Lisa Rogoff

Lisa Rogoff (Survivor Corps in Rwanda): Lisa has spent much of her professional career promoting human rights. She earned a BA from Colgate University. She then worked for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience where she produced Voices on Genocide Prevention, a weekly podcast. Lisa then worked at the ENOUGH Project, directing campaigns to raise awareness about the crises in Sudan, Congo and Uganda. Lisa returned to academia to pursue a joint-degree at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and McDonough School of Business. While at Georgetown she worked at the Clinton Global Initiative, designing the Human Rights and Peace Track for the CGI’s second annual conference for university students. During her first year at graduate school, Lisa also worked with the Grassroots and Issues Management Team at APCO Worldwide, a global communications consulting firm. After her fellowship, Lisa wrote: "My experience in Rwanda has taught me the importance of flexibility. I’ve also seen the importance of empowering women...I don’t know that I’ve changed the way I look at myself, though I have come to understand just how fortunate I am to have been born in my circumstances. I have met so many wonderful and talented men and women in Rwanda who have been unable to realize their fullest potential because of their economic, social, or political situations.”

What is a Survivor?

11 Jul
Consolée and Chantal at ARCT-Ruhuka

Consolée and Chantal at ARCT-Ruhuka

“Vous êtes un survivant?” I asked Consolée Mukeshimana.  During my time in Rwanda, speaking with Survivor Corps’ partners, I’ve noticed a pattern.  Every trauma counselor I’ve spoken with is a survivor of the genocide.  So, I just assumed that Consolée would fit the mold.

Sitting in ARCT-Ruhuka’s conference room, Consolée hesitated and laughed nervously.  She looked toward Chantal, the other trauma counselor who was part of our joint-interview.  “Quelle est la definition d’un survivant?”  Consolée asked.

What is my definition of a survivor? I was taken off guard, so I turned the question around, “Qu’est-ce que vous pensez?”

No luck, Consolée replied, “I asked you.” I told her – in my broken French – that a survivor is someone who has experienced a traumatic, life altering, mental or physical injury; has faced and accepted his or her injury; and has chosen to continue on with life and give back to the community, in particular those suffering from similar trauma.

Consolée relaxed a bit.  Then she said something I have not heard any other Rwandan say since I have been here, “Je suis Hutu.”  Not only is it inappropriate – and somewhat illegal – to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda today (if you were to cross politically correct lines and ask someone’s identity, you would most likely hear, “I am Rwandan”), but I had yet to meet a Rwandan so open about being a Hutu.

There was a long pause.  Chantal chimed in, “Just because she was Hutu, it does not mean she killed.  She was in opposition to the genocidaires.  She was afraid of them. She does not know if that makes her a survivor.”

Neither do I.  But one thing I learned during our interview is that Consolée has adopted the attitude of many other trauma counselors that survived the genocide.  In true Survivor Corps’ fashion, she has accepted the scars of the genocide, taken back her life, and is now giving back to those who suffer from trauma today.

Following the genocide, Consolée saw that there were many people throughout the country suffering from psychological wounds.  “There was lots of stress, fear, psychological problems,” she told me.  “In 1996, I began my training to become a counselor because I wanted to help those still experiencing trauma.”  She was working as a social worker in a rural health center when Trocaire – the Christian charity that trained many of ARCT-Ruhuka’s counselors – came to her district and asked for volunteers.  It was a no-brainer for Consolée; she joined the Trocaire team, and continues her work today as a counselor with ARCT-Ruhuka.

Chantal – a survivor who lost her husband during the genocide – has a similar post-genocide story.  She too saw the difficulties that many people faced following the genocide and began her studies to be a trauma counselor.  “It is good to talk and commemorate because memory is part of the healing process,” Chantal said.  “I help people express their emotions and overcome their fears.”

Both Chantal and Consolée are optimistic.  There are not nearly enough psychosocial services in the country, but they believe their continued work and the peer support training that Survivor Corps has provided to their counselors will begin to bear fruit.  As more counselors gain training throughout the country, survivors will be able to assist one another in the recovery process.  Chantal and Consolée are looking forward to gaining more training in peer support and helping spread this process to other counselors throughout the country.  “Mutual experience is the best way to help,” Consolée said smiling.

Posted By Lisa Rogoff

Posted Jul 11th, 2009

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