On July 4th two countries – the USA and Rwanda – celebrate their independence. On the face of it, that is where the similarities end. Rwanda is a landlocked country about the size of Maryland or Wales with 13 million inhabitants; the USA has a population of 332 million, and its landmass is twice the size of the European Union, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
The USA and Rwanda have both marked their liberation from tyranny in a spirit of optimism and pride, eager to build a new and better society. Yet their histories continue to leave their marks today. As Americans are often reminded, the Civil War still has an impact on contemporary attitudes, one hundred and fifty years later. The same applies in Rwanda where the more recent genocide scars people who were not even alive at the time, as well as survivors of the slaughter.
Anyone reading this who has been deeply touched by the death of a loved one knows that time does not necessarily heal. Rather, we learn how to manage our grief. In the case of a genocide, there are frequent reminders of horrific events: some survivors are mocked daily by those who killed their families and who have now returned to the community. A state of true personal independence is not possible while a person is chained by memories. Real independence, whether it is for a country or an individual, is about charting one’s own future course.
What Is Network For Africa Doing?
We are in the business of supplying the tools to help survivors manage their traumatic memories, enabling them to lead productive lives, planning for the future, building their capacity to make those plans a reality. We work with our longstanding local partner in Rwanda, the Survivors Fund, to equip people with the capacity to manage their post-traumatic stress disorder and the depression that is so common among survivors of terrible events.
Key to our efforts is building mutual support groups where young genocide survivors can find solidarity and empathy.
Time and again we are told,
Now I have friends who can help me with practical problems.
Finally, I know people who understand what I have been through since the genocide and the challenges I continue to face alone.
I feel like I belong.
It sounds contradictory, but true independence comes through knowing people you can call on for help when you need it, rather than feeling alone and vulnerable. We salute our Rwandan friends and partners as they meet their challenges with confidence and smiles. Happy Independence Day.PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT N4A’S WORK