Survivors of genocide bear the heaviest burden

THE MASS HYSTERIA was triggered by a mechanical digger exposing bones in the yard of a Kigali school. A teenage girl looking through a classroom window saw the human remains from the 1994 genocide and began to scream. Within minutes, 50 classmates were also inconsolable.

The authorities had no idea how to control the panic as pupils shouted that Hutu militias, responsible for the murder of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, had returned to finish the genocide. Eventually, the police were called and either beat children into submission or took them to hospital.

According to Jane Abatoni, co-ordinator of the newly formed Rwandan Association of Counsellors, the incident, in October, was a classic example of post- traumatic stress syndrome, a phenomenon only now beginning to sweep Rwanda. Ms Abatoni says a series of hysterical outbursts are being reported from schools across the country. "Now that life is beginning to settle down, people are beginning to realise what they have lost."

Beatrice Mukansinga, of the Barakabaho Foundation, for female genocide survivors, agrees. Even the few who did get psychological help in 1994 are returning for more. "People are even more traumatised than before."

Since the slaughter, Rwanda has been in perpetual turmoil. After the killing of 800,000 people, more than a million Hutus fled the country, led by the militiamen who orchestrated the mass murder. It was the end of 1996 before they returned from refugee camps in Congo. By then, the genocide victims had been largely replaced by a tidal wave of Tutsi exiles from earlier massacres. A precarious exercise in reconciliation and nation- building is now under way.

Only in the past year has "normality" returned. The government, now Tutsi-led, has finally flushed out Hutu extremists who were still operating in the north- west and although the killers have not been defeated, only driven from the door, people feel more secure. The downside has been a rise in psychological disturbance.

Rwanda, one of the world's poorest countries, is ill-equipped to cope. It has just 39 newly trained therapists to cover a population of 7.6 million. None specialises in children's mental health but, with the need so great, all help as best they can.

Most of Ms Abatoni's child clients are girls - boys are taught to hold emotion in - who were 10 or 11 in 1994. Most are abnormally withdrawn and say nothing about what is universally referred to as "before".

So it was with Katherine after the genocide in which her entire family, except an aunt, was killed. At Barakabaho, where counsellor Beatrice Karengera treats children and young adults (children in 1994), even now Katherine cannot speak of the 100 days of killing when she was just 14.

The miracle is that she can talk at all. Three years after the slaughter, she and a friend became convinced they had been poisoned and lost their voices on the same day. It was almost a year before she was brought to the foundation for help. "They had taken my friend to be operated on in hospital and she died," she says. "I thought they would operate on me, too, and I was afraid to die."

Only weeks after treatment began, Katherine started talking. Like most of Ms Karengera's patients, she was encouraged first to draw what she could not say. Ms Karengera has a pile of young survivors' drawings in which men lie with blood (red pen) pouring from their neck, their severed heads beside them and road blocks are manned by drunken Hutus, armed with outsized machetes.

A year after she began to talk, Katherine, now studying for university, explains that she was consumed with anger and, with everyone dead, had no one to talk to. "I lost everybody," she said. "Many people are alone and feel that nobody cares ... they turn inward with their thoughts."

Vincent O'Reilly, of the Refugee Trust (Ireland), War Child's partner in Rwanda, says there is growing awareness of the huge psychological damage to children. The trust this month opened Rwanda's first high school for girls. Counselling services will be provided on site. With more funds, more could be provided.

Mr O'Reilly hopes to promote more openness among pupils, both Hutu and Tutsi. For he believes what is unspoken is dragging them down. War Child and the Refugee Trust agree with Ms Mukansinga that only the surface of children's trauma is being scratched.

Ms Mukansinga was abroad during the genocide but arrived in Rwanda as it was ending. Eighty-seven members of her family were killed, including her parents and five brothers. She remembers bodies piled in the streets, being eaten by dogs and birds. "It will be generations before this washes through," she said. "I don't know how children, in particular, have managed even to live after all they have been through."

THE RWANDA FILE

n At the height of the genocide in 1994, an estimated 10,000 people were being shot, burnt or hacked to death every day. Within 100 days, 800,000 were dead.

n Children were deliberately exploited by the militia to pick out Tutsis and were forced to take part in the slaughter.

n By 1997, 2,000 children had been detained on suspicion of committing acts of genocide.

Amnesty International: www.amnesty.org.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable