Appolinarie received healing from her traumatic experiences that took place during the Ruanda genocide more than 20 years ago. Now she helps other French-speaking refugees in Nairobi through trauma healing groups.
Words, video and pictures by Tim Coleman
Thousands of French-speaking refugees from Congo, Ruanda and Burundi are in Nairobi for a fresh start. However, the traumatic experiences many carry prevent them from truly carrying on in life.
SIM Kenya, in partnership with Tushikiriane, is facilitating Christ-centred trauma healing groups for refugees to process their great pain and receive healing.
As participants reveal some of their deepest wounds during a trauma healing group session, Appolinarie knows all too well their pain and the life changing impact these workshops will have.
Yes, few people are as well-equipped as Appolinarie to run these trauma healing groups. The fourty-five-year-old Rwandan refugee and mother of two is a survivor of the Ruanda genocide. She has experienced her own holistic healing through these groups.
Her pain was great. During a fateful night in 1994, Appolinarie fled her home whilst heavily pregnant, with the screams of family members filling the air behind her as they were hacked to death.
A long a painful journey on foot took her from Ruanda to Burundi. Along the way she witnessed killings, rape and looting.
In Burundi she gave birth to her firstborn, but soon after she had to flee again due to civil unrest. Her next home was in a refugee camp in Tanzania.
With a social science qualification, Appolinarie informally took on a role of counsellor to many trauma-stricken in the refugee camps. Yet, this whole time she was carrying her own trauma.
Two years later, the Tanzania government closed the refugee camp, so Appolinarie was again forced to find a new home. She moved to Nairobi in Kenya which is where she lives today, more than 20 years on.
After years in an unfamiliar culture, struggling with her own trauma, Appolinarie undertook trauma counselling training. Yet while she understood the theories about trauma, she was not experiencing her own freedom from trauma.
That was until she encountered a Kenyan missionary, who encouraged her to attend trauma healing groups run by SIM Kenya.
These Christ-centred healing groups allow people like Appolinarie to process their grief, to put their pain at the foot of the cross and to forgive their perpetrators and themselves.
Appolinarie’s life was changed by the power of God. He took her pain and enabled her to forgive. Finally, she could truly live again. It’s a moment that she describes as ‘I could breathe again’.
Where Appolinarie was crippled by trauma, grief and guilt, she experienced freedom through Christ and forgiveness. Her pain was great, but our God is greater.
Since receiving holistic healing, she helps others to discover the same freedom she has.
Read more of Appolinarie’s story here.
I Can Breathe Again
Appolinarie is part of an organisation called Tushirikiane. It is a partner organisation with SIM, that is setup to help French-speaking refugees in urban areas like Nairobi, primarily through trauma counselling and (spiritual) trauma healing groups.
Both formal counselling and healing groups are offered to urban refugees from Congo, Burundi and Ruanda, of which there are more than a thousand in Nairobi alone.
Having experienced the release from the pains of war, Appolinarie is able to empathise with the pain of others and therefore can walk with them through their pain.
She administers one to one care, but also hosts group settings that provide a platform for participants to learn from each other and to share experiences.
Gaining perspective from others who have been through similar experiences or worse is invaluable and often participants learn coping mechanisms from each other.
Appolinarie remembers her first healing group session for twelve Congolese and Burundian refugees, for whom memories of war are fresh. A widow who was now living in Nairobi had lost her husband, plus her first and second born in Congo. She was afraid to go anywhere - even the market place and church. Sleep was even worse because of the nightmares.
This lady was irate during a session about the wound of the heart and refused to participate during this group discussion. During the third session, on the journey of grief, she spoke out when the 'no hope’ part of grief was explored. “That’s me!”, she shared.
During the session about forgiveness, she wept for over an hour in front of the group. After writing the things down that she needed to forgive and then sharing them with the group, she said how “A stone has been taken from my shoulders. I can breathe again”. Words familiar to Appolinarie.
Appolinarie has also met with this lady one to one after the healing group. She can now sleep soundly through to the morning, without the screaming, gunfire and machetes echoing in her mind.
She has asked for the same programme to be provided for her whole family, young and old.
There is no trauma too big for God to heal.
Helping Others in Their Trauma
Today, Appolinarie lives in Nairobi with her two children, while her husband works in Mozambique. The majority of her family were killed back in Ruanda.
Her credentials as a trauma counsellor and healing group facilitator are clear. She has been through similar trauma, meaning she can empathise with those she is helping. Also, she is fully qualified and has completed the trauma healing groups herself.
With more than 1,000 french-speaking refugee families in Nairobi that are registered with the organisation Tushirikiane, plus many others still out there, the challenge today is clear.
Appolonarie is the only qualified French-speaking counsellor in the organisation and the funds are not in place to organise the healing groups necessary to reach all these people.
Group sessions should typically last two days. There is a need for facilities, the course materials and food for participants and helpers.
The work has begun to train others to host group sessions. Currently, around 25 have recently completed healing group training and that number is steadily growing.
Reaching the people in Nairobi is easy because the organisation is setup for this, but there is now the task of coordinating these 25 to reach others and organise more healing group sessions.
Some of the SIM trauma healing materials have been translated from English to French, but not all. The work continues to translate these materials to French and Kiswahili.
The vision is that more and more French-speaking refugees are able to experience the same life-changing freedom as Appolinarie through trauma healing groups.
For more information on trauma healing groups in Kenya and to support the work of group healing sessions, please talk to someone via the SIM website using the details 'Urban Refugee Trauma Care' (Kenya), Project Number KE092059