Emmanuel, 37, Nyundo: "Little gestures can change people's minds"

My name is Emmanuel. I am 37 years old. I am married and I have five children. I work here as a sociotherapist since two years. I was initially recruited by local leaders at sector level. The CBSP staff informed the Executive Secretary about their criteria for a good sociotherapist, who then decided to approach me. During an interview with two staff members of CBSP, I was informed about CBSP’s objectives (such as reconciliation and social cohesion). I expected that with this program I would not only help other people in reconciling, but also that I could personally be helped in improving my relationship with my wife and neighbors.

I was very young when I got married; I am not the first born, but I was the first to get married. My parents did not understand why I was in such a hurry to get married, and we conflicted. Since then, I could not socialize nor live with them in peace. However, as I did not my own house yet, my wife and I saw ourselves forced to live in the kitchen of their house. We lived in poverty. I could not even provide my wife with food and clothes whenever she asked for it. We started to fight a lot, and I beat her. This situation lasted for more than ten years. In the end, I could not greet or embrace my wife whenever I came back home, let alone that we could sit together and talk about the future of our family. During the first sociotherapy training, I shared my problem with my fellow sociotherapists. They made me realize that I was the cause of the conflict, and that therefore I had to change my behavior. After coming back from that first training, I greeted my wife for the first time in a long time. She was astonished. Gradually, we started talking again. We discussed about the development of our family, and we decided that getting our own house was most important. After saving money and selling our cow, we managed to buy a land and construct a house. We now live in that house. Our community members are very impressed by the change my wife and I have made. The program reset my mind.

Facilitating sociogroups is not always easy. I remember that I was very unconfident and afraid when helping my first group. But as I continued, I became more familiar with it every week. Also, through the other sociotherapy trainings (such as the refreshment training and advanced training) I became really confident in facilitating sociotherapy groups. It increased my capacity to make people that normally would not talk. I now perform well and I am very proud to see people opening up and revealing their problems. Still, I think the biggest challenge as sociotherapist are complicated cases, such as psychosomatic diseases. Also, material problems are hard to address. You may meet someone who does not have a house, or someone who needs health insurance. In those sociotherapy sessions we cannot find a house, or pay someone’s insurance. We can only help them to find a way of getting out of those problems.

What sociotherapy taught me amongst others is that little gestures can sometimes change someone’s mindset or behavior. For example, one of my participants, a genocide survivor, was never able to attend memorial events during the commemoration week. Latitsia was recruited into a group of genocide survivors, ex-prisoners (including one of her offenders) and people who paid or had to pay reparation money to her. The perpetrator revealed everything about how he killed Latitsia’s family and how they also planned to kill her. He asked for forgiveness. After that, Latitsia opened up and shared her experiences. Also, she explained that she could not attend the memorial events because there she would see other genocide survivors with their relatives, while she did not have any relatives anymore. It made her feel alone and unsafe. The other sociotherapy participants decided to become her friends and relatives. For the first time in 22 year, Latitsia attended the memorial events this year, accompanied by all the participants. It makes me very happy to see people that could not even talk to each other before, now socialize and support one another.

If sociotherapy had not been here, I am sure we would still be fighting in the kitchen of my parents. However, I now have a good relationship with my family and community. My father and I are really close now; my neighbors visit me regularly to discuss their problems with me and ask for advice. In addition, I have been voted to become a member of the sector council. I sense that many people are curious to join sociotherapy, as they observe the change in behavior of the graduates in their community. Sociotherapy should therefore not be seen as a project with an end; it is a continuous circle. People need it.