Rebuilding communities and recovering from trauma: A conversation with Rwandan genocide survivor Leah Chishugi


13 September, 2011

Leah Chishugi describes herself as a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people in the Central African nation of Rwanda. Leah grew up in the neighbouring eastern Congo but by 16 she had moved to Kigali, the Rwandan capital, to find work as a model, later marrying and having a son. In 1994 she was caught up in the violence and escaped only after being left for dead under a pile of corpses, fleeing to Kenya, and later South Africa and the UK, where she was granted asylum.

Now 34, Leah has documented her experiences in her recent book A Long Way from Paradise. Since her arrival in the UK Leah has found a greater purpose in life through devotion to the service of others and the desire to help women who are continuing to suffer from rape and other atrocities. This is what led her to found Everything is a Benefit, a charity which aims to create awareness and make a practical and emotional difference to the lives of women and children in the eastern part of Congo.

Leah presented her story and then joined a conversation on the wider issues of rebuilding communities and recovering from trauma, with University of Sydney academic Dr Wendy Lambourne, and Dr Jenny Dawson, a clinical psychologist specialising in trauma recovery.

Dr Wendy Lambourne is a senior lecturer and academic coordinator at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. Her research is concerned with analysing and evaluating transitional justice, reconciliation and peacebuilding after genocide and other mass violence with a particular focus on Rwanda and Cambodia. Dr Jenny Dawson founded the not-for-profit organisation TraumAid International with the aim of equipping local leaders to understand and mitigate trauma and transform their community. She spends several months each year on location in disaster zones across the globe and conducts ongoing research into the neurological, physiological and psychological impact of trauma.