"Step Up" Helps Rwandan Genocide Survivors

1 decade 2 years 2 months ago Monday, July 17 2006 Jul 17, 2006 Monday, July 17, 2006 6:59:10 PM CDT July 17, 2006 in News

"There's a tremendous amount of pain after the genocide," said Bauer. "It doesn't just go away after the shooting stops."

Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in central Africa. In 1994, the Hutu majority killed nearly a million people, mostly minority Tutsis.

Physical wounds may have healed, but mental health problems remain.

"We saw quite a lot of symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder," recalled Bauer. "We saw people who were having repetitive nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks of seeing rivers of blood."

Bauer is part of a group called Step Up, American Association for Rwandan Women, a Columbia-based organization that's teaching Rwandan people simple trauma interventions. University of Missouri professor Bea Gallimore founded Step Up after 20 of her relatives died in the genocide.

Earlier this year, Step Up trained 30 nurses to recognize the symptoms of PTSD. Only one had previous training in trauma counseling.

"Many of these people seek help at the hospital because there are no mental health services," explained Bauer. "And [they] are terribly distressed and the hospital staff has no idea what to do for them."

People like Josephine, who was 30 years old in 1994. During the genocide, militia killed her husband, then gangraped her. Anastasia was 20 years old during the genocide when she also was raped. Some said the rapes were deliberate attempts to infect women with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. The militia killed Anastasia's parents, her child and 5 brothers and sisters. The soldier who killed her aunt forced Anastasia to wear the dead woman's bloody clothes. Another victim, Rose, had to watch her three children die.

"I was taken as a sexual slave," Rose remembered. "My oldest child, a girl, two years old, was dragged on the ground in front of me and thrown into a pig sty where she died. The men then threw my one-year-old and four-month-old to the dogs. They were too young to defend themselves."

Later, the soldiers killed Rose's husband, her mother and pregnant aunt.

"Some of these women have been raped by over 100 men, so many they've lost count," said Bauer. "Many of them were children at the time, and were raped along with their mothers and sisters and watched the rest of their family be killed."

Bauer spent a month in Rwanda training people to help female victims. She plans to return next year to help more women.

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