Where Everyone Knows Your Name

Posted by: Catherine Hodge on 07/11/2017
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Network for Africa’s Founder and Trustee, Rebecca Tinsley reflects on the work carried out by N4A and our partners in Rwanda:


Imagine not knowing your own name because you were so young when your parents were killed, you have no idea what they called you. Or what they looked like, or where you lived. Imagine you have no friends or family alive who can tell you about your parents.


The 1994 Rwandan genocide created half a million orphans. When the fighting ended, children who had survived faced years of challenges. Many were exploited by unscrupulous adults. Some orphans went to live with distant relatives who had survived the slaughter. Yet, in many cases, they were treated like servants and denied an education. Others ended up living on the streets, in small groups who defended each other and became like families. The eldest in the group might only be fourteen years old, but they would work to provide for the youngsters, making sure they went to school.


I visited the Rwandan charity, SURF (the Survivors’ Fund) in 2004, on my first trip to Rwanda. Together, we built houses for child-headed households, as well as a health centre/center for survivors that has flourished and grown into an excellent medical facility. Now, Network for Africa is providing psychotherapy counselling/counseling for hundreds of SURF’s genocide orphans.


In our pilot project, US psychologist Shelly Evans, our remarkable volunteer, trained four local counsellors/counselors. They run sessions for 17 groups of young Rwandans afflicted by post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. We selected 24 bright and empathetic individuals from among these beneficiaries to become peer support counsellors/counselors. Who better to understand the difficulties facing their fellow genocide survivors?


Our peer support counsellors/counselors provide both group sessions and one-on-one support. They reach hundreds of genocide survivors who have been struggling alone for years. One of their 30-year-old clients told us our help had saved his marriage. “Because of trauma I was angry and hopeless and aggressive. I was in conflict with my wife and community. But after the fourth session, I stopped the divorce process and started to communicate properly with my wife. Now, I have hope for the future. All these changes are results of the counselling project and I thank you.”


Our team has gone beyond their original remit by encouraging an atmosphere of mutual help among each group’s members. For instance, one group came together to renovate someone’s kitchen and another survivor’s bathroom. For genocide orphans who have suffered from loneliness and stigma, it is crucial to find a common identity and a supportive network. They have moved from anonymity and isolation to a place where everyone knows their name.


Our counsellors/counselors have also been on a journey of discovery, facing their own trauma as they learn the tricks of the trade, helping others. We are proud to support these resourceful and resilient young people.


This project costs money, however, and we are grateful for any donations to make this work possible. Please click the arrow on the right to support us.