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Voices of Peace

Inventing a Word for Trauma: Adrien Niyongabo and the Trauma Healing and Reconcilliation Service

When one's ethinic identity can mean the difference between life and death, one fellow said, "I know his father and mother. He is a Hutu as we are..."

By Lois Barton with Helen Park

Posted on Mar 20, 2008

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Adrien Niyongabo of the Friends Peace Team's Trauma Healing and Reconcilliation Service

Adrien Niyongabo, a Quaker from the African nation of Burundi, was in Eugene recently to talk about the work he is doing under the auspices of the African Great Lakes Institute, Friends Peace Team and the Burundi Yearly Meeting. This man has been teaching nonviolence in the African nations of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya, in areas that have experienced horrific violence.

Mr. Niyongabo is officially a Hutu, because his father was a Hutu, although his mother was a Tutsi. He points out that it is impossible to tell one group from another after generations of intermarriage, but it is based on a patrilineal system, so who your father is defines who you are. He was born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi in 1972. He is married to Odette Nahayo. They are both members of Kamenge Monthly Meeting, and also Burundi Yearly Meeting of Friends. His education included primary school, a Catholic secondary school and some years at the university where he was forced to stop because of a massacre of students on the campus in 1995. In the past year, he has resumed work on a degree in sociology.

Niyongabo tells of an experience in 1993, when the death of the first Hutu elected president gave rise to a new round of massacres between Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutu were forced to leave or hide and he was following a queue of Hutu toward the hills when he was stopped by two men with guns. They accused him of being Tutsi hoping to maybe go back to report to the Tutsi army. Soon a man came up to them and asked what he was doing there. When they repeated the accusation this man said, "I know his father and mother. He is a Hutu as we are. Let him join the others." He was thus saved from certain death.

In 2000. at the request of Burundi Yearly Meeting of Friends, Adrien Niyongabo co-founded a Trauma Healing and Reconcilliation Service sponsored by Burundi Yearly Meeting and the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. In 2001 their team attended a four-month Trauma Healing, Conflicts Resolution and Peace Building training organized by the Quaker Peace Center in Cape Town. South Africa.

Twenty-six trauma healing workshops were held in Rwanda from April to July 2003. These three day workshops help people understand what trauma is and that it is not shameful. Post-traumatic stress disorder is epidemic in those countries affected by the genocide, but the languages did not even have a word for trauma. People described such terrible symptoms and experiences that the word was coined for trauma that could be literally translated as "to take out your heart and put it back upside down." Respect was given to everyone in the room. They learned about the causes and symptoms of trauma, and shared their stories. The workshops were composed of half Hutus, and half Tutsis. There were five men and five women of each. They laughed and cried together, coming to see that healing is possible. One participant said "I didn’t realize I was traumatized. This experience has helped me to know what I was suffering from. Something heavy was pulled from the heart."

Adrien Niyongabo is now leading Healing and Rebuilding our Community (HROC) workshops. Hutus and Tutsis spend three days together with the goal of understanding and reconciliation, so that they can live together again as neighbors. Many of the Tutsis who survived the genocide have lived for over a decade in Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. They have been afraid to return to their homes, although they yearn for the land so that they can raise their food and stop depending on government and international food aid. Many of the Hutus are released prisoners who have received government amnesty in exchange for confession of what they have done. They are also afraid of accusations, recriminations, and reprisals. Everyone is afraid of unleashing a new round of massacres. The workshops propose a new model based on communication, finding common ground, and trust, so that neighbors can live together in peace.

HROC workshops begin with the belief that in every person there is something good and that forgiveness and reconciliation are possible. Since both individuals and communities were traumatized, efforts to rebuild the society must address both. Both individuals and communities have the capacity to heal. The workshops bring back fond memories of the country before the war: a time when Hutus and Tutsis feasted together, intermarried, helped and supported one another and lived peacefully as neighbors and friends.

The effects of the training are literally transforming. One Tutsi genocide survivor stated in a workshop that "I was thinking that I have nothing in me but I found that I can even use my wounds to heal other people and I found that there is a good thing in every person even though he or she is full of trauma and problems." A released Hutu prisoner said, "Now I am human." These testimonies indicate the interconnectedness of personal healing and community healing.

The African Great Lakes Initiative also offers trauma healing workshops to former child soldiers who return to their homes with no education, few material resources, severely disrupted social connections and high rates of drug addiction and alcoholism. These workshops use Alternatives to Violence as a format to build skills and a connection to a community. Another project is a women’s empowerment project: a health clinic run entirely by women. Their clients are predominantly HIV positive women and children.

Adrien Nyongabo says, "I thank the Almighty God for what I am doing now. It is my calling. I am still optimistic that little by little we will make our communities a home to live in again. Thanks to Burundi Yearly Meeting and African Great Lakes Initiatives/Friends Peace Teams for their willingness to help me nurture my devotion to peace work through Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities."

To learn more about HROC workshops, summer work camps and projects, check out

Copyright 2008 by Lois Barton

Writer and historian
Lois Barton

Lois Barton is an 88 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life-long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Follow the links of the Voices of Spencer Creek for the most recent articles by Lois Barton, including:

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Musings on a Trans-gender Friend

Prisons and Peacemaking: An Interview with Helen Park

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Tuba Christmas and The King's Carolers

Three Tales for the Wintertide: Of Dragons and Dreams

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Visit to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Frank and the Rivers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: My Friend Peg and the Peaceful Good Fight

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: These Stones Are Speaking

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Lucy McIver, Peace Pole Artist

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Telephones, Then and Now

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Remembering Bovine Tuberculosis

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: What Is a Quilt?

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Quakers in the British Virgin Islands

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Manta Rays, and Dandelions, A Poem, also introducing Carolann Krohn

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Those Husky Macadamia Nuts

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Fender's Blue, a Nine Day Wonder

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Frannie and the Arrow

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Bhavia's Cambodia

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of the Smoking Chimney

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Saga of Big Oak Stables

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Fishy Story

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Different Peace

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Hal and the Mountain

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Rogue River Adventure

Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Obituary for a Country Cat

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Cortesia Sanctuary

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Tree and Me and Lady Slippers

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Cranberries

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Endurance Riding

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: Butterflies and Community Development

and The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: The Last Gift.

See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife–The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2006 by West By

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