In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, MCC is supporting the work of trauma survivors who are helping other people in their own countries to begin healing the wounds of violence. The communal sharing of grief, pain, fear and hurt can rebuild trust and hope within broken communities and even bring enemies together. Here is how it happens.
Training the trainers
In March, MCC paid for these seven people from Nigeria and five from Congo to attend a three-week, training in Rwanda to become leaders of trauma healing workshops in their own countries. Together with others from Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda, they deepened their own healing journeys and learned the methods of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC), a lay person's approach to trauma healing. HROC was created by genocide survivors from the Friends (Quaker) churches in Burundi and Rwanda to bring healing to communities torn apart by ethnic violence. After completely the training, the MCC-supported participants returned to their homes in Nigeria and Congo to lead workshops in communities there.
Organizing the workshop
In Eastern Congo, Alex Elumbelo, left, and Florida Butoto, right, worked together with previous HROC graduate Ron Lubungo to organize a HROC workshop in Nundu, a town that has a history of violent conflict among many ethnic groups and nationalities.
Explaining what trauma is
On the first day of the workshop, participants learned about trauma. Although most of them have lived through situations of violence, they rarely have had the opportunity to learn about its mental and emotional effects. They divided into small groups, as pictured, to brainstorm lists of things that could cause trauma.
Learning to listen
The second day was for listening to each other’s stories. To get started, Alex Elumbelo and Florida Butoto performed a role play to demonstrate “good listening.” It is marked by attentiveness, sensitivity and responsiveness, not by lack of attention and dismissiveness. (Ron Lubungo listens in the background.)
Gathering the courage to share
Not only do participants need a safe listening space, they need to courage to tell their stories. At a workshop in Nasarawa State, Nigeria, MCC Nigeria peace coordinator Mugu Bakka Zako told workshop participants who had been displaced by the extremist group Boko Haram that the road to healing trauma starts with telling their stories to others who care. “Tears are part of the healing,” he said.
'Tears are part of healing'
Musa Ishaku Indawa shared his story in the Nigerian workshop of about 20 men and women, Christian and Muslim. Extremist group Boko Haram killed his father during an attack on Indawa’s community. Many people ran to the hills to save their lives while Boko Haram plundered their belongings.
Ibrahim Tumba told participants about being captured by Boko Haram fighters with five other people. While being driven to Boko Haram headquarters, he grabbed a gun from the captor and leaped out of the door, helping all five to escape. After he dropped the unused gun, the fighters did not pursue him. He said he did not even think about using the gun because as a Christian and a member of the Church of the Brethren, he was not taught to kill. Forgiveness, though, is difficult, he said, because of the destruction Boko Haram has done to him and to his community.
Learning to trust
The third day of a HROC workshop focuses on trust, community and reconnection. In Congo, Elelwa Mmasa, left, and Laheli Salima participated in an exercise called the trust walk. One participant closed her eyes and the other led her on a short walk to symbolize the rebuilding of trust after a period of difficulty. Often the people paired together are from conflicting groups.
By the end of the Congo workshop, many people talked about being relieved and unburdened because of the opportunity to tell their story, said Patrick Maxwell, an MCC worker in Congo who helps to coordinate the workshops.
The workshops also help to reduce conflict, he said. “By bringing people from different conflicting groups together and having them share vulnerability, you break the narrative that each side has of the other. It’s a humanizing process, and it’s very difficult to want to kill or hurt someone when they’ve been humanized to you in that way.”
Supporting each other
Trauma healing is most effective when large numbers of people in the same community have experienced the HROC workshops. The workshops help to build a support structure in the community for further discussion and for processing any new traumatic experiences.
“Social support is typically what people really need to manage trauma, so HROC focuses on giving people the means to support each other and find support,” said Patrick Maxwell, MCC worker in Congo. To that end, many more trainings will be held in Congo and Nigeria this year.