is slowing down due to this peace work. I realized that if people
had gone to these trainings before, it would have reduced the violence.
Kaembe Majumbuko, Chief of Nyamitaba
The trainings Chief Majumbuko is referring to are the 3-day Healing
and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshops run by the Ebenezer
Peace Center in the North Kivu province of eastern Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC). With original funding from the African Great Lakes
Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams and further support from the
Saskatchewan Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian Friends
Service Committee, and individual donors, the HROC-North Kivu program
has held over 70 workshops in the North Kivu region since May 2007,
primarily in the Masisi Territory and Internally Displaced Persons
(IDP) camps located around the provincial capital of Goma.
program was developed in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, predominantly
Rwanda and Burundi, to address the on-going effects of
violence and trauma in the lives of individuals and communities. Partially
adapted from the Alternatives to Violence Project, HROC is a 3-day
curriculum which uses a participatory approach (including the use of
games, songs, and discussion) to teach participants about the concept
of trauma (definition, origin, symptoms, and consequences), facilitate
the initial stages of expression of loss, grief, and mourning, establish
mechanisms to deal with anger, and build trust between individuals
and within communities which have histories of violence and betrayal.
HROC is based on the underlying philosophy that in every person there
is something good, that each individual and community has the inner
capacity to heal and recover from trauma, and that trauma healing is
fundamentally connected to the possibilities of long-term peace. HROC’s
approach relies on participants’ own knowledge of their experiences
to facilitate a healing process.
introduced to eastern DRC with the goal of “bringing
the community back together and helping people live in unity.” There
has been deadly conflict in the North Kivu province since 1992 and
the majority of people in the region have suffered some degree of trauma
through the direct (fighting, rape, lootings) and in-direct (disease,
poverty, malnutrition) consequences of violence. The conflict in North
Kivu has intensified already deep ethnic divisions and has caused people
to fear living side by side. Given the success of HROC programs in
Rwanda and Burundi in addressing the hidden pain lying just below the
surface due to war and genocide, it was deemed appropriate to bring/adapt
the HROC program to the DRC context.
2010, AGLI performed its first evaluation of the impact of HROC workshops
in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (a copy of
the full evaluation report is available at www.aglifpt.org). As Chief
Majumbuko’s quote captures so clearly: the HROC program is having
a real, significant impact on the communities where it works.
days, we—Zawadi Nikuze and Alexandra Douglas—individually
interviewed 12 past participants and facilitators, as well as held
a group session with 39 past participants, to see how HROC has impacted
their lives over time and how the HROC-North Kivu program can be improved
in the future. In addition, we spoke with two rape survivors who participated
in HROC North Kivu’s new trauma healing initiative for women
who have experienced sexual violence.
The feedback we received from the evaluation was overwhelmingly positive.
On the one hand, the impact of the HROC program is quantifiable. Chief
Majumbuko testified that the number of court cases in Nyamitaba has
noticeably dropped since community members began participating in the
HROC workshops. People engaged in land and property disputes as a result
of the war have begun to settle these problems peacefully between themselves,
without involving or even dropping previously instigated court cases.
other hand, the impact of the HROC program in the North Kivu province
as it lies in the hearts and minds of the people
who participated in the program. People reported having fewer flashbacks
and other trauma symptoms, reaching out to neighbors or community members
who killed their family and/or looted their home, choosing to not join
the army or militia, deciding not to seek revenge, and—as so
many participants described it—learning “to feel” again.
The positive impact of the HROC program can be summarized into three
overarching and recurrent concepts: trauma-healing, reconciliation,
Most participants had never heard of trauma before coming to a HROC
workshop; those who had heard of trauma said they did not know what
it meant. Nonetheless, almost all participants in the evaluation
expressed relief at finally being able to name and understand what
they had been experiencing and feeling since their initial moment(s)
of trauma. Such validation then enabled them to see a path forward
in their own stages of healing.
Worthwhile noting is that the impact of the HROC trauma healing workshops
seems to go well beyond addressing the direct outside pressures of
war (lootings, banditry, theft, land scarcity, killings,rape, etc).
Many participants stated that the teachings also address painful and
debilitating household conflicts such as domestic abuse, the stigmatization
of pregnancy outside of marriage or due to rape, children of one marriage
being pitted against the other, relations between a widow and her in-laws,
etc., thus demonstrating that the program works within a more holistic
understanding of conflict.
of deadly conflict, the staggering outside pressures of war often
themselves in domestic or intra-familial disputes. One
woman described how, despite living through more than a decade of war
and fleeing to an IDP camp, the “most traumatic moments in [her]
life were seeing [her] husband coming home already drunk.” Such
personal trauma is often overlooked or sidelined by peacebuilding projects;
yet HROC, which uses participants own experiences to facilitate understandings
of trauma, is able to access these personal issues as a springboard
for further learning and recovery.
The second concept leading to HROC’s positive impact on the lives
of participants is reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are
not concepts which are themselves taught in the 3-day HROC workshops;
however, they were reported as frequent (and welcome) byproducts of
the trainings. As a previous evaluation on HROC programs in Rwanda
reported, the HROC program recognizes that “to choose to forgive
someone is a deeply personal and tremendously difficult process. No
one knows how a person will react after learning about trauma, grief,
and trust or hearing the truth about what happened to a slain relative… [HROC]
does not outwardly promote forgiveness or even discuss it directly;
rather the program seeks to empower participants to make their own
choices and creates a unique place for people to begin rebuilding broken
relationships of the past.” And indeed it does.
North Kivu HROC participants reported frequently reaching out to neighbors
and former friends who had killed their family members or stolen all
of their belongings. Many women also reported reaching out to their
in-laws who had abandoned them after the death of their husbands and/or
making amends with parents who had thrown them out due to pregnancies.
As forgiveness itself is not taught, these stories of reconciliation
grow out of a process of internal understanding and awareness of what
it will take to break the enduring cycle of violence in their own lives
and in the eastern DRC.
this internal process of understanding that forms the basis of reconciliation
leads to the long-term positive impact of the
HROC program. The post-conflict environment brings with it a myriad
of challenges. Returned refugees find that their land is occupied or
that their belongings are gone; so-called “victims” and “perpetrators” return
to living side by side in their villages; rape survivors face extreme
stigmatization and ostracization from their communities; and the list
goes on. These challenges often become court cases presented to a juridical
sector which is broken and powerless after years of deadly conflict.
Therefore, people often leave court with little resolution, even more
frustration, and a deeper mistrust in the state’s ability to
administer justice. At this point, people often take matters “into
their own hands,” carrying out acts of revenge or retribution
and thus continuing a cycle of violence.
teachings illuminate the root causes of violence (mistrust, hatred,
allow participants to draw their own conclusions about
how to move out of the cycle of violence. Very often, their conclusions
point them to reconciliation. Because reconciliation is drawn from
participants’ own self-knowledge and conclusions, it has a deeper
and longer-lasting foundation than any teachings of forgiveness could
The final concept which leads to HROC’s success in the DRC is
context. When the HROC teachings first came to the DRC, many participants
were skeptical (or even fearful) of teachings which were “imported” from
Rwanda, given Rwanda’s role in the DRC conflict after 1996. However,
the ultimate success of the program in the DRC is due to the ability
of HROC to adapt to varying contexts and cultures. While many of the
games and teachings were derived from other East African and Western
concepts, DRC facilitators quickly adapted such games and activities
to be appropriate for their participants. Moreover, as the content
of the teachings is derived from participants own experiences, all
participants with whom we spoke found that they could relate to the
also work to create a safe-space for all participants. This includes
an ethnic make-up of both participants and facilitators
which is reflective of the community where the program is being conducted.
More recently, this also includes holding HROC workshops entirely for
women who are rape survivors. Such context adaptability is essential
to HROC’s success as it allows people to feel safe sharing their
experiences, which is critical to their healing and learning processes.
In the end, participants were very pleased with the work of HROC over
its almost three years in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They recommended
more workshops, in more villages, with more local facilitators, with
more focused constituent groups, with more resources, with more help.
Participants, like Chief Majumbuko, truly believe that HROC will make
a difference on the long road of peace, despite the many challenges
that lay ahead.
next few pages, you will hear more about the transformative power
of the HROC
program in the lives of DRC participants. The article “Learning
from Within” discusses how participants internalize
the HROC teachings and begin their own processes of recovery and reconciliation.
Then, “The Worst Place to Be a Woman” gives
a more focused report on the use of rape in the eastern DRC conflict
and how HROC North Kivu is creating a trauma healing program to work
with women who have experienced sexual violence. Finally, we will conclude
with a discussion of the hopes and challenges that lay ahead for HROC’s
trauma healing program in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, to begin, we have tried to provide you with a deeper understanding
of the conflict in North Kivu.
Next article: The
Story You Need to Hear