Florence Ntakarutimana is Catholic Relief Services’ Trauma Healing Program Manager, a Burundian citizen with almost 10 years of experience working in trauma healing programming. Prior to her arrival at CRS in February 2015, Florence worked with the African Great Lakes Initiative in Burundi, and has carried out trauma-healing programming in numerous countries including Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, as well as the United States and Canada. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself? How did you get involved in trauma healing?
My name is Florence Ntakarutimana. I am Burundian, I was born in Kiganda, in Muramvya Province, in 1976. I am married to Dominique Niyonkuru, and together we are blessed withfour kids, two girls and two boys.
I got my Bachelor’s Degree of Arts in Christian Leadership in 2005, and I worked with the Trauma Healing Program called Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) of the African Great Lakes Initiative in Burundi since 2006. In February 2015, I joined the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) family.
Through my work, I had the opportunity to forgive the killers of my mother and my father, who died respectively in 1996 and 1997, during the crisis in Burundi.
Being part of the Trauma Healing Program helped me, one one hand, to forgive and address those wounds and to understand that life continues after loss, and, on the other hand, gave me an opportunity to use that experience in accompanying others in their healing and forgiveness processes.
Through this work, I have so far reached many people in different countries such as Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, USA, Canada, the Central African Republic, with this message: “Healing and reconciliation are possible!”
Q: What is special about the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) methodology?
The HROC methodology uses simple but transformative strategies to create spaces of safety and trust that can help all members of the community heal. Simultaneously, this healing leads to reconciliation and conflict prevention. With the HROC methodology, we can successfully reach many people in a short time and with few means, adapting our methodology to any given context.
Q: What are the trauma healing needs in the Central African Republic?
The needs are great. During my last year spent in field in the southeast and northwest of CAR as a consultant, I saw how the attacks of the LRA and the crisis between anti-balaka and Séléka have displaced many families, left many men and women widowed, many children orphans, and made many the victims of gender-based violence and kidnapping by armed groups.
Those who are still alive live in extreme fear, and with deep inner wounds. You can sense grief, hopelessness, despair, division and hatred among people when talking to them. Unfortunately, not many organizations in CAR are involved in trauma healing. If nothing is done to mitigate this inner tension, it will lead to endless cycles of violence.
Q: What has SECC achieved to date in terms of trauma healing in CAR?
In CAR, we have achieved extremely successful results with our trauma-healing program, results that reached well beyond our expectations. There is immediate and continuous healing in communities where healing workshops have been conducted.
More than 100 community trauma healing facilitators — men and women, Christians and Muslims, and members of all segments of target communities — have been trained. In addition to these 100 facilitators, more than 370 members of our target communities have been reached through trauma healing sessions. Testimonies of individual and family change are continually shared, expanding even further the reach of the program.
Religious leaders such as priests and pastors, as well as representatives of women and youth associations, are involved in the program and serve as key liaisons to help build the program’s capacity and sustainability. We have found that local government bodies are very appreciative of this work and see it as a great approach to reach many people who are in need.
Q: What is your favorite trauma healing exercise and why?
The trust walk exercise! The trust walk reminds me that life is a journey with a mixture of good and bad experiences. I still learn from this exercise; it teaches me again and again that I have to maintain the courage to continue with life despite its difficulties. It inspires me to trust others and share what is inside me in order to heal, but also to consider others’ contributions.
I have learned that life is not possible without others, which strengthens the way I value the sense of the community cohesion without consideration of gender, religion, ethnicities or any other social division.