AGLI is now bringing the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program back to the United States. American facilitators were trained in our International Trainings in Burundi and Rwanda in the summers of 2011 and 2013. They have come back and, sometimes with the mentoring of our HROC facilitators from Africa, have conducted a small number of basic HROC workshop, mostly for people who work in the immigrant community. Recently a workshop at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore was held for Bhutanese immigrants – 18 were expected but 38 showed up – and they would like to continue with more HROC workshops with their community. If you would like to attend such a workshop, please email me (email@example.com) and I will put you on the list to receive notices of up-coming HROC workshops.
In May, a basic HROC workshop was held again at Stony Run Meeting for Quakers and those working in the immigrant community. Madeline Schaefer, Aarati Kasturirangan, and Lucy Duncan from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) attended this workshop. These are three reports on the workshop reproduced with AFSC’s permission from their web publication, Acting in Faith: Connecting Friends to the work of AFSC.
Stone in the belly: Transforming trauma in community
by Lucy Duncan
Water/stress filling glass
Photo: Lucy Duncan
“Unless pain is transformed, it will be transferred.” – Richard Rohr, quoted by Amy Rakusin
When I was in Burundi after the World Conference of Friends in 2012, I visited a Peace Village outside Bujumbura where Hutu and Tutsi refugees were living. AFSC staff Triphonie Habonimana and Florence Ntakarutimana of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) program served as my hosts. They brought together perpetrators and victims of the decades-long conflict that had participated in the trauma healing workshops that HROC conducts in Bujumbura and elsewhere, sometimes in partnership with AFSC. The participants gathered in a small Friends church in the village and told me how the workshops had impacted them.
Each of them told stories of transformation: victims talked of forgiving horrendous acts perpetrated on them, and perpetrators talked about how they had reconnected with those they had harmed and had been healed from the shock of their acts. Listening to these stories of such deep and seemingly lasting change, it sounded like the workshops must work magic for there to be such healing. I wanted to learn more.
In mid-May three of us from AFSC participated in one of these three-day HROC workshops in Baltimore at Stony Run Meeting, led by one of my hosts in Burundi, Florence Ntakarutimana, as well as Americans Amy Rakusin and Bill Jacobsen.
During the workshop a woman who was a trauma nurse talked about how, with physical trauma, the wound often needs to be abraded, opened, exposed in order for there to be healing; if the wound isn’t cleaned and opened, it festers and can get worse or cause the loss of a limb, or even death.
This is true with wounds of the spirit, too. People can suffer spiritual death if they hold their wounds too tightly; they can let their hearts turn to stone.
In one activity on the first day, Florence provided a vivid demonstration of how stress and trauma operate in individuals and impact the community. She put a large glass on a tray in the middle of the room, with a pitcher of water next to it. She said, “Things happen that cause stress.”
“In Burundi, it’s sometimes not so easy to get breakfast for your children. They go to school without tea. One day you might not have bread.”
She filled the glass about a quarter full of water–the water was the stress, and the cup was the person without bread for their child.
She said, “You don’t have bread, but the next day you get some and feed your children. You feel better.”
Florence poured most of the water back out of the glass. She said, “You feel better, but not all of the stress is gone, the stress you’ve known.”
Florence said, “Normal stress comes and goes.”
“But let’s say, I am here in the United States and I get a phone call that my first born is in the hospital.” Florence filled the glass nearly to the top with water.
“And then I get another call, my son has died. Now I have no more space to hold the stress.” Florence filled the glass until it overflowed, the water spilled out onto the tray.
“Then I return to Burundi and my husband is hit by a car and dies. This kind of stress is hard, it makes a hard place in my belly.” She added a piece of wood to the cup and more water spilled out onto the tray. The wood represented repeated, difficult events in one’s life, but not necessarily ones that people planned.
Florence said, “And some stress is like stones, it breaks me.”
“What if some parents raped their own children and killed them… this is like a stone, a stone in one’s heart.”
Florence put a large stone into the glass. The water overflowed into the tray.
“This kind of stress is beyond what we can hold, beyond our capacity to hold.”
“This is traumatic stress. Sometimes we experience or perpetrate such hard things, sometimes our heart is broken, there are scars and they remain. Some wounds are fresh, others aren’t fresh, but they are still there.”
“Some are caused by natural disasters, but the hardest are those that people planned. This kind of stress causes trauma, because of what we have heard, what we have seen, or what we have done. There is also cumulative stress; all together things are so hard to bear. When you live on the edge of stress, it can be what seems to be a small thing that puts you over the edge.”
“What if your parents experienced trauma and haven’t healed, then you could be born with a stone in your belly, and that makes it hard to bear stress, to be resilient.”
Florence invited us to look at the tray. The tray holding the glass was full of water. “The family and community around the person who has experienced or is experiencing stress and trauma also is affected because the trauma, the pain, the stress overflows into the community.”
Sharing, she said, is critical in the healing process. In order for people to heal, it is important for them to expose the trauma they’ve experienced to the light and re-discover the threads of human care and connection. “The more we are able to open our hearts, the more we can let love in,” Florence said. As people share in community, the more all can sit together in the mystery and face what is unknown together.
This was the first day of three. In the next two days we explored how the stones of trauma can be softened and melted. We learned how the water in that overflowing glass can be replaced by healing waters from the community through sharing and that as each person heals, they can support the healing of others.
On that first day I was already beginning to see that through this very intentional and powerful, but quite simple, process the healing that occurs isn’t magic, but is miraculous nonetheless.
The empty chair: Bringing love into the room
by Aarati Kasturirangan
Copyright: Carol Von Canon
Note: In May of 2013, three AFSC staff including Aarati Kasturirangan, Program Officer for Integration and Impact, went to the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop held at Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. Aarati attended the workshop to understand firsthand the HROC work she had heard of from AFSC program staff in Burundi. She went to find out if she thought HROC could be useful for other AFSC programs around the world. – Lucy
I attended the workshop because HROC sounded miraculous to me. I went because it sounded impossible. I went to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears. I didn’t realize I also went to heal with my own heart.
On day two of this workshop, we all sat in a circle (Read Lucy Duncan’s blog post here for a beautiful description of a lesson from day one). Amy Rakusin, one of our facilitators, said, “I want you to think of someone who loves you or someone who has loved you. If you are lucky enough to have more than one person, think of whoever is most present for you right now.”
An image of my little sister leapt to mind. “Now think about why that person loves you.”
Think about why that person loves you. Not why you love them, or why you are so close. Why does she love me? It was a simple assignment that, for me, produced immediate, unexpected feeling. Why – does she – love me?
Amy continues, “Now I want you to stand behind your chair. Imagine you are that loved one. Be that person telling you why they love you.” When it was my turn, I stood already choked with tears I could not quite understand:
“Aarati, I love you because you were my first friend, another mom. You loved me unconditionally when I felt angry, when mom and dad did not know what to do. You have been there for me whenever I needed you. You are my best friend, and for a long time you were the most important person in my world. When things got bad at home I knew you were with me.”
I spoke these words to myself and felt a flood of love from my sister, pain in remembering those hard times she would have spoken of, anger that love is so often forged in the crucible of shared hardships, and a longing to see her because she now lives thousands of miles away.
This was the empty chair exercise. And one by one, each person embodied the one who loved them, and spoke of why they themselves were loved. Each of us reached into our own pasts to see with someone else’s eyes how our words, our acts, our mere presence had eased another’s sorrows, brought laughter into dark spaces, created safety in strange times.
As individuals, we each had our own reaction to the empty chair in front of us. So often, as someone recounted a story of love, it was coupled with pain, loss, grief, or anger. In some cases, hearing others’ stories gave us new eyes to see our own with.
We could also see how even someone who had done horrible things could have experienced love in their lives, love that could lead to recognition, remorse, redemption, and peace. And we could see how recognizing that person’s experience of love, we might be able to forgive past wrongs, rebuild connection, and move forward in community with those who had done us harm.
Together in that circle, we witnessed the powerful presence of love in the lives of 25 people, mostly strangers, but now somehow closer to us, part of our own connection to the human experience of love.
About the author: Aarati Kasturirangan is a program officer for the Integration and Impact Unit of AFSC. Her name is pronounced Arthi Kus-thu-ree-run-gun. She was born in New Delhi, India; raised in Wilmington, Del.; became an activist, wife, Ph.D., and mother in Chicago; stayed home with her kids in D.C.; and has now settled in Philladelphia. She blogs about identity (aaratikasturirangan.wordpress.com), sings as much as possible, and tells dumb jokes with her kids.
by Lucy Duncan
What is needed to build trust in community? After the HROC participants discussed healing from trauma and trust and mistrust, we set about to answer this question in small groups, and then reported back to each other.
As a whole group, we built a list of 49 qualities and practices needed to build trust in community.
I looked at this list and thought that these are the ingredients for creating one small plot of heaven—not one in which there is no conflict, but a community that is based on love.
Are there any qualities/practices that we didn’t include? What would you add? – Lucy
- Don’t try to live ahead of your stage of evolution
- Be consistent
- Create commonly understood expectations
- Foster good communication
- Provide opportunities for input
- Establish common goals
- Work together
- Share experiences
- Share and discuss values
- Provide opportunities for dialogue
- Open spaces for telling stories
- Listen, listen, listen
- Promote self-reflection
- Take time to know yourself
- Teach techniques for conflict resolution
- Create a climate of self-care
- Validate people’s experiences
- Be aware of your own weaknesses and limitations
- Be aware of your strengths
- Provide times to play with one another
- Create small groups for intimacy and connection
- Make spaces to gather together by identity to share perspectives
- Provide elements of choice
- Make opportunities for people to contribute their gifts
- Recognize people’s gifts
- Create porous, but clear, boundaries
- Name the injustice we have perpetrated
- Be who you say you want to be
- Share responsibility for what needs to get done
- Create ceremonies/rituals
- Address the needs in the community
- See the needs of others, address those needs
- Practice the values you share
- Practice faith
- Practice patience
- Be brave
- Sing and dance
- Take time for a personal spiritual practice
- Be slow, careful, intentional
- Share food
- Understand a hurt person’s limitation to respond
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Practice courage
- Trust yourself
- Work to help conflicting parties find common ground
- Practice healing before forgiveness
- Understand the historical context
- Be warriors of the heart