sociotherapy participants and to facilitate the process in which participants’ wounds can be healed.
The following testimony from a sociotherapist illustrates how sociotherapy can deconstruct the psychological walls that may continue to shape everyday interaction. The sociotherapist lives in the Nyamagabe sector, which was characterized by two antagonist quartiers, Birambo A and Birambo B:
“Before joining sociotherapy, I had joined others to put our hands together to protect ourselves in Birambo A. We had named the two Birambo to show that we are different. Whenever we met the ex-prisoners from Birambo B, we used to stone them. The two hills could neither socialize nor share anything. It was difficult to bring together people from the two quartiers. […]
When I attended the first training as a sociotherapist, I started feeling the wind of change wheezing in my life. I felt interested to bring together people from the two sides. The challenge I faced was to approach the two groups, especially perpetrators, where I had myself fueled conflict. It was very difficult to me to invite ex-prisoners but finally I did. We started a socio-group that brought together people from Birambo A and B. […]
I observe a great change since people can greet each other now. I am happy now because people started living in harmony after genocide and gacaca. People, who went through sociotherapy, including me, wish if they have been supported financially after sociotherapy. I received much financial support but did not help me. I wish if I could get it now.”