SOCIOTHERAPY A PATHWAY TO SOCIAL COHESION IN POST-GENOCIDE RWANDA.
The first round of Sociotherapy sessions ended in Muhanga and Nyamagabe districts in last August 2019.The current Sociotherapy interventions in both districts are aiming at facilitating psychosocial reintegration of ex-prisoners, addressing the inter-generational legacies of genocide, and increase the level of ownership among local communities over the reconciliation process.
Sociotherapy is a form of group-therapy, whereby the group is used as a therapeutic medium in the establishment of trust, the creation of an open environment for discussion and the formation of peer-support structure.
Sociotherapy sessions helps people to address the psychological distress, enhance reconciliation and social cohesion. The graduates from Sociotherapy are people from different backgrounds such as ex-genocide prisoners, family members of genocide prisoners, genocide survivors as well as young people from families of ex-prisoners and genocide survivors. After 15 Sociotherapy sessions, all graduates often meet in conviviality meetings where they share the testimonies of healing and change.
84 out of 91 participants completed 15 weeks of Sociotherapy sessions in Muhanga district,and 140 out of 150 participants completed sociotherapy sessions in Nyamagabe district. The participation of men was high compared to the women, whereas in previous Sociotherapy groups the number of female participants was high. Interestingly, all graduate groups decided to continue meeting after 15 weeks of Sociotherapy sessions. They will be meeting and work together in small income generating activities groups, but also continuing dialogues and advising each other. As outcomes from the first round of sociotherapy sessions, the feeling of suspicion, mistrust and fear between genocide perpetrators and genocide survivors are being removed.
Ex-prisoners found an enabling environment for dialogues. Most of them were able to open up and talk with survivors about the truth related to genocide crimes and forgiveness process. Furthermore, a renewed sense cohabitation between ex-prisoners, families of prisoners as well as genocide survivors is being observed among sociotherapy graduates, therefore enhanced social cohesion among community members. Also this round of sociotherapy addressed the inter-generational legacies of genocide among young people, but because of sociotherapy, were able to share their psychosocial distress related to their parent’s backgrounds such as decedents of genocide perpetrators and genocide survivors. Among young participants, many of them said that during sociotherapy sessions they were not interested in doing works, they could spend most of their time wandering, drinking alcohol and drugs, and for girls experiencing unwanted pregnancies etc….. all these problems because of trauma and other psychosocial problems related to genocide consequences. Avoidance and hate to go to their villages of origin were also prevailing behavior among youth before they attend sociotherapy sessions. But, after their participation, they testified changes. For instance, some of them already went back to their families to live with their relatives, young girls said that they took measures to prevent them from getting unwanted pregnancies again.
In general, different testimonies of changes have been recorded from sociotherapy participants. For example, a testimony of a single mother “I gave birth to four children from different fathers. Because of the trauma and hard life, I experienced after the 94 genocide, I could not sleep without taking drugs, but after participating in Sociotherapy sessions, I realized how respectful I was. What I did was harmful to myself even to my children. It was my first time talking openly about what I passed through during the genocide! Today, I can sleep well without taking drugs or alcohol”.
Another testimony” 25 years after 94 genocides, I could not go to church, I used to read my bible on Sunday, I was afraid of attending church services because of what happened to me there during the genocide, I lost trust in priests and all their servants, today I don’t know what sociotherapy used to change my mindset, last month I attended church services and joined us in a prayer on Saint Godfrey day, which is also my name”.
A young from historically marginalized people said “after sociotherapy, I am no longer considered as behind history, I am rather ahead from history”. This to emphasize how sociotherapy helped him to build trust on him and on others. He further said that people should care one another. In this context he said “People instead of increasing knowledge from their studies, they rather increase hate and animosity”.
We can therefore say that, based on the outcomes of the first round of sociotherapy interventions, this approach can be considered as a path to rehabilitation social cohesion. However, some severe cases of trauma observed during sociotherapy sessions need further follow up. In addition, the groups of sociotherapy graduates when monitored and sustained can generate positive impact at the community level in regard with social cohesion, development and sustainable peace.
After her wedding, Mary regularly went to the water well with the other women in the village. As a wife, one of her jobs was to collect water for the family. One day, when the other women started to leave, Mary lagged behind, pretending to tether her donkeys together. Instead, she turned and ran as hard as she could in the other direction toward freedom.