To understand the reality of the life, loss and conditions of a refugee is often unrecognized or not properly understood. This post will share one example of an organization’s efforts to support refugees in the country of Rwanda. The project overview represents a model for duplication as we encounter a global increase of displaced individuals.
Refugees in Rwanda
Central Africa and Great Lakes region has a long, complex history of conflict and political instability that affect many of its countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Approximately 430,000 have relocated into other countries, including Rwanda. As of January, 2015, the total number of refugees hosted in six refugee camp in Rwanda was 97,340, including 84,640 from DRC.
Kigeme camp, started in 2012, hosts over 18,000 Congolese refugees. While refugees are provided shelter in a camp or other relocation alternatives, there are still many challenges. “It is very difficult to imagine the situation of a refugee. They have run to escape danger, often unexpected and often different ways from other family members. Take an adult person and put him in a situation of a baby immediately after birth. He is naked, nothing in his hands, nothing in his pocket. Anyway, we can’t talk about a pocket because he has no clothes, no bank account, no property, and he is alone,” said Clement Zenko, Bible Society of Rwanda employee. Unmet primary needs become a barrier for emotional healing from trauma endured through war conflict and dangerous, stressful relocation. Basic support from UNHCR is minimal: each individual receives 6300 Rwandan francs, equivalent to $8.40/month. This means a family of mother, father and 8 children is given $80/month for all their needs.
Bible Society of Rwanda
Bible Society of Rwanda (BSR) is a non-profit organization which seeks to give Rwandans access to the Bible in their own language and format, while also providing programs that remove barriers to Scripture engagement such as their trauma healing program. Initiated by the American Bible Society for countries in Africa’s Great Lakes Region, this program uses a basic curriculum, Healing the Wounds of Trauma, to train key individuals in a community to become local facilitators who guide others through a thematic healing journey. The curriculum and process is communal, educational and comprehensive in addressing various aspects of trauma, grief and the healing process. BSR’s trauma healing program began in 2012 and as of 2016, has trained facilitators in 21 of 30 districts, 2 refugee camps and 5 prisons. BSR started trauma healing training in Kigeme Refugee Camp in July, 2013.
Trauma Healing Program as a Platform for Partnership
In July, 2014, I joined a team of American Psychologists, Counselors, and Clinical Social Workers who visited Kigeme as a portion of a trip designed to equip and partner with national trauma healing caregivers. This visit to Kigeme included walking in the camp, and hearing testimonies from many of the 70 trauma healing facilitators, trained by BSR to provide these Scripture-based trauma healing programs within the camp. Testimony after testimony conveyed healing and change. They described the changes in their own lives, families and in those they are supporting.
I was impacted by their hope and resilience and shared their stories and testimonies with supporters when I arrived home. In response, my church’s missions’ committee inquired about raising funds for a specific project or need at Kigeme. I immediately remembered the testimony of one of the Congolese pastors. He mentioned their need and desire for full Bibles, as they only had New Testament Bibles. He expressed his gratitude for the Bible Society who had provided these, but had a burden for the entirety of Scripture to be taught to those whom he tried to serve at the camp.
Consultation with partner, Clement Zenko, Project Field Officer at BSR, confirmed this was a realistic need and possibility for this project. He provided an additional idea to supply sewing machines. Sewing machines would provide a sustainable way for them to generate income and address their physical needs, and protect their vulnerability of seeking other means to earn income. The church responded to this need and a donation of $5367.16 was sent to the Bible Society of Rwanda for this project.
The sewing machines and Bibles were given at a presentation in July, 2015. I was able to attend and hear continued testimonies of healing and change, to present them with the Bibles and sewing machines, and to see their responses of joy and gratitude, as they looked at their Bibles and sang with thanksgiving in their language “Jesus is the One who did this.”
A Three-Part Model for Supporting Refugees
A simple partnership for this giving project provides a three-part model for supporting and empowering refugees around our world. 2 month and 6 month follow-up interviews took place to assess progress and impact of these gifts. Refugees have many needs but the partnership of the Bible Society of Rwanda and one USA congregation has addressed three main areas:
- Faith by providing the Scriptures. A refugee, by definition, has endured loss and trauma. There is separation, displacement, isolation, discomfort, and removal of home, possessions, safety, and relationship. These are key themes of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Scripture addresses those who are exiled and the reconciliation, hope, and home that come through relationship with Jesus Christ. HE identifies with suffering. He is the who “gathers those who are cast out, who heals those who are brokenhearted, who cleans and heals their wounds…who lifts up the humble and will cast the wicked to the ground…” (Psalm 147). Therefore, the full counsel of Scripture is needed for spiritual food. This spiritual food heals and therefore brings life changes. Providing the full counsel of scripture to this small fraction of Kigeme Refugee Camp has the power to bring and sustain hope. Since receiving this gift, the facilitators have expressed unified gratitude for the Bibles, giving examples of ways they are using it in the trauma healing work with other camp residents, and ways it is encouraging and strengthening their faith.“The Bible is helping me know more, understanding and accepting our situation because there are many people of God who also suffered. They are my model and I always pray to be stronger and not give up God as they did.”“The Bibles have made us feel loved and we love more our duty of healing the wounds. Most of us have increased the number of people we reach. The Bibles are our badges. People recognize us as the facilitators trained by the Bible Society and we are proud of that…They gave us an important spiritual thing: the Bible. This is very important to us, especially Pastors and preachers. They gave what is most important in life. They could have given food but they chose something very important spiritually.”
“I got baptized again after many years of being 100% pagan (not believing and not practicing faith) and I am now a committed member of seventh day Adventist church. I like the Psalms, because the story in Psalms is exactly my story. That Bible and the experience from BSR training made me love God. I now love God. I go to heaven thanks to BSR and the Americans. My heart is free, I learned to forgive, and my heart is white…I learned and saw what love is as the bibles recommends it.”
- Trauma Healing by providing Scripture-based trauma healing training. Trauma produces comprehensive, systemic effects. For refugees, they have left their homes due to events that result in trauma. Those living in the camp have been impacted by trauma associated with war, rape, HIV, ethnic division, marital rejection or separation, death and more. Fleeing and relocating is often dangerous and full of distress. They carry this trauma with them and it lingers within the camp or their areas of relocation. Without addressing trauma, a person cannot function. Trauma hinders daily function, impacts personhood, silences voice, destroys purpose, and eclipses hope. Without being addressed, it will not only have a ripple effect in families and communities, it will be passed on to the next generation. Trauma is a barrier to relationships and to the reception of the Scriptures.The 70 facilitators who have been trained comprise 2 trauma healing groups, each having their own arrangement about meeting and helping each other. In addition, some meet to organize how to help their church, as a function of their training, to serve as trauma healing representatives in their congregations.The trauma healing facilitators at Kigeme provide testimony after testimony of lives that have changed by being involved in trauma healing groups or interactions. As stated before, trauma is a barrier to faith and relationship. Testimonies include stories of those who are getting baptized and/or becoming committed in their churches. In addition, the camp leaders have shared testimony of decrease in cases of family conflict and church conflict and they have given credit to the group of trained facilitators.
“Trauma takes us far away from God. Because of what we have experienced we have many questions. The Bible Society has helped us again to grow closer to God. We are standing because of God.”
“People have trauma just from the way we are living. We have basic needs and we are missing people. We are part of them. We don’t have anything to help them. We want to help them, not just in words.”
“We were not healthy. We were surprised it could meet our needs and how it could touch our hearts. We were lonely here. Today we have learned skills and we have a message of hope.”
- Purpose by providing sewing machine, training certification and trauma healing training to care for others. To provide a way to generate income is to address a basic need of survival. However, it includes more. To work and to create bring purpose because it is in our design to do so. We reflect the image of a God who creates and a God who gave dominion and purpose to mankind. The sewing machines and training were given in a way that promotes responsibility and ownership, which in turn restore deserved dignity.Addressing physical needs will help with their healing process by providing sustainable increase in quality of life. The gift of sewing machines to 70 facilitators is directly serving at least 500 people as these 70 individuals are men and women who have children. In addition, the sewing machines are a resource to the others in the camp and surrounding areas. After 6 months, 56 people had attended and completed training for use of sewing machines. BSR is assisting with a goal to provide all 70 trauma healing facilitators with this sewing machine training.Having something to care for physical needs can directly impact their role as trauma healing facilitators. As they interact with more people, they are able to increase the number of individuals they can reach. They will also have more time and commitment to do this responsibility. The time they used to find work for covering family needs will be saved. It is no longer necessary for them to search for work outside the camp in rural areas.
“…This will help our trauma healing facilitator duty because we will be stable and we will have time to do our job. We will teach others and we can help someone with material things in case it is needed… it can be helpful for refugees’ situation.”
“On the physical side, they gave us sewing machines. This gift will help us to never forget them because they are very helpful and they last long time. In addition, you taught people to use them. This gives more value and ownership…These machines will help in our everyday life. The first need of a human being is food. Refugees don’t plan for a long time because this is a temporary situation, even though it can last long time. We need to be alive tomorrow if we want to plan. Having an activity like that here is very important: your children look different because they can have an adequate diet, they can drink milk, and they can have fruits.”
Yet, there is more than just providing a way to generate income and produce food for survival. These individuals have been trained to provide trauma healing groups. Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl says “suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds a meaning.” Meaning and purpose come as they care for others and teach others to be healthier spiritually and relationally. To be delegated as trainers, provides necessary dignity and in turn facilitates their own healing as they contribute to the healing of others.
One facilitator describes her experience: “Practicing what they taught me was helpful. When I taught it to others, they were also surprised. The change I saw in the groups I facilitated built me because I realized I can help others, I can do something good, I can change something, I have something others need, and it fired my former thoughts that encouraged me to commit suicide.”
To encourage faith, to facilitate healing of trauma and to provide purpose through a means to address physical needs, is to restore hope and dignity. These three function in tandem. Like a three-legged stool, all are vital for the structure of supporting a refugee. To neglect one aspect is to hinder the other areas. To address all three facets is to provide change for not only the present but the next generation.
The growing reality of refugees around our world challenges us to ask: What is our responsibility? How can we assist in this individual and corporate crisis? Will we consider the needs and take action? Refugee camps and communities can benefit from individuals and groups taking personal interest. The partnership of one American congregation with the Bible Society of Rwanda, which has committed its programs to include refugees within their country, facilitated this project. The testimonies of 70 individuals at Kigeme refugee camp undeniably provide evidence of the life-changing value of investing in faith, trauma healing and purpose, which also supplied for physical needs.
However, the opportunities are endless. There are limitations for the number of individuals these 70 facilitators can reach in a camp of over 18,000. There are 5 other refugee camps in the country of Rwanda alone. Our world has reached a staggering high for displaced individuals. Time Magazine recently reported that 1 in 122 people is now a refugee, an internally displaced person or seeking asylum. The average number of people displaced each day in 2014 was 42,500.[i] Rwanda is not the only country who is caring for the needs of refugees. This provides a model for individuals, groups and organizations to provide sustainable intervention through addressing faith, trauma healing and physical needs, which in turn, foster purpose, honor and dignity for the present and future generations.
Project Partner & Co-Author: Clement Zenko is a Project Field Officer for Bible Society of Rwanda. His training, expertise and responsibilities include training and overseeing the trauma healing program in the country of Rwanda.
This calculation is using current US dollar convertibility in Rwandan currency in November 2015 (1$=750Rwfs).
 Frankl, Viktor. Man’s Search for Meaning.
[i] Time Magazine, Special Report. Exodus. October 19, 2015]