The Process of Post-Traumatic Growth in Fostering Agency and Activism among Survivors of the Genocide in Rwanda
Response to talk by Dr Laura Blackie delivered at NTU, 4 November 2015
by Sofia Aatkar, MRes English Literary Research, NTU
23 November 2015
About Post-Traumatic Growth
Dr. Laura Blackie, a social psychologist from the University of Nottingham (UoN), visited Nottingham Trent to deliver a seminar regarding what she terms ‘post-traumatic growth’ (PTG) in the context of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. She began by describing an ongoing project at the UoN, of which she plays a part: ‘Rwandan Stories of Change’. This project qualitatively assesses PTG within survivors of the Rwandan genocide through lengthy interviews conducted with these individuals. PTG is defined as ‘a positive psychological change experienced through the struggle with highly challenging circumstances’, and is measured through aspects such as personal strength, new possibilities, appreciation of life, improved relationships and spirituality. Dr. Blackie made plain that PTG occurs in conjunction with pain, sorrow and loss, and that PTG is not an inevitable outcome when individuals have undergone immense distress. After this disclaimer, the themes of PTG were listed, namely: elevated status of the individual from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’, an increased responsibility to live, and heightened agency and sense of activism.
Dr. Blackie voiced that Rwandan Stories of Change aims to re-knit post-genocide Rwandan society by encouraging survivors to share their experiences, which, in turn, creates an invaluable support network for the participating individuals. She went on to suggest that one of the consequences of this unitedness is that it promotes a new, collective Rwandan identity, as opposed to the previous divide of Tutsis and Hutus. This, as Dr. Blackie proposed, then encourages Rwandan citizens to look to the future and aim for a peaceful co-existence rather than dwelling on their heart-wrenching past. Moreover, it could be implied that PTG, and thus Rwandan Stories of Change, is productive way of assessing how a formerly politically unstable country can achieve reconciliation after a tragic national incident.
I would like to suggest that Rwandan Stories of Change operates on both a micro and a macro level; for, on a micro level it assists people to exercise their individual agencies to work past a traumatic event, and on a macro level, it helps a wounded country heal its psychological scars. This project can serve as a reminder to us all that help on an individual level can indeed impact the bigger picture – something which is key in the wake of events such as the Rwandan genocide.
Things to Consider
When the subject of ethnic genocide is mentioned, one cannot help but think of the Holocaust (1933-1945) in which approximately six million Jewish people were killed. In a similar fashion to Rwandan Stories of Change, The Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association (HSFA) works to support and provide friendship for holocaust survivors. In addition, HSFA is a medium through which survivors of the holocaust can share their stories with later generations, and the association aims to utilise these stories in order to work towards a more tolerant society by educating people that diversity should be celebrated. I would like to conclude by tentatively suggesting that this could be more fruitful approach for Rwandan Stories of Change, for it is worth acknowledging that, within a country, there will always be ethnic difference, especially in an increasingly globalised world. Therefore, in an attempt towards ensuring such an atrocious event will not repeat itself, it may be worth looking to educate Rwandan citizens that ethnic difference does not equate to inequality, rather than encouraging a Pan-Rwandan identity.
Stories of Change link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/clas/departments/french/research/rwandan-stories-of-change.aspx
Background information on the genocide: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13431486
Holocaust Learning Link: http://holocaustlearning.org/about
Photographs by Georgia Stabler