Memories of genocide against Tutsi still shock survivors

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Edith, a 51-year-old wife finds it difficult to listen to the radio or watch television in April, the month marking Rwanda’s annual commemoration of 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, Reuters has learnt

“My four brothers and sister were killed during the genocide. This commemoration is important and we must remember them,” Edith – not her real name – said in her village in Rwanda’s southern Kamonyi District.

“But when I hear the songs or poems on radio, I get flashbacks of hiding in the forest and of how the men from the militia came with their machetes and found me. I remember how they took turns to rape me and how they impregnated me.” She said

As Rwanda commemorates 25 years after the genocide against the Tutsi, thousands of survivors still live in torment, haunted by memories of what happened during the time.

“What they experienced was so totally barbaric that even now we find many are reporting symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” said Yvonne Kayiteshonga, Mental Health Division Manager at the Ministry of Health.

“This manifests itself in different ways such as lack of sleep, nightmares, flashbacks, depression or anti-social behaviour, where they are withdrawn and do not want to be with others. Some survivors also resort to drugs or alcoholism.” Added Kayiteshonga

“After the genocide, attention was focused on basic needs such as providing survivors with food, water and housing as they had lost everything – no one paid attention to the trauma,” said Sam Munderere from the Survivors Fund (Surf), which provides counselling to women and their children born from rape.

Mental health experts said even children born from rape were in desperate need of counselling as many were unable to accept how they were conceived and felt ashamed of their past.

Edith’s daughter Diane, 24, said she struggled when asked about her father.

“When I was growing up, I used to wonder about my father, but my mother would not tell me. Now I understand why,” said Diane – not her real name – adding that she used to hate her mother for hiding the truth.

“It was only when I went to a youth camp organised by Surf last year, where there were other young people like me, that I realised I was not alone. It is important to find people you can trust to talk to or you will become depressed.”

Government officials admitted that mental health support was lacking in Rwanda.

They said last year’s survey would help authorities to formulate a policy on improving mental health treatment for survivors, but also much needed to be done to raise awareness as mental health issues still carried social stigma.

“We have trained staff in many health centres across the country to deal with trauma, but we are still lacking counselling services in many places,” noted  Kayiteshonga adding there is a need of being  more aggressive in raising awareness about the issue.

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