Rwanda Red Cross volunteers assist the traumatized during genocide commemorations

Published: 21 April 2014 9:53 CET

On April 7, Rwanda began 100 days of memorials to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the genocide which claimed more than 800,000 lives.

As in past years, volunteers from the Rwanda Red Cross Society played a crucial role in the commemoration, offering psychosocial support to survivors countrywide. The pain of events from 20 years ago is still evident as 240 Red Cross volunteers were called upon to assist over 200 people who were overcome with grief. The National Society had trained 1,800 volunteers in psychosocial support and first aid in advance of the commemoration, and deployed them to communities across the country to provide people with tips on how to cope with the buried emotions which the commemoration could bring to the surface.

“It is normal for people to feel traumatized and this should be known within family circles. It is necessary for all people to understand this,” said Nkiko Samson, community first aid programme leader, Rwanda Red Cross. “It is also important for people to help. This requires knowing how to provide that help and how to give people a shoulder to cry on. This is the message we deliver to our communities.”

Volunteers, who live in the same communities as survivors of the genocide, look for those needing help. There is a temporary resting place where people are first taken, and then transported to hospital if the situation gets worse.

“People get traumatized when they remember an event, and they get emotional,” said Bernard Rwibasira, a volunteer based at the Amahoro stadium in Kigali. “As volunteers, we give them a shoulder to cry on and comfort them with messages of hope. Everyone should understand that anyone can suffer this type of emotional crisis.”

The Rwanda Red Cross will continue to offer psychosocial support and first aid in all districts of the country during the three month period of the commemoration. It is expected there will be cases of trauma wherever many people gather in remembrance of the genocide.

In line with the theme for this year’s commemoration ‘Remember, Unite, Renew’, Rwanda Red Cross built 14 houses to support homeless genocide survivors in Gasabo district. These houses will be officially handed over to the families on 29 April, the day the Rwanda Red Cross will conduct its own commemoration.