Stories of Healing

From the thousands of situations we addressed, we summarized the following stories of our clients and the gains they have made. Places and names are changed to protect the confidentiality of our clients - but each situation is real.

 

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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 machete. 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 gratefully accepted.
 
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 home.
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 was offered 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 plantation.
 
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 comforted her.
 
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 to church."
 
Not until the beginning of workshops and seminars on peace organized by various non-governmental 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 accomplish this.
 
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”.