UMass Amherst Professor Designing Program to Promote Healing and Reconciliation in Rwanda

AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts psychology professor Ervin Staub and Laurie Anne Pearlman of the Trauma Research Education Institution of South Windsor, Conn., are using a new grant to develop ways to promote healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Rwanda in the wake of that country''s genocide. The two-year, $232,000 research grant is from the John Templeton Foundation''s program on Scientific Studies on the Subject of Forgiveness.

In Rwanda, beginning in April 1994, more than 600,000 ethnic Tutsis and 50,000 moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu paramilitary groups, some members of the military, and people who joined them. Staub says the need for healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation following the genocide has taken on greater urgency because of turmoil in the neighboring Republic of Congo and reports of rising ethnic tensions within Rwanda.

The purpose of the project is two-fold: to learn about healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation under the most daunting circumstances - following a genocide, and with violence continuing in the country; and to work to bring them about. Without these efforts, a continuing cycle of violence is probable and it will be difficult for the two main ethnic groups to live together in densely populated Rwanda, Staub says.

Staub, Pearlman, and UMass graduate student Alexandra Gubin are working to create a network of contacts in Rwanda''s churches, schools, and other social institutions, and through them will invite people to participate. The project will be implemented by Rwandans. The objective is for small groups of people, both Hutus and Tutsis, sometimes separately, sometimes together, to write and talk about their experiences during and after the genocide. They will provide support to each other as they engage with these painful, difficult experiences and their long-term psychological impact, Staub says.

The groups will be conducted in accordance with Staub''s and Pearlman''s prior experience with such exchanges and will reflect ongoing consultations about Rwandan culture and society. "We believe healing and forgiveness are important for a couple of reasons," Staub says. "They can improve people''s lives and help prevent the perpetrators of violence from acting again."

Staub and Pearlman began discussions this summer with a small group of contacts within Rwanda to help build the networks needed to start their work. That effort will be followed by trips to the region where a system of training workers to run the group sessions envisioned by the project will be designed and implemented, Staub says.