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Thursday, August 21, 2014

A moment I wont forget..


There have been a couple of moments in my work this year that I don’t think I’ll forget for a long time. The latest happened last Tuesday when I joined our staff in a village in Nakivale where they were running our Tutapona Empower trauma counselling program.

My usual bouncy, morning drive from Mbarara where we live brought me to the refugee settlement. I spent the next few hours chatting with our staff and attempting fairly unsuccessfully to pick up a few more phrases in Ki Nya Rwanda. A slow, steady rain started at lunchtime and continued through until we arrived at the village where we’re working currently.Due to the rain and the leisurely pace of arrival of our participants we considered postponing but eventually seventeen adults (and a small sea of kids) were ready to start. While we were waiting someone asked what my name was in Rwandese, to which I replied confidently: “I’m well. How are you?” I’m a fast learner.


We’d reached a point in the program where we encourage a method of trauma recovery in which people talk about their painful memories. This has the potential to be a key step for some in recovery from their psychological trauma but can also be a tricky, difficult session. After some explanation of this process, those willing were asked to tell a small part of their story in a safe, confidential setting.

This particular village is made up of Rwandans, both Hutu and Tutsi who have arrived in various waves since around 1990. Some fled their homes as a result of the 1994 genocide and others during prior and subsequent outbursts of violence. I’ve been attending sessions like this one for nearly eight months now and I regret to say my tolerance for nasty stories has increased. When I was driving home last Tuesday evening though, I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d heard.


Five members of the program talked about how they’d ended up becoming refugees in Nakivale. I won’t retell their stories but I was deeply shocked by what they said. Many are the sole survivors from their families. Some have been subjected to both physical and psychological torture and have seen things they wish they could un-see. 


The pain in this group was very evident, not just among those talking. As people spoke several women were crying which I’ve seldom seen here before. One old man covered his head with a ski jacket. We were shown scars from bullet wounds and burns. A woman told us she’s had nightmares nearly every night for twenty years and badly wanted them to stop. A recurring question directed at us was:
“How can I forgive that?”



Uganda currently has about 350,000 refugees within her borders and almost all have fled from war zones past and present. I’ve definitely wondered at times if even God can help these people. Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” are put to the sternest test here.

On the remaining days of the program it was encouraging and surprising to see these people make quite fast progress in processing their trauma. A man with horrific burns all over his back told us he was choosing to release the people who’d done that to him and killed his family. He doesn’t know who they are but wants to stop obsessing about them and to move on with his life. Of course this is not a one off decision. He’ll need to re-make it every time he puts a shirt on.


Several others made the same choice. I write about this not to make a case that our program is exceptional and can heal people from this stuff. In fact most of the time we feel majorly inadequate and frequently leave a village wondering if any change has occurred. Instead I’m making the point that it’s staggering what people can recover from.

My faith leads me to the conclusion that it is God who enables this healing.

Tim Manson
To learn more or donate to the work of Tutapona visit www.tutapona.com

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