Trauma Healing and Anger Workshops in Rwanda

By Marian Liebmann

Report from Kenya #547 – April 19, 2019

Marian Liebmann is a British Quaker who is a mediator, restorative justice facilitator and art therapist. In her art therapy work she specializes in work on anger and conflict. She has taught courses on these around the world, and recently spent six weeks in Rwanda on the HROC International Training course and then delivering workshops on anger management with art to groups in the Evangelical Friends Church Rwanda.




Reminder: The next HROC International Training in Musanze, Rwanda is July 7 to 27. If you are interested in attending, contact me at


 This article is a brief account of six weeks I spent in Rwanda February – March this year.

Rwandan Quakers

Quaker church service.

I was hosted by Rwandan Quakers – the Evangelical Friends Church Rwanda. Quakers only started in Rwanda in 1987, evangelised by American Quakers from the Evangelical tradition. So their form of worship is programmed, Bible-based and pastor-led, very different from Quaker worship in the UK.

But the common ground is the emphasis on peace work, and Friends Peace House in Kigali lists Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC), Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) in all of Rwanda’s fourteen prisons (15 trained facilitators), transformative mediation in the community (15 trained volunteers), Help Increase the Peace (HIPP), children’s peace library and peer mediation in five cities, Women in Dialogue (bringing together women genocide survivors and women married to perpetrators), trade training for vulnerable young people (car mechanics, hairdressing and cookery) and more. Many young Quakers volunteer to help with these projects.

All the Quakers I met were extremely helpful in getting me organised with money and phone card, taking me around Kigali and to Musanze, inviting me to church services and to their homes, and generally making sure I had everything I needed.  

Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC)

Trust walk.

 My first aim in travelling to Rwanda was to learn about a group trauma-healing model I had read about and wanted to experience. Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) was developed by Quakers in Rwanda and Burundi in 2003 to help communities there suffering from trauma following the genocide in 1994. The HROC Centre in Rwanda moved from Kigali to Musanze for cost reasons. Musanze is in northern Rwanda, near the volcanic region where gorilla treks take place, and is a big vegetable growing area. 

Because of the interest in their work, the HROC centre runs an International Training course twice a year. On my course the nine participants were from the UK (me), Kenya and Rwanda – past participants have come from the US (where much of the funding comes from), Burundi, Congo, South Sudan and Nigeria. Our facilitators were from Rwanda and Kenya. This meant that the course needed to be bilingual in English and Kinyarwanda. In Rwanda older people speak French, younger people speak English, and everyone speaks Kinyarwanda. The 3-week course included team building, attending a basic HROC workshop, training of trainers, and then running a basic HROC course ourselves for a local community group. I was paired with team members from Kenya and Rwanda and our allocated community group was young single mothers, a growing group in Rwanda.

The structure of a basic HROC workshop is:

  • Day 1: Introduction to trauma – definition, causes, symptoms and consequences
  • Day 2: Loss, grief and mourning, including time for personal reflection and sharing stories in the group; dealing with anger
  • Day 3: Building trust – trust walk, tree of mistrust, tree of trust, how to build trust

During the course of the workshop, we heard many distressing stories. Many participants had been children during the genocide and had experienced death of family members, fleeing for their lives, being refugees in Tanzania or Congo, and the total dislocation of their communities.

One of the people who shared his story was Paul. He was 16 when the militia came to his village dressed in wedding clothes but hiding machetes underneath. They accused people of working with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and tied people up and killed them. He fled and never saw his family again. As he ran to different areas, he heard his family had all been killed and realised he was the only survivor. He joined the army. In 1996 he had a pass to go home and took a gun and 200 bullets, intending to kill the people who had killed his family. But when he got there, a voice within him told him more bloodshed was pointless, so he let them go. He was grateful for the invitation to the HROC workshop as it gave him the opportunity to release some of the ‘rubbish’ still inside him.

Group photo with workshop certificates.


Transformative Community for Social Change plans on sending Simon Ekai to the next HROC International Training in July in Rwanda. This is the next step towards peacemaking in Samburu County and Simon is a Samburu youth leader who is working with TCSC in promoting peacemaking programs in Samburu. To contribute to the fundraiser for his attendance, please click on




Anger Management with Art

Anger management workshop with youth.

After the HROC training course I went to Kigali to stay at the Quaker Peace Garden guest house and ran courses on ‘Anger Management with Art’ for three groups organised by the Friends Church – one for youth (18-30), one for women, and one for church leaders. These took place in the local church. In these groups participants used art materials (some of which I had brought) to look at aspects of anger, such as:

  • What is anger?
  • Is anger good or bad?
  • Physical symptoms of anger
  • What’s underneath the anger?
  • Early family patterns
  • Anger and conflict
  • Triggers of anger
  • Ways of calming down
  • Trauma and anger
  • Relaxation

Drawing on “What is anger?”

The groups went well, as people could see the links between their experiences and anger which caused ongoing problems for many people. Clearly I could not ‘magic everything right’ with a three-day workshop, but I hoped it could provide some helpful tools along the way. Many people said ‘Please come back!’ but of course that is not so easy.

I had asked for a co-facilitator to work with me, to enable the work to continue after I left. The person appointed was a high-ranking pastor, who helped me with many of the organisational tasks. My interpreters were excellent and also acted as co-facilitators at times. In addition I had invited two former colleagues from Uganda who have worked with me and introduced them to the Rwandan group. So I hope there are several people who can help take the work forward.

Genocide memorials

With guide and Quakers at Genocide Memorial site.

The third aspect of my visit to Rwanda was visiting genocide memorials to see how Rwanda is trying to recover from the terrible time in which a tenth of the population was killed. Writing this now, I am reminded that Rwanda will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of the genocide this April.

A couple of times I decided to disclose my own background as the daughter of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. This resulted in those groups seeing me in a different light. Paul was so moved by this that he brought me a present on my last day in Musanze. And the Women in Dialogue group said, ‘So these things happen elsewhere, not just in Rwanda? You are just like us.’

As well as commemorating the genocide, Rwanda has implemented many peace-building processes. Quakers have initiated many of these, as described above. Other organisations also have peace and trust-building initiatives, and I met several inspiring individuals all working to repair the damage and make sure that ‘Never Again’ comes true for Rwanda. I think we have things to learn from them.


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