Supporting children who have been involved in military actions. By Chaste Uwihoreye

Child ex-combatants need psycho-social support and this support is administered to them in 4 phases that include healing phase, building confidence phase, building and strengthening new relations, and lastly a family therapy phase.

  1. Healing phase

Life in this world is an amalgam of suffering and joy but sometimes the suffering outweigh the joy whether you like it or not. Therefore, as a psycho-analyst it is our duty to help people who are suffering to cope with those difficult moments. During this phase, ex-combatants share the experience of suffering they have undergone or harmful actions they might have undertaken towards others. (Like kwambika ikariso, kwambika isengeri). Due to this suffering some of the ex-combatants have a feeling that the world belongs to Satan, the world has many evils like wars, famines, deaths and sometimes these dangers are beyond our control. When we hold sessions that enable the ex-combatants to share their past experience, we are helping them to make flashback into their life and they can mirror their past heinous actions and their suffering. They make a flashback into their life from childhood to life to date, difficult life they have endured in the Democratic Republic of Congo, like heavy rains, killings, hunger. This session helps bring the ex-combatant to understand and recognize that he/she has poison that needs vomiting. Indeed, this poison may be diagnosed physiologically, which is easy to cure but the poison may impair our thinking capacity, which is hard to cure. During this phase, we address the problems talking to the whole group instead of singling out one individual.

The ex-combatant vomits this poison through expression. He/she can confides to a closest friend who will carefully listen to his/her past experience, that friend will help overcome the suffering and the patient will give a sense to his/her life and eventually takes a decision as to how to reshape and re-orient his/her life. It should be explained to the patient that during one’s life, we face off challenges and hurdles but we have vibrant capacity and force to overcome any challenge, therefore there is no valid reason to surrender. We may encounter problems but our brain and body are equipped with opportunities and resources to defy any difficult situation.

This poison emerges in:

  • psycho-somatic symptoms that are perceived in forms of headache, stomachache, untimely menstruations, etc;
  • Erroneous thoughts or thinking whereby the patient is engulfed in negative and biased thinking, harbors genocide ideology;
  • Abnormal feelings and emotions;
  • Abnormal behavior whereby a patient becomes addicted to alcohol and drug abuse, ceases washing his/her clothes;
  • Complicated or poor relationship with friends, neighbours or workmates. It is not easy to get on well with him/her.

As referred to earlier, the sure way to overcome these difficulties is only through expression. This expression leads relief, then giving a sense to one’s life and finally the patient takes a decision of reorienting his/her life. We have to try by all means to unearth the suffering, when words fail we have to appeal to other means of communication like mimicry and gestures.

The patient must be assured that we are a trustworthy person, who is ready to understand and find a solution to his/her suffering. Indeed, the first impressions that the person we are talking to will have on us will determine or ease subsequent communication. We have to bring the patient have full confidence in us, so that he/she can unburden his/her heart to us. We have to give them a room to ask questions, sometimes open-ended questions. However, our listener may opt for not communicating and this is commonly known as meta-communication. Sometimes, the ex-combatants do not find easy to come out, that is the reason why we may address them in small groups of 3 or 4 persons so as to stimulate the communication. We have to show them that we share their bad feelings using positive connotation ( iririre, ndakumva, icecekere). The compilation of various testimonies and suffering help them give a sense to their lives and build relationships.

  1. Building confidence

There are 3 ways to attaining success. One has to have a vision and this is coupled with conviction. Once you have strong belief that you can achieve anything, you are building confidence in yourself and you commit yourself to overcoming any challenge (umugabo arigira yakwibura agapfa, aho umutindi yanitse ntiriva). All of these endeavors culminate in taking risks and these risks lead to success. Life is an amalgam of ups and downs, it is an endless struggle, and if you stop struggling you are finished.

  1. Building new relationship

The ex-combatants have diverging and conflicting trends. They have a community they used to belong to in the forest in the DRC and they have a new community of kindred in Rwanda. Their hearts may be swinging between these 2 communities. We have therefore to demonstrate them that while staying in Rwanda, they are recovering physical and psychological identity and these 2 identities call for stability. We have to urge them that they must never succumb to the dangers hovering over.

  1. Family therapy

The ex-combatants will shape their new life building on the atmosphere that reigns in the nuclear family. The mood is circular and runs counterclockwise. Our relationship in the family between spouses sets off from the right side (good understanding) to the left side (disagreement and quarrels) and resumes the move the other way round. We have a nuclear family which is surrounded by the extended family. The latter may try to influence and enmesh the latter, which is likely to jeopardize the nuclear family. We have to deter these adverse interferences. The nuclear family has to be reminded of the objective they had when getting married, i.e., investing cash and care in their offspring. It must be noted that when a disagreement occurs within a family, we may settle it out amicably using talks that can lead to 2 results, either the disagreement sorted out by a win-win solution or a lose-lose solution. In this instance, a friendly atmosphere can be recovered, in case the mediation leads to a win-lose solution, the family breaks up and the spouses divorce. An example of figures 6 and 9 was given, each individual may see the figure differently according to the position or the side he/she is in, 6 may be 9 and 9 may be 6.

The staff of UNM suggested that much documentation is needed to enrich this programme of healing ex-combatants. They also suggested that the ex-combatants should undergo regular healing sessions.

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