WCI Webinar: Rwanda Testimonies of Trauma and Turmoil

WC Desk:  

A Rwandan genocide survivor shares her experience during the retreat program

Women Chapter International(WCI) ended its second webinar on the 24th of April on the topic  “Rwanda Testimonies of Trauma and Turmoil: Psychological Repercussions of Unresolved  Trauma” with new ideas to help heal the transgenerational trauma of rape during wars and with the determination to transfer the stigma of rape where it belongs, with the perpetrators.  

The Panelists on the webinar were:  

  • Wiola Rebecka, psychotherapist, and author of the book “ Rape. A history of shame.  Diary of the survivors.” Currently, she is a clinical director of the Residential HANAC  program, a Rape counselor at the emergency room of the Presbyterian Methodist  Hospital, and a private practice therapist working with and for war rape survivors.”  
  • Liliane Umuhoza is a Rwandan public speaker, human rights advocate, and founder of the “Women Genocide Survivors Retreat” program, supporting women survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda psychologically and financially. She currently works for Foundation Rwanda as a project officer.  

The program started with Shumu introducing Wiola to the audience. Wiola introduced Liliane to the audience after reflecting on the theme of the webinar.  

Liliane Umuhoza

Liliane Umuhoza shared her personal story of growing up without a father in the aftermath of the genocide. She was only two years old during the genocide and therefore does not have any direct memories of the event. Yet, she considers herself as a part of the generation, that is “still  traumatized.”  

According to Liliane, the consequences of the trauma last for generations. After she studied  Peace and Conflict in the US, she started working with the survivors. Even though she herself is a survivor and knew the history, she found it shocking to talk to the survivors. Liliane said that  the survivors “talk as if they are still in the moment.” Even though it was daunting, she persisted and eventually founded the retreat program for the women genocide survivors, which aims to provide a safe space for them to share their stories to heal.  

Liliane also shared the story of a survivor who was HIV positive and had stopped medications as she did not want to live. But after attending the program, she felt alive again. A short video about the retreat program was screened after Liliane’s speech. It shows the obvious relief on the faces of its attendees.  

The next panelist Wiola shared how her family’s story as Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland during the second world war contributed to her motivation for taking up this cause. Her Grandma was imprisoned at Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp during the Holocaust. She was also raped by a Russian soldier upon the camp’s liberation. 

Wiola Rebecka

Wiola discussed the long-term consequences faced by the survivors of sexual violence during war. She in particular drew attention to war rape survivors’ syndrome and epigenetics and explained how complex trauma has been proven to be transmitted genetically to future generations. Her presentation included findings from research conducted on holocaust survivors, suggesting that traumatic life experiences can produce chemical effects on DNA and thus transmit across generations. She also talked about her book project and her fieldwork.

In response to a question about how she deals with the pressure to censor her work, as they are often deemed too overwhelming, Wiola reflected that it is human nature to escape from a traumatic subject. While due to certain limitations such as space and scope of the publication, not every one of the stories that she came across during her fieldwork can be published into her upcoming book, they remain quite vivid in her mind. Wiola concluded her speech at the end of the session by highlighting some of the main obstacles behind the rehabilitation of the survivors, including the notions of shame and victim-blaming manifested by the patriarchal system.  

“Society is excluding (rape) survivors, they don’t belong to the society anymore. For example,  when a child is raped (in such societies), it’s almost 100% certain that she will not be able to get married when she grows up as an adult. Because of the shame-related consequences on the victim of this crime. So I really think, for many reasons, social, cultural, psychological, shame needs to be transferred (to the perpetrators) and we need to stop shaming any of the victims because a victim is never responsible for the rape,” Wiola said.  

The webinar was hosted by Shumu Haque, a board member of WCI. 

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