Epic journey to raise awareness of Rwandan genocide PTSD
PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Kizito Musabimana stepped foot on Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue Saturday, December 10, two weeks after leaving his home in Toronto on an odyssey to raise awareness for sufferers of PTSD from the 1994 Rwandan genocide
Kizito Musabimana spent his 34th birthday somewhere along Highway 401 between his starting point in Toronto on his sojourn east.
“I'm walking to Montreal to raise awareness of the psychological wounds of war,” he told Your Local Journal as he set foot on the most western tip of the Island of Montreal on Saturday morning, December 10, a little over two weeks after his departure, and walking onto Montreal's Town Hall for a Monday morning meeting with Frantz Benjamin, President du conseil de l'administration de Montréal.
In Canada since the age of 12 – first arriving in Montreal then moving to Toronto – the Rwandan native recounts his personal battles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“I was born in Rwanda and lived through the genocide against the Tutsis,” said Musabimana, recounting how most of his mother's family members were slaughtered during the conflict that claimed up to 1 million victims in a period of less than 100 days.
“Going through that and seeing my friends dead, images of massacres... all those things became overbearing over time.” Musabimana said for years, he and many other people in his community didn't want to talk about their experiences and memories.
“When I turned about 25, the memories began coming back.”
In order to function, Musabimana said he turned to drugs and alcohol. “Those things didn't work.”
He said he was lucky in reaching the next level in actually thinking about what he was going through and lamented that many in his community don't get to do that.
He describes his trip as a 'personal journey' and, equipped with a selfie stick and electronic gear, is filming his walk with the hopes of making a future documentary film.
Members of his community have helped to fund the project with the hopes of raising further awareness of the lingering aftereffects of the 1994 genocide.
“Most people won't talk about it because there's a stigma,” said Musabimana. “But when people open up, they all have a story.”
Moving away from Rwanda didn't solve things and Musabimana said people, particularly the youth, felt stuck when they arrived in Canada.
“We can't talk about it. Sometimes, even at the doctor's office, we don't disclose the information. And when we do, we get medication. There's a conversation that needs to take place.”
He describes the trauma that occurred in the past often blocks those in his community from moving forward through life.
“My hope is that we can start looking at the dreams that we have and the things that we wanted to do when we came to Canada. We were looking for an opportunity to change our lives. I'm hoping we can open those doors.”
Besides raising awareness to allow survivors who witnessed the horror of the genocide talk through some of their experiences, Musabimana said he'd also like to see a centre built in Montreal to provide professional counselling services to the Rwandan refugees in Canada.
Musabimana also wants to document the stories of healing. “We need to show people that Rwanda has come so far since 1994. That's what the film is going to be about.”
Musabimana and his supporters are looking for financial backers for the centre and the film and, even if it doesn't get made, the documentation of his odyssey will be part of his life's collection of memories and another step in the healing process.
“Once this journey is done, I'm going back home to Rwanda for the first time in over 20 years,” he said. “It's going to take going back home to allow these wounds to really heal. It’s a lifetime journey.”
Anyone who wants to contribute to Musabimana's campaign can get more information on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/IAMHomeAgain.