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African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams

Report from Kenya #281 – May 30, 2014

HROC Report from Obo, Central African Republic

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Last night I had a dream. I saw all the people who had been killed by the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] coming to me giving me flowers. They told me that the flowers are the medicines to heal me of all the sicknesses. Pelagie

Comment: Obo is a town in the far southeastern corner of Central African Republic (CAR) with a population estimated at 12,787 people. It is close to the African Pole of Inaccessibility, meaning, according to Wikipedia, “a location that is the most challenging to reach owing to its remoteness from geographical features that could provide access.” It took AGLI’s team of three from Burundi and Rwanda over a week to reach there. First was a flight from Kigali to the Cameroons, then another one to Bangui, the capital of the CAR. Here they were stuck for a week because the country did not have enough aviation fuel for the plane to fly them the 750 miles to Obo.

The team was there at the invitation of Catholic Relief Services to introduce HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities) in three small towns which had been attacked by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). Obo has been attacked a number of times with the town looted and destroyed, many people killed, and children kidnapped into military and sexual slavery. Below is the report of the first workshop that the team conducted, written by team leader, Florence Ntakarutimana from HROC-Burundi. This report is important for two reasons: (1) it conveys the problems and difficulties of people in this remote area and (2) it is one of the best reports of a HROC workshop that I have seen.

HROC BASIC WORKSHOP REPORT IN OBO, Central African Republic

Obo,Central African Republic, 25th May 2014

Reporter: Florence Ntakarutimana

Introduction

On the 19-21 May 2014, the first Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) basic workshop was organized by the Secured, Empowered, Connected Communities (SECC) project in collaboration with the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) in Obo in the southeast of the Central African Republic. The Consortium of USAID, Caritas, Search for Common Ground (SFCG) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) felt a great need of implementing a program that would help to address the wounds of people as they had been victims of the LRA attacks and all the consequences of those attacks have left many lives in despair and with great inner wounds.

Participants, facilitators, and organizers as well, were waiting eagerly the start of this workshop because the flight from Bangui to Obo had been canceled twice. Finally then the three facilitators coming from Burundi and Rwanda, Florence Ntakarutimana, Eraste Ndikumana and Chrisostome Nshimiyimana, were able to travel and then to facilitate the workshop.

One view of the participants in the HROC workshop in Obo

Photo taken by Steve Kayimba

Another view of the participants in the HROC workshop in Obo

Photo taken by Steve Kayimba

Description of the workshop

The HROC three-day basic workshop covers six main sessions:

Session I: Introduction to trauma

Session II: Consequences of trauma

Session III: Loss, Grief, and Mourning

Session IV: Dealing with Anger

Session V: Trust Building

Session VI: Closing and Evaluation

“The basic workshop is the corner stone in a larger program designed to build community capacity to respond to widespread trauma and to strengthen interconnections and reduce isolation. Many participants in the basic workshop move on to advanced training to become Healing Companions in their communities. They are trained to listen compassionately and accompany family members and neighbors on their journeys of healing. Many participants also attend one day follow up sessions and community celebrations that bring together everyone in a community which has been through the program.” (Page 5 of HROC Manual in English).

Day 1

The first day started on 19th May 2014 in the afternoon, after the facilitators just arrived from Bangui. The workshop started with the general welcoming words given by Mr. Guy Sesengwe, the CRS Coordinator in Obo. After briefing the participants why the workshop was organized and thanking the facilitators for coming and wishing all a good stay, he handed the rest of the plan to the facilitators.

Twenty-four people participated in the workshop (12 men and 12 women). Among them 12 people came from Obo and neighboring communities, 2 came from Mboki, 1 from Bambuti, 1 from Kagema, 1 from Pabu, 1 from Mabusu and 2 from Ligoa. Four were staff of Caritas, CRS, and SFCG.

All religions were represented: Catholic, Protestants, traditional religion and Muslims (3 Muslims including 2 Imams and one lady).

When Mr Guy handed it to the facilitators, Florence Ntakarutimana, thanked all in general for committing to be part of the program, and thanked CRS and the Consortium in particular for having accepted AGLI to work together with them to implement the healing program here in Central African Republic, in order to help address wounds and transform the unspoken sorrow, where the SECC project operates.

She continued by sharing with the participants when, how and the objectives that HROC program was developed for, and its impact in the African region of the Great Lakes and outside the region.

Participants introduced themselves, and shared their expectations of the workshops. Many expected to get much knowledge on the concept of trauma, as many were confusing it with demon possession and mental illness, how to live a positive life after traumatic events happened, and how to help their family members to manage their trauma. The touching thing is that, in introducing himself/herself, each one was just mentioning the name and number of his/her family members who had been killed or taken in hostage by the LRA, saying that the main expectation is to heal the wounds caused by those losses. We were so touched by that readiness to share so early during the sharing of expectations!

The methodology used is active because we believe that everyone has the inner capacity to heal and an inherent intuition to recover from trauma that needs to be sought and shared with others. We channeled that capacity to be sought and shared by giving the participants an opportunity to discuss and be able to discover the possibilities of the healing and reconciliation process, depending on their context, and then the people need to be accompanied in the process.

Norms were set up by the participants in order to maintain smoothness in the workshop such as respect of time, respect of one another, keeping confidentiality as we would be sharing true and touching stories, etc. Nonetheless participants allowed us to take pictures and write down testimonies in order to use them when reporting.

The first lesson we started with was the JOHARI’s window, which encourages participants to reflect on things they know about themselves and that are known to others, things known by themselves but hidden from others and things that are unconscious to them while they are known to others. This lesson helps participants to acknowledge that we all have areas that we keep private and that we have to explore them. This prepares participants to understand the importance of opening the windows of their life and sharing them with others because the unspoken sorrows lead to deep trauma and all its consequences.

The following topic was about differentiating the normal stress from traumatic stress. This discussion leads to the definition of trauma, which was discussed and understood here as that change that happens in our lives because of what we have done, seen, heard, and experienced that wounded our hearts and influenced negatively our behavior, emotions, thoughts, and our physical being. Participants discussed about all those things which people may do, hear, see and experience that may cause trauma. On their understanding and depending of their context, the main causes of trauma is war and all its consequences, poverty, displacements, domestic violence, rape, being taken into hostage, and property destruction — all were mentioning the presence and attacks of the LRA as the main cause of their sufferings. For many participants, their trauma is intensified by the fact that after their family members were taken or killed by the LRA, they had not even had time to mourn for the beloved ones they lost. Nobody was available to comfort them as all seem to be overwhelmed by the situation, and nobody knew what to do. The concept of trauma seemed to be new to them even though it existed there already since before. It was a long and deep sharing.

In the hope of discussing more on the following day, we ended here because it was already 6:30 PM. We dismissed even though participants were still thirsty to discuss more and more because all that was being said was the realities of life that they have been undergoing since the crisis in CAR.

Day 2 — AM

After a brief review of the day 1, the symptoms of trauma were discussed. The discussion was focused on how the reactions of trauma are manifested through our behavior such as withdrawal, anti-social acts… or physically through some sicknesses such as fatigue, chest pain, high blood pressure, visual difficulties… or emotionally such as anger, irritation and grief… and in thoughts such as nightmares, flashbacks ….

People started already to open up and jumped in with sharing:

Clarisse Ngaranyessi shares: We were four in the family. One sister had been killed by the LRA and two brothers had been taken hostage by the LRA, I wonder if they are still alive or dead. I don’t know. I never slept well since that time. I had developed anger, deep anger, and I lived a bitter life since then. Ngaranyessi, my name, means, “the joy is over”. At a certain time I said, “Yes, I am worthy to be called that name!” And when I see somebody enjoying life with his brother, I have flashbacks of what happened to me. I thank God who brought these teachings to us. In what I feel, I will leave this place with a changed name in my heart. Joy is at the door, and I am ready to open the door, for welcoming Joy!

The Imam, Mr. Ibrahim shared twice his testimony: This training is very important to me. It gives me an opportunity to remember and mourn for my ten people that I lost including my beloved wife and almost all my children, including the one who taught me to read and write. I have put all my time in keeping my cows and I was no longer interested in people because they die like little insects. This group becomes like a new family to me.

The following lesson was about the consequences of trauma at the individual level, family level and community level, if nothing is done to help. Participants got an opportunity to see how as individuals they need to be cared for and healed; otherwise all that happened to them would affect their families and communities. And then the cycles of violence would never break.

The web of the consequences of trauma

Photos taken by Steve Kayimba

Then the participants, in small groups of four or five, got a chance to discuss if they see trauma in themselves, in their families and their communities and, if so, what shows them there is trauma and what do they see are the consequences they have been undergoing.

The reports in the larger group from the small groups’ discussions were quite interesting. You should understand that all the participants had been experiencing very traumatic events. Many of them had been spending nights without sleeping because of the intense fear and grief. Others didn’t care about things happening in community as they had broken their connectivity with the community so that each one lives on his own and has lost sensitivity towards others. The conditions of life itself are traumatizing and the attacks of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) left many wounds in the hearts of people.

Day 2 — PM

After doing a gathering exercise, the following lesson was about the difference between bad and good/active listening and the importance of providing active listening in cases of trauma. The introduction of that lesson is a time to create a safe environment to trust one another as a new family, and prepare people to listen to one another. At the end of the lesson people were so happy to learn how to listen actively as it would help them in such hard times but also in their daily life in families and their work.

Father Fabrice shares: “Bad listening is what we used to do so often. Parents to children, siblings between themselves, between employers and employees, between students and teachers, even church leaders and church members, because we can’t give good services while we don’t have peace of mind. You can’t offer what you don’t have. It is too bad that the way we address one another is by judging one another and not caring for one another. Time has come to change and heal. Time has come to become gentle to one another and save our lives and others’ lives. I am sorry for all those I have wounded without knowing.”

This lesson on active listening was a great introduction to the sharing time, where participants, after defining what is loss, grief and mourning and the role of mourning and remembering in healing process, were given time to share about their losses and traumatic events they have gone through. The whole afternoon was committed to reflecting on our losses.

It was an emotional time and people were so open to share and share…and listen to one another. Here are just few testimonies among many and touching others:

Therese, in a tears, shares: The TongoTongo (the other name used to mean the LRA) killed 14 family members in different times. I am staying alone, no relative, no child, all have been killed and the rest taken hostage. I don’t know if those who have been taken hostage are still alive or not. It was difficult to sleep for me since 2008 when these atrocities happened. Finally there are good people in this world who can carry burdens of others. Thanks for the opportunity to share with you the bitterness of my heart.

Jean Paul: The traumatizing memories that I have are the losses of my four children (three daughters and one boy) who have been killed by the TongoTongo. That experience is so discouraging in my life. After hearing others’ stories, it gave me courage to keep up with life because I saw that I am not alone in this world struggling with challenges. Having such trauma in your own world makes your trauma to be deep. I am so happy I am heard. Thank God that we sit on a circle of love and understanding.

Florence: My mother and two sisters have been killed by the LRA and my cousin has been thrown into the river alive. Those images come back so often in my mind and I hated everyone in the world and it influenced deeply the way I cohabitated with others. But after going through these teachings, I have discovered myself that there is another new mind being created in me and I will l bear good fruits in my community.

The stages of grief and stages of healing from grief were also discussed briefly and the day ended at 6:20 PM in an atmosphere of caring one another.

DAY 3

The third day started with a check in about how people spent the night after the long and heavy second day. Many emphasized the importance of sharing: “After hearing others problems, and sharing mine, I felt that mine are just light, and I slept like a child,” said Leah.

Monique, the Muslim woman, a coordinator of an association, shares: My daughter who had a three months old child had been taken by the TongoTongo, and that child was thrown in the bush nearby, and after a while, the baby died. These experiences traumatized me too much. I lost a human sense of life. I had planned to commit suicide many times but I had fear to accomplish it, but life became meaningless to me. I was wondering why I have been created to suffer in this way, and these affected me too much, but these teachings made me a new person. I came to realize the strange things that used to happen to me were trauma.

Pelagie: Last night I had a dream. I saw all the people who had been killed by the LRA coming to me giving me flowers. They told me that the flowers are the medicines to heal me of all the sicknesses. The scene was like live; it was when I woke up that I recognized that I was dreaming. Hum, I am telling you this workshop healed my heart. I feel that life continues after all — I am committed to life now. I am a nurse by profession. Blessed are the people who will come to me now. The way I will be receiving them will heal them before giving them medicines.

Many other testimonies were shared.

After sharing of our feelings of last night and the morning, the third session, the lesson about anger management, started with a deep discussion about how to deal constructively with anger because it is a big part of trauma, and if anger is not well managed, it leads to unhealed trauma and vengeance, which would lead to cycles of violence in families and communities.

Then the session on TRUST BUILDING started, introduced by the trust walk exercise, where a blind-folded person was led carefully around by a partner whose eyes are open. People were amazed at the end after finding themselves being taken care of by one another by a partner from a different community and background, regardless of religion, gender or education. Many lessons were shared and the conclusion was that even if trust is somehow lost and difficult in many people because of many difficulties in life, it is still possible to build trust in one another.

Trust walk exercise

Photo taken by Chris Nshimiyimana

The lessons about trust building continued with the metaphor of trees. The tree of lack of trust/mistrust tree was covered first. Participants brought up the roots and fruits of all the things happening in their communities that causes people to not trust and help one another. Things such as laziness, accusing one another by sorcerers, and hatred, were considered as the roots, while poverty, unfaithfulness, killings, and fear of LRA attacks, were listed as fruits of that tree. The discussion went on bringing to light all of those things that are a hindrance to trust. They said the truth was that the tree of lack of trust is the one that has grown bigger in their families and communities and that they need an alternative one. In illustrating what they needed to happen in their communities, a tree of trust was then drawn and given roots of trust such as unity, love, sharing — the fruits of trust are peace, joy, keeping connections, understanding, helping one another even in small things, etc.

Then they went to discuss in small groups to discuss, “How am I going to build trust where I live.”

The reports from the groups emphasized that participants are going to change the way they used to view things, the way they were behaving in their families by living more in love and assisting one another in any little way they can, in asking advice when needed, in visiting one another, not judging one another and giving time to one another. Still they requested the assistance of those who are able to do a follow up of the process.

Conclusions

As the workshop moved toward the end, every participant shared what he/she had learned and what he/she liked in the workshop. They liked the methodology, how all were involved, working in small groups. They also liked the light and livelies and the atmosphere of understanding and joy. The participants thanked CRS and the Consortium and the facilitators for coming a long away to share their experience: We don’t go back home being the same as before. There is this seed sown here which will grow like the tree of trust that we learned. Oh, what a change, what a healing workshop. May God keep you safe and have long life to continue to serve the world,” says Pastor Moise.

On behalf of the facilitators, Florence Ntakarutimana thanked participants for coming, thanked CRS and the Consortium, and thanked the Fathers for the warm accommodation. The coordinator of CRS expressed gratitude at the end.

Recommendations from participants

Some recommendations were given by the participants and the staff of the Consortium:

· Continue organizing these workshops in order to have many from the same communities going through them because they are healing people.

· Moving to other communities with the same workshops.

· Introduce these teachings in Bangui where the conflict is intense these days in order to prevent the same scenario to happen in other areas of the country.

· Make this program a solid one, with a staff in charge of the program.

· Conduct some connecting activities to help participants to get to meet again.

· Train people from the communities to do the work.

· Initiate small livelihood projects.

· Advocate for organizations which build Schools because education is the foundation for all other good things.

· Organize forums for all who will have participated in these workshops to meet again.

· Organize workshops on conflict management and non-violent communication such as Alternative to Violence Project (AVP) and Mediation

I. Participants in the Training for Trainers (ToT)

Finally, five people were chosen to attend the training of trainers, three men and two women. One of the women is Muslim.

Group Photo in Obo

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