How You Can Help
Stories of Healing
Story 1: Near Kibimba lives a woman named Rachel.
She is young and married with two children. Rachel’s husband is in
prison for torturing her. Rachel’s husband is quite a bit older than
her. He experienced sexual performance difficulties and blamed his wife.
To "punish" her for her supposed failure he attacked her with a
Rachel was nearly killed. He aimed to decapitate her but missed high, so
she has a horizontal scar from the middle of the back of her head,
through her right ear and onto her right cheek. He did not stop with one
blow. She has a defensive wound on her right hand that nearly split her
thumb from the rest of her hand, and she has a scar on her right
shoulder that runs vertically to the middle of her back.
Rachel nearly died the day of the attack, and then barely survived a
long hospital stay complicated by poverty. Her husband was prosecuted,
but for a long time she could not even begin to speak about what had
happened to her. Someone eventually suggested that she visit the
listening room that had recently been opened by THARS in her community.
During her first session with the listener she could do nothing but cry.
Over time, with encouragement and support she has been able to get her
story out, and resolve her traumatic memories. With the help of THARS
she is seeking medical treatment for her hand which is still not
functional. Recently she was able to tell her story to a group of women
at a training organized by the local center. This
served to educate the women and
clearly empowered Rachel.
Story 2: In Makamba there is a man who was the pastor of a local church.
He had some very normal human relationship conflict with some of the
members of his church. As a result of this he ended up leaving that
church and starting another. His new church did well and his former
church elders decided to get rid of him. They signed a paper denouncing
him to the local military as a rebel. He was arrested and tortured. His
torture included being "hog-tied" and hung for an entire night, numerous
beatings, losing his teeth to a pistol whipping, and having the soles of
his feet beaten bloody. His torment ended only when another church
leader intervened on his behalf and got him transferred to a jail in
another city where he received a trial and was acquitted of all charges.
His torturers are now on trial.
This pastor found the THARS listening room by attending a local
education seminar provided by the center. As he listened he realized
that he was in great need of the services himself. He stayed after and
spoke to the local director, and was given an appointment. He received
help in attaining much needed medical attention for his remaining health
problems and started psychotherapy. Often participants in our trainings
realize that they need our basic services.
Story 3: Just outside of Ruyigi, the local government soldiers were told
that there were rebels nearby.
They went out looking for these rebels. The only people they found were some
men sitting and drinking, but the drinkers said that they thought that
they might have heard something over “that way”. The soldiers charged
off in the direction indicated, guns drawn. A group of three men working
in a field saw soldiers coming at them with guns. The men ran. The
soldiers saw the running men and decided that anybody who was running
was probably a rebel. They apprehended the three men and took them to
the military compound where they were repeatedly beaten and tortured in
an attempt to get them to admit that they were rebels.
Realizing at some point that they had made a mistake and were torturing
farmers, the military released them after making them sign a document
declaring that they would be killed if they were found to be involved
with any further rebel activity. In this case the local THARS counselor
heard about these men and sought them out, offering services that were
Story 4: In Gitega, a 28 year old woman was raped by rebel soldiers.
She bore a child from this rape, but had great difficulty adjusting to
motherhood. While this child was still young, government soldiers
attacked her family compound, and she witnessed the execution of her
parents and siblings. She survived, only when the soldier who was doing
the killings said “I’m tired. I have been killing people all day and I
want to quit.” This is a good example of the complicated trauma that
THARS sees every day. This woman was subjected to a second trauma
without having resolved the first one. She has received support and
extensive therapy at our center.
Story 5: In Bujumbura Rural, rebel soldiers attacked a woman in her
They killed her father and her brother, and raped her, her mother and
her sister. Shortly thereafter her mother committed suicide, and her
sister disappeared. This woman came to a THARS center seeking tests for
pregnancy and AIDS. She was helped to get these services, and
psychotherapy because it was clear that she was suffering from
debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder. After starting with
sessions three times a week, she is now coming once a week and has begun
to resume her normal activities that produce enough money to live on.
Story 6: In one area of Bujumbura Rural
the local people were taking matters into their own hands.
They were doing this because they had no access to courts and
the police totally
neglected their community. It came to the attention of the local THARS
representative that the local community had a “torture tree” where local
people who misbehaved were punished by their peers. People were being
severely injured for minor offenses
such as fighting with their spouse or
stealing their neighbor’s vegetables. The THARS staff person organized a
meeting where the local people were presented with non-violent means of
conflict resolution and were educated on the effects of torture. It was a
tough sell, but the use of the “torture tree” has stopped.
Note: Often it feels as if our progress is small in comparison to the size of
the problem. But we now have files full of cases where a huge difference
has been made in the lives of individuals. We are beginning to see
changes in the communities where we work. It is difficult work, but all
of us feel good about doing it.
Story 7: Before 1993 Judith led a normal life. Her husband worked as a civil
servant. During the crisis that erupted after the death of
Burundi's President Melchior
Ndadaye, her husband was killed on the way home from work along with her
three children who were coming home from school. She still remembers
where these loved ones have been buried in a common grave. After the
killers looted all their belongings and burned both their main house and
the stall of their cows, they left.
Judith, her two remaining children and other women whose husbands had just
been killed, fled towards the neighboring town. In fleeing, they went
through the forest, but soon they were captured
by another group of
killers who wanted to kill Judith’s little boy. She pleaded
for mercy for her son, saying: “Kill me first before you kill him”. One
of the killers said: “Let this woman go, because these political issues
were orchestrated by men”. They finally let her join the other women who
had been captured as they fled. At night the women overheard they were
going to be killed. They decided to flee one by one to a nearby banana
The following day they heard the regular army firing their guns. The
killers left the place and fled. The women remained in the hiding place
until the afternoon when they decided to show themselves to the
soldiers. They put up their arms and the soldiers inquired about their
plight and finally gave them water and put them in their truck to
take them to an Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp, where many
other people were kept for protection and lived for a long time. (Most of
such camps are still in existence).
After several months, Judith borrowed money to start a little business.
She decided to sell locally brewed beer. Even though her business was
doing well, Judith says that she was not
feeling well. During the day she
was OK, even though she was very fearful of people. She expected that
either a Hutu or a Tutsi could kill her at any time. “At night it was
worse,” she said, “I went to bed as usual, but many times I found myself
lying folded up on a street, cold, and not remembering how I got there”. It
was her sister who always helped her back into the house and who
In serving beer she could not look at her clients' eyes. She believed
that any time somebody could strike her dead. After a while, she decided
to sell basic foods such as beans. After borrowing more money from a
religious well-wisher, she asked her son to escort her to a market to
buy what she wanted.
As Judith was going to the market with her son she
encountered a band of men wearing military uniforms. These men
threatened to kill her son. Again she pleaded for her son, and begged
them to spare his life. These men had knives and shouted that they wanted that boy out of the
place. As the boy left crying, Judith charged him to tell his two
sisters that she was dying and that they should go to their mother’s sister.
The men dragged Judith into the bush and raped her repeatedly. They left her
at about 6:00 p.m. when she was bleeding
and near death. She crawled slowly on her
knees and arrived at her home at about 9:00 p.m. and found her children miserably sitting in front of their
house. Her sister came and warmed water to wash her. The following day
she took her to the hospital.
After several weeks, Judith realized she was pregnant.
She said that,
since she had no choice, she carried the pregnancy and bore a child.
Unfortunately, after two days the child died. “Even though I had got this
baby from the fierce animals,” Judith confessed, “I was greatly grieved
by the death of my child. This death affected my mental health and I
became almost schizophrenic. I did not want to be comforted by anyone,
because during the time I was pregnant some people
had told me that it was
something I wanted. I therefore did not want to see anyone around me.
Someone suggested I go to church and since I wanted healing, I
reluctantly accepted. But during mass in my Catholic church, my eyes
filled with lots of tears. I looked around and spoke to myself loudly
and disturbed the order of worship until they told me never to come back
Not until the beginning of workshops and seminars on peace organized by
organizations did Judith start to be less
fearful of people. One of the people she met in one of the
reconciliation workshops suggested she go to the Trauma Healing And
Reconciliation Services listening center. Judith says that when the
THARS personnel created a safe environment for her to share her
experience and her pain, a feeling of relief and peace
started to get hold of her. She said that it took several sessions to
Judith told us: “Today I feel as a human being again, a person and not
an animal!” In another THARS seminar, Judith met “other people who
encountered worse situations than I
went through”. “I met”, Judith narrated, “a
lady whose two hands were cut by her own husband. And when
I talked to her, I felt as if my troubles were smaller as compared to
what Francine had gone through. It was as if my own healing got
completed by the healing of one whose situation was worse than mine. I
thank THARS for all they did for us”.