Tag Archives: Democratic Republic of Congo

Psychological rubbernecking?


One of the necessary first steps of doing international trauma work is to listen to the stories of trauma. There are two main reasons. First, it can be healing for the teller to tell their story to someone safe and caring (if those leading the story telling project follow some basic rules). Second, stories often reveal useful information that may determine future trauma recovery intervention strategies.

But let us also admit there can be a downside to getting others to tell their story, especially those who are impoverished and in great need:

  • When “helpers” or journalists helicopter in to hear the stories, the victims may not feel free to not tell their stories because of the help they hope to receive
  • Outside helpers may repeat the stories in such a way as to sensationalize or to gain more money for future trips. While some reasons to tell may be noble and good, does the retelling of the trauma put the victim at risk for retaliation?
  • Getting victims to tell their story may first raise hopes for change and then dash them if there isn’t a plan for follow-up
  • Sometimes outsiders listen only to help themselves feel better (see, we cared enough to listen) but not do anything to help

In less than one month I will be on my way to do just this kind of listening in both the DRC and Rwanda. The challenge for us is to listen and invite story-telling in ways that leaves victims with immediate help and hope and a viable plan for the future (as it pertains to what to do about their trauma).

But we face some hurdles in trying to hear the right (real) or most important stories.
1. Hearing the real stories. Sometimes stories get cleaned up in an effort to tell us what others think we want to hear. Other stories are told with a slant in order to avoid stirring up other trouble.

2. Avoiding our own biases. Some victims may be perpetrators even as they are also victims. It is easy to categorize individuals in such a way that we stop listening to the pain or the recovery. We can fail to see how victims handle temptations for revenge or how perpetrators act humanely.

3. Lost in translation. Most of the stories we will hear are going to be told to us in a language other than English. That means the story we hear may be the words of the translator rather than the victim.

There is a fine line between listening for learning or helping and listening for curiosity. It is not always clear where that line is but pray for us as we seek to listen in ways that bring health and a plan for healing. We do not want to merely rubberneck like those driving past a bad accident, looking but not providing any help.

One sign that we are listening well is that the victim not only recalls the terrible things from their past but that they also recall how they survived and have some sense of being empowered in their present and future.

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Filed under christian counseling, DRC, Uncategorized

When some help isn’t better than none


When is some help worse than none? When it creates more problems than might have been there without it. While that is easy to say, determining the line between helpful and harmful is less clear.

If your help saves a life, that seems good. If your help saves lives but creates or supports a system that destroys others, when do you decide to stop helping or to change the help you offer?

This is what Linda Polman raises and a key issue in her The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? (2010, Metropolitan Books; first published in 2008 in Dutch by the title, De Crisiskaravaan).

Linda tells of a huge problem in the humanitarian aid industry (yes, it is one even if its primary purpose is to provide care for traumatized and displaced peoples). She puts the challenge this way in regard to providing humanitarian aid for those in warzones,

You do what you can for the victims, but soldiers exploit your efforts. They demand money for ever well yo dig and levy sky-high taxes, imposed on the spot, on all the sacks of rice and tents and medicines you arrange to have flown in. They consume a slice of your aid supplies and sell another slice. Among the items they buy with the proceeds are weapons, which they use to drive yet more people into your refugee camps or even to their deaths.

What do you do? Do you conclude that it is no longer possible to cling to the principles of the Red Cross, pack your bags, and leave to help war victims elsewhere? Or do you remain true to your convictions, believing that even if you save only one human life, some relief is better than none? (p. 1-2)

The first 2 chapters detail the problems of the international aid provided to Goma, DRC between July/August 1994 and 1996 when the Rwandan government used their soldiers to force the mass of Hutu refugees and former genocidaires back into Rwanda rather than allow the camps be locations for regrouping of the militias that would try to return to fight the new Rwandan government.

A couple of her observations

1. Not all refugees are the same. Some are truly in need. But a large number of the refugees in Goma brought a treasure trove of materials looted from their own country. Thus, they were less likely pushed there and more likely going there to reconstitute a machine against the RPF in a safe place.

2. The international community came in droves, almost seeming to try to make up for the failures in Rwanda for the past several months. But they didn’t understand that many of these folks were either perpetrators or related to them.

3. Not all of the deaths reported as due to cholera were in fact illness related. There were many that were killed for failing to be loyal enough to the Hutu extremist groups

4. NGOs have to market themselves and thus spend lots of money to get contracts to help more

5. NGOs hide the fact that many of their stuffs were taken by Hutu leaders so the NGOs would raise the number of people they were helping in order cover up that they lost a large percentage of materials/food to theft and corruption

6. Journalists are more likely to get their way paid to cover a crisis by an NGO, thus raising questions about the images they send back. Likely not going to be as objective.

Now, none of this suggests we shouldn’t provide humanitarian aid to refugees in warzones. But it does remind us that our help can also hurt others. Being wise as serpents and harmless as doves is a lot harder than we might expect.

Given our trip to the region next month, I have to remember that our good intentions are not always enough. I’m not sure how our help can hurt but if we don’t ask the questions, we won’t know either. Here are some open questions

1. Does short-term trauma recovery efforts start a healing process but fail to keep it going thus encouraging more hope than discouragement?

2. Does bringing people together to talk about trauma unintentionally trigger trauma or feelings of rage (we won’t know if some people are considered the “wrong kind of people”)?

3. How does taking pictures or filming any part influence the “data” we think we are collecting?

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Filed under conflicts, Congo, counseling, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda, Uncategorized

Trauma Recovery Work in the DRC and Rwanda


Location map of Rwanda

Image via Wikipedia

It is official. Diane Langberg and I have our tickets for our upcoming trip to the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda where we will be interacting with trauma victims, pastors (who are also trauma victims), Bible Society and World Vision workers, and probably medical and education officials as well.

We leave on October 10 and arrive in Uganda on the 11th. We will be traveling into the DRC in the northeast quadrant (picture tiny plane!) near Bunia and also to Goma, on the shores of Lake Kivu and under the shadow of a large and active volcano. There we will be observing the work of the American Bible Society and She’s My Sister as well as meeting with rape and trauma survivors.

On the 17th, Lord willing, we’ll drive from Goma into Rwanda to Kigali. There we will be joined by colleague Carol King (Langberg & Associates therapist) and Josh Straub of the AACC and our Rwandan compatriots Josephine (WV) and Baraka (IJM) and will lead a  three-day training seminar re: trauma recovery resources and best practices. The plan is to return home via Kenyatta airport and Brussels on the 22nd.

Prepping for the trip includes everything from shots to planning who does what training segments. Those of you inclined to do so, pray for the logistics there as World Vision Rwanda puts the final touches on the location of training and invitees. A lot of work must happen for this to go smoothly. Also, there is an effort to raise funds for this (Project Tuza) at the AACC World Conference in Nashville the last week of September. Pray that attendees will catch a vision and support us as they can.

Anyone wishing to donate can here.

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Filed under Congo, counseling, counseling science, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Rwanda, trauma, Uncategorized

Report on sexual violence in the DRC


I’m coming late to this but just finished reading an April 2010 report on the problem of rape in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The report is supported by Oxfam and is written by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. You can read the 66 page report or quick overview by clicking here.

What they document (between years of ’04 and ’08) is a retrospective study of 4,311 rape victims at post-rape interview at Panzi Hospital in South Kivu area (well-known for their pelvic surgeries to repair fistulae caused by rape). The results indicate that while war-related rape may be decreasing, there is an over 1700% increase in civilian rape. Evidence of a culture change as a result of a war?

Very difficult read. Most victims were gang raped at night, in their homes, in front of their families. Necessary for those who want to understand the experiences of these women. Most of the efforts to help are about either (a) surgical repair or (b) economic recovery. This makes total sense since these are the top two issues victims face (often victims are abandoned by their families or lost their families during the rapes). But what to do about psychological trauma? What works for these women who do not have the time nor the money to go to therapy?

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Filed under Abuse, Congo, counseling science, suffering

rape counseling programs?


I have the pleasure of serving the American Bible Society as a volunteer these days. They have launched the project, “She’s My Sister” to work to care for rape trauma victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries in the “Great Lakes” region of Africa. But unlike most projects that want to help the needy, a central feature of the project is to change you and I so that we together work to value women more and protect their dignity and lives.

As part of an advisory council for the ABS, I’m looking to find any rape or trauma recovery programs that are in use now in Africa. If you know of anyone who has (a) lived in the region of Central Africa, or (b) has worked in Africa and had to deal with traumas (genocide, war, rape, etc.) will you ask them if they know of ANY rape or trauma programs being used. They can be good or bad, Christian or non-christian, big or small.

The ABS has a good plan already but we are looking to make it even more successful and we especially want to know what does or doesn’t work.

Feel free to pass on names or contacts who could help us!

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Filed under Abuse, Congo, ptsd, Rwanda