Life Goes On: How people in northern Rwanda make sense of psychosocial suffering from war and healing

CNR-TCRU Postgraduate Narrative Research Seminars, 2016 – 17

Organised by the Centre for Narrative Research (CNR), University of East London and the Thomas Coram Research Unit (TCRU), UCL Institute of Education

Yuko Otake, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Northern Rwanda experienced wars between 1990 and 2000, including the civil war 1990-1994, the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, and the war of the abacengezi 1997-2000. The region was most catastrophically affected by the war of the Abacengezi during which mass killings took place on a daily basis. For political reasons, international aid interventions as well as government support to this area have been extremely limited, whereas grassroots communities have played a significant role in psychosocial healing of the people.

This ethnographic study explores the ways in which local communities in northern Rwanda heal psychosocial suffering in the context of limited humanitarian aid. Employing a narrative approach, it unpacks experience of psychosocial suffering, elaborates the ways in which communities heal themselves, and describes the meaning of ‘healing’ in the light of local views of morality, life and death. Qualitative analysis drew on participant observation, in-depth interviews, and focus-group discussions based on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork, which built on prior life and work experience in the field over two years.

Findings first describe local conceptualizations of psychosocial sufferings. These fell on a spectrum constructed by the degree of social disconnection reported by participants and how far their thoughts and memories were oriented towards a traumatic past. A key element of suffering was the literal ‘unspeakability’ of many wounds due to politically sensitive circumstances. This related to difficulties in making sense of what participants have experienced. Narratives of healing pathways described a common theme of leaving the past behind and going forward to the future through participation in different communities. In the context of the unspeakability of many traumas, communities provided alternative ways of healing from ‘speaking’ of the trauma directly. These include: allowing members to make sense of their sufferings through religious activities, everyday-life practices, and life-event ceremonies.

The study highlights that, in this setting, healing is not conceptualized as ‘recovery’ as assumed by Western theories, but rather, as a trajectory of ‘life goes on’: that is, that time continues into the future. In these communities’ accounts of healing, the focus is not on traumatic time but on time ‘being lived’ as part of life, and a series of lives beyond generations, through sharing everyday life and significant life events. In other words, healing can take place through social connection in a wider time-scale than trauma.

Yuko Otake is a PhD student at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and recently finished writing her thesis “Life Goes On: Psychosocial sufferings from war and healing pathways in northern Rwanda”. With academic background of psychology and public health, her work focuses on healing and resilience of war-affected communities. Before starting her PhD, she was working for Japan International Cooperation Agency in Rwanda and assisted community reconstruction from the war and genocide, which provided a foundation for her PhD study. She is also an awardee of the World Bank scholarship and the emerging scholar award by the Japanese Association of Qualitative Psychology.

Tuesday 4th April 2017, 5 – 6.30pm
Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit 
27 – 28 Woburn Square, London WC1H 0AA
All welcome, particularly graduate students.

For further details please contact Corinne Squire at c.squire@uel.ac.uk or
Xin Guo, Thomas Coram Research Unit graduate partner, xin.guox02@gmail.com
Details are also on the CNR website

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One thought on “Life Goes On: How people in northern Rwanda make sense of psychosocial suffering from war and healing

  1. I KNOW THE SITUATION, I WORKED WITH MISS YUKO OTAKE HERE IN RWANDA. I MISS HER AND HER EXPERIENCE IN WORK TEAM AND INNOV

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