Post-Traumatic Growth in Testimonies from Survivors and Perpetrators of the Rwanda Genocide

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Sch of Modern Languages

Abstract

Between April and July 1994, as many as one million people were brutally massacred in what has become known as the Rwanda Genocide. Some of those who lived through the genocide have chosen to record their experiences either orally or in writing. These testimonies make an invaluable contribution to understanding the genocide since without them our knowledge of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is restricted to official government narratives, historical records and journalistic accounts in which the voices of survivors and perpetrators remain largely unheard. Based on a pilot study carried out between 2010 and 2013, this project will focus on narratives of genocide by Rwandan people who experienced it first-hand. The narratives are oral testimonies recorded in Kinyarwanda by the Genocide Archive Rwanda, which is managed by our project partner, Nottinghamshire-based NGO, the Aegis Trust. The Aegis Trust began recording these testimonies in 2004 and, through our close collaboration with the Trust, we have access to a corpus of over 2,500 testimonies.

The trauma of experiencing genocide can have devastating psychological effects. Research has shown that post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety as well as emotional problems of guilt, shame, anger, substance abuse, conflicts within relationships and marriage breakdown are all common problems following trauma. Such problems have now been well documented in Rwandan people in the twenty years following the genocide. However, research also shows that in the struggle to rebuild lives there is often the possibility of positive changes for individuals and their communities. These positive changes are commonly referred to as post-traumatic growth. Post-traumatic growth describes the way in which survivors of trauma are able to build a new way of life that they experience as superior to the life they had before. It seems paradoxical to suggest that the genocide could have resulted in such positive changes, but research in other contexts suggests it is a real possibility.

Such positive changes are generally thought to result from the resolution of cognitive dissonance caused by an event that challenges or even shatters an individual's pre-trauma assumptions. The rebuilding of an individual's assumptive world may result in changes in domains of life such as self-perception, interpersonal relationships or life philosophy. However, basic world assumptions are likely to differ according to culture, as is the impact of trauma on those assumptions. While the concept of post-traumatic growth appears to be a universal phenomenon, the cognitive processes it involves, as well as the ways in which it is manifested, may vary from one culture to another. Through its focus on qualitative inquiry, this project will allow for a bottom-up understanding of post-traumatic growth in the specific context of post-genocide Rwanda.

In order to gain a better understanding of the impact of the genocide on Rwandan people, the project has three main objectives: (i) to determine whether processes of post-traumatic growth are taking place in Rwandan survivors and perpetrators; (ii) to allow the stories of ordinary Rwandan people to reach a wider audience; and (iii) to make a contribution to broader process of post-conflict healing, reconciliation and development.

By analysing testimonies through the lens of post-traumatic growth, the project will investigate the ways in which individual Rwandans demonstrate adjustment, and possibly even positive transformation, after the trauma of genocide. The project will use the qualitative findings from the textual analysis to build a culturally sensitive interview checklist for use in Rwanda by psychotherapists and trauma practitioners. As such, the project aims to provide insights into how post-traumatic growth may be promoted, ultimately contributing to the rebuilding of Rwandan society after 1994.

Planned Impact

The project will have an impact on four distinct non-academic groups:
(i) Practitioners carrying out trauma therapy and individuals engaged in such programmes;
(ii) Rwandans who wish to access a public platform to discuss the genocide;
(iii) The general public;
(iv) The Aegis Trust.

(i) In Rwanda, we will share our research with local therapists. Joseph, who is a practising psychotherapist, will lead the practitioners' workshop in Kigali, which will present the findings of our project to therapists working in Rwanda. By better understanding how positive changes take place among perpetrator and survivor communities, as well as how these differ from one another, this project will inform trauma practitioners working in Rwanda, providing insights into how growth may be facilitated within this particular socio-cultural context. This will ultimately help in the journey towards post-conflict reconciliation and human development. In the UK, the team's involvement with the University of Nottingham's Centre for Trauma, Resilience and Growth will ensure that practising counsellors, therapists and trauma practitioners are involved in the project through participation in the seminar series, the project's online presence and and the end-of-project conference.

(ii) Our research on Rwandan people's testimonies will make their stories available to a wider public. In doing so, this project will benefit individuals who experienced the Rwanda genocide and whose post-traumatic psychological and social adjustment requires that their testimonies be accurately recorded, listened to with sensitivity and disseminated to the world. Knowledge of what happened in Rwanda in 1994 is limited and often inaccurate. By publishing volumes of testimonies by Rwandan survivors and perpetrators, we will contribute to improving global understanding and dispelling myths about Rwanda and the genocide.

In addition, through our work on the testimonies held at Genocide Archive Rwanda, we will be able to check on the quality of translations of testimonies held in the archive and advise Aegis on suggested changes. The project will also fund the translation of additional testimonies provided by perpetrators, allowing their voices to be heard by a much larger audience and improving the quality and quantity of translated archival resources available in Genocide Archive Rwanda.

(iii) The project team shares the Aegis Trust's commitment to the importance of engagement as a means of increasing public awareness of genocide and its consequences. We will promote public understanding of the Rwanda genocide through our three engagement events that will take place each year of the project during the April commemoration period. These will be: (i) an education event for schools at the Holocaust Centre in Nottinghamshire; (ii) a film screening and Q and A at Broadway Cinema, Nottingham; and (iii) a practitioners' workshop at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Rwanda.

(iv) These events along with the project's findings on post-traumatic growth will allow us to help contribute to the Aegis Trust's genocide education programme. Furthermore, by generating interest in the work of the Aegis Trust, particularly Genocide Archive Rwanda, the project may increase monetary donations to the Aegis Trust, helping further their invaluable work which aims to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity as well as support communities suffering the consequences of genocide. Aegis will also receive all royalties earned from sales of the two volumes of testimony to be produced by the project team.

Publications

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Blackie L (2017) Varieties of Virtue Ethics

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Blackie L (2016) Can people experience posttraumatic growth after committing violent acts? in Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology

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Blackie, L. E. R. (2018) "'I am Rwandan': Unity and Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda" in Genocide Studies and Prevention

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Grayson H (2017) A Place for Individuals: Positive Growth in Rwanda in Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies

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Grayson H. (2018) Digital Archives in a Changing Rwanda in African Research and Documentation

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/M004155/1 25/05/2015 31/08/2016 £365,935
AH/M004155/2 Transfer AH/M004155/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2018 £234,267
 
Description We have found evidence of post-traumatic growth in testimonies from survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. We have also reflected on the ethical implications of identifying post-traumatic growth in perpetrators and concluded that, where there is such evidence, it must be handled carefully and with sensitivity to genocide survivors. While this is a controversial topic, one reason why the study of perpetrators may be useful is because of the potential of post-traumatic growth to promote genuine and lasting reconciliation.

In discussion with psychotherapists based in Rwanda, we have tested the usefulness of post-traumatic growth in the Rwandan context. We have discovered that the concept of post-traumatic growth can usefully be applied to post-genocide Rwanda, but our research has highlighted the need for a culturally specific tool for measuring positive psychological change after trauma. We have now developed a collaboration with a group of Rwandan therapists and we plan to continue working with them on this question.
Exploitation Route Our published book of testimonies will be used by others to improve understanding of the genocide and its consequences. It will also provide useful data for further qualitative studies of the effects of the Genocide against the Tutsi on individuals.

Our research on post-traumatic growth will inform scholarship in positive Psychology and the Humanities.

We hope to continue working with our collaborating psychotherapists in Rwanda to develop a culturally specific model for measuring post-traumatic growth in post-genocide Rwanda.

Our collaborating psychotherapists will pass on some of the training provided in our Kigali workshops to other therapists working in Rwanda.
Sectors Education,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://rwandan.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/outputs/
 
Description Public engagement events and media coverage of the project have improved awareness and understanding of both the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda and the concept of post-traumatic growth. Our research has improved the quality of materials available to the general public in the our work has improved the quality of materials in the Genocide Archive of Rwanda, by improving the consultability and accuracy of testimonies: the transcription and accurate English translation of 26 testimonies will give a chance to the end-users of the online archive, an opportunity to consult testimonies that were previously unavailable. The testimonies are being used by the Aegis Trust's Peace Education Programme in Rwanda and as part of the Ubumuntu Digital Platform. Our forthcoming (Spring 2019) book of testimonies will improve the visibility of the archive and improve public understanding of the Genocide against the Tutsi. We will measure this in terms of sales and published reviews. All royalties from the sales of the book of testimonies will be paid to the Aegis Trust who will use the money to further their genocide education campaigns in Rwanda and around the world. Rwandan survivors in the UK have acknowledged the importance of our research for Rwandan people because it has given a voice to survivors. The two therapists' workshops we held in Kigali have led to changes in practice among the psychotherapists who took part.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Education,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Therapists' workshop
Geographic Reach Africa 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact 100% of the practitioners surveyed agreed that the workshop had improved their understanding of post-traumatic growth and 73% stated that they would consider using the post-traumatic growth inventory in their practice. We will continue to work with the practitioners to co-create a culturally relevant and sensitive model of the post-traumatic growth inventory.
URL http://rwandan.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/workshop/
 
Description Rwanda MAP2020 
Organisation School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS)
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Hannah Grayson was invited to form part of a pilot team to coordinate an international network based in Paris. The network will bring together researchers working on the traces of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Francois Robinet (Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines), Dr Ornella Rovetta (Université libre de Bruxelles), Rémi Korma (EHESS) and Violaine Baraduc (EHESS) are part of the pilot coordination team, along with Dr Grayson.
Impact 20 April 2018, workshop in Paris to launch the network.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Rwanda MAP2020 
Organisation University Libre Bruxelles (Université Libre de Bruxelles ULB)
Country Belgium 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Hannah Grayson was invited to form part of a pilot team to coordinate an international network based in Paris. The network will bring together researchers working on the traces of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Francois Robinet (Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines), Dr Ornella Rovetta (Université libre de Bruxelles), Rémi Korma (EHESS) and Violaine Baraduc (EHESS) are part of the pilot coordination team, along with Dr Grayson.
Impact 20 April 2018, workshop in Paris to launch the network.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Rwanda MAP2020 
Organisation Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Hannah Grayson was invited to form part of a pilot team to coordinate an international network based in Paris. The network will bring together researchers working on the traces of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Collaborator Contribution Dr Francois Robinet (Université de Versailles-Saint-Quentin-en Yvelines), Dr Ornella Rovetta (Université libre de Bruxelles), Rémi Korma (EHESS) and Violaine Baraduc (EHESS) are part of the pilot coordination team, along with Dr Grayson.
Impact 20 April 2018, workshop in Paris to launch the network.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Holocaust Memorial Day, Drummond High School 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Prof Nicki Hitchcott gave a short presentation on the project as part of an evening commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day at Drummond High School, Edinburgh. We were invited by Iain Stewart of Edinburgh Interfaith. The presentation sparked questions about the project later in the evening and generated followers on Twitter.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Kwibuka 24 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Prof Nicki Hitchcott was invited to participate in the Scottish commemoration of the Gencocide Against the Tutsi held in Glenrothes baptist church, Fife. She gave a short presentation on the project and read an extract from one of the testimonies.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Rwanda After 1994: Stories of Change conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The conference brought together an international group of academics, artists, activists and practitioners to discuss the different ways in which Rwanda has changed since the Genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. The keynotes were Esther Mujawayo-Keiner, a genocide survivor, activist and therapist, and Malaika Uwamahoro, a spoken word poet and actress.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://rwandan.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/conference/
 
Description Soccer My Saviour 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public screening of the documentary film, Soccer My Saviour, the story of Rwandan genocide survivor and former international footballer, Eric Murangwa at the Byre theatre in St Andrews. The screen was introduced by Dr Hannah Grayson who presented our research project. After the screening, Hannah led a Q and A with Eric Murangwa and Mark Fleming Chaplain to the Scottish Football Association.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://rwandan.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/events/
 
Description The Faces we Lost: Film Screening and Q&A 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We screened the film, The Faces We Lost, at the Byre theatre in St Andrews. The event sold out (100 tickets sold) and the audience comprised of members of the general public and a large party of school pupils from a local secondary school. The film's director, Piotr Cieplak, introduced the film and participated in a Q&A with Prof Nicki Hitchcott after the film. In exit questionnaires, 62% of the audience reported that their knowledge of their Genocide against the Tutsi had improved after the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://byretheatre.com/events/byre-world-the-faces-we-lost/
 
Description The Uncondemned 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A public screening of the film The Uncondemned was followed by a Q and A with Prof Nicki Hitchcott and Dr Hannah Grayson. The audience asked many questions about our research project and some members of the audience followed us on Twitter. 88% of the audience surveyed reported that their knowledge and understanding of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda had improved as a result of our event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://byretheatre.com/events/byre-world-film-screening-the-uncondemned-2/