Healing in Rwanda with Damien Nkubana

This is an interview between Damien Nkubana and I. Damien is the program manager for PEARLS Rwanda Rehabilitation Centre. This is the story of the incredible work he is doing. All I can do is pass along his story and his words and hope that you will support my friend. The video is for context if you are unfamiliar with Rwanda.

  1. What is the purpose of your organization? What is its mission?

The Center will be a multidisciplinary behavioral health care practice.
Our organization will be a community-based counseling and outreach center that offers individual, couple, family and group counseling services to clients in Rwanda.

To promote the well-being of the individuals and families, as well as peaceful cohabitation of people by providing accessible, quality mental health and substance abuse/addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and their families, utilizing a service system that emphasizes trust, respect, confidentiality, compassion, peace and reconciliation.

Our vision is of a world where people with mental illness receive the mental health care they need, and go on to live productive, fulfilling lives free from trauma.

The people of Rwanda were affected by the genocide in many ways. Some suffer severe post-traumatic stress as a result of the events they witnessed, many are struggling with grief at the loss of friends and family, some turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with that loss.
Even those who have successful careers and families of their own might experience depression or unwanted thoughts from time to time, but feel as though they can’t talk about it.
Our center will be a safe space for anyone who needs a little support provided by qualified, trained staff and experienced in dealing with the full range of conditions specific to genocide survivors and all affected people. We provide group therapy sessions, one-on-one counseling and a range of holistic activities to complement their recovery.

  1. Who do you intend to help?
    A. Individual counseling services
    For people with issues like:
    -Anxiety and stress
    -Relationship issues and difficulties
    -Alcohol and substance abuse
    -Family issues and conflicts
    -Sexual assault/trauma
    -Spirituality issues
    -Self esteem issues

B. Couples, family counseling services
-Relationship issues and conflicts
-Couple and marital enrichment
-Premarital counseling
-Couple communication and conflicts resolution
-Separation and divorce issues
-Domestic violence and physical abuse
-Addictions and substance abuse
-Grief and loss

C. Group counseling services

To resolve issues like:
-Stress or anger management
-Trauma recovery, or
-Life after divorce
-Relationship or self esteem problems
The organization will provide quality trauma therapy services for children and adults who have experienced traumatic events.

  1. Emotional and psychological trauma
    The center will help people to recover from issues such as:
    -Post traumatic stress disorder
    -Emotional abuse, neglect and domestic abuse
    -Sexual assault and abuse
    -Having trouble functioning at home or work
    -Suffering from severe fear, anxiety or depression
    -Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
    -Using alcohol or drugs to feel better

We will develop services to benefit our clients with their career direction and job/employment preparation.

  1. Life enhancement

-Increase motivation and satisfaction within various parts of life
-Receive expert guidance on achieving personal goals
-Developing clear goals and setting an action plan
-Learning coping skills necessary to manage life stressors and daily anxieties
-Enhance self confidence and living a greater balanced life
-Effective networking strategies and interpersonal communication skills

  1. Career planning

-Career counseling and guidance
-Career interest assessments and interpretation
-Links to job shadowing and internship opportunities
-Workshops and events

  1. Job creation preparation

-Entrepreneurship workshop
-Business mentorship
-Business coaching
-Resume and cover letter writing
-Interviewing skills
-Various training workshops
-Job search strategies

The center will collaborate with Dr. Kenneth Dennis (Clinical Psychologist), of the United States, through the programs for ARMHS (Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services).
The healing center will partner with individuals, international public health schools, and international organizations.

The center will also partner with local community and nonprofit organizations as well as public schools to provide mental health awareness seminars and psychotherapy treatment services.

  1. What experience do you have in this sort of work?

Before becoming a Roman Catholic Church priest (I left later) I did Philosophy, Theology, Psychology and Sociology studies.
I also did Entrepreneurship Development Management studies (Bachelor’s degree) and Postgraduate diploma in Education.
I am a certified counselor by the University Of Washington School Of Public Health. Since 2018 till now I have been working with the PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding LiveS) in research and International Rehabilitation Psychology Practice.

  1. What life events led you to this sort of work (your story)?
    N.B.: Damien NKUBANA: “I am not genocide against the Tutsi survivor”.

During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, I was 17 years old. I saw a lot of bad things, atrocity, people killing innocent people! It was awful. We suffered a lot. People’s lives and hope were completely destroyed. I assisted in the “Homo lupus homini” (A man is a wolf to another man) scenario! Later I had a chance to survive and continue my studies. I became a priest in Roman Catholic Church. But I had high depression and trauma hidden! Being a priest worsened my situation. I left. After joining the TCP group, I met a friend, Kenneth PhD psychologist. He supported me and now I feel better. Helped — I am committed to help others experiencing the same like me in the recent past.

  1. Why is it important for people in Rwanda to have access to a facility like this?

Anyone that is struggling with depression, trauma or anxiety, any type of mental disorder, extreme poverty, an addiction to drugs or alcohol, will benefit by going to the rehab center. Those who have suffered from such situations know how hard it can be to overcome it alone, and the healing environment of rehabilitation offers the support needed to make a successful recovery.
In addition, those attending mental health treatment will also learn the necessary tools for building a productive, healthy, and happy life. Rwanda Rehab Center — Secret of Peace.

  1. How will they access it? Will it charge a fee to clients or will it be free? Will peoples therapy be subsidized by donations?

As we are targeting vulnerable people, with zero or little income people, we do not expect charging a fee to our clients. Provided services will be subsidized by donations.

  1. What is your grand vision? If you had all the money in the world for this project, what would you do?

I have seen the impact of reconciliation and forgiveness, how this is powerful! My vision, my dream is to have this “PEARLS Rwanda Rehab Center” where people come and someone is there to listen, where they speak the language of Peace, Reconciliation, and Forgiveness work together for healing.
A home for suffering people, as many as possible.

  1. What do you think you need to get started?

The work has already begun. This is the beauty of PEARLS, our main program. It can be done in peoples homes, but the dream is to build a center where we can have a true community rehabilitation center. I am currently working with almost 20 people. I need more people to join my vision. Togetherness is our strength.
We need to buy land ($15,000) and raise funds for buildings with equipment ($50,000).

9. How is the work you are doing impactful?

PEARLS RWANDA PROGRAM: Healing the invisible wounds of violence in Rwanda


KAMPORORO Seraphine is a mother and wife who lost her family during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. She was 16 years old, when armed men attacked her home in MUSANZE, a town in Northern of Rwanda, and brutally killed her parents, siblings and friends.


“I lost all. It was hard to move on. I was so much wounded; my heart was bleeding.

When the killings stopped, I struggled for years to live with the harsh invisible wounds of seeing my father, mother and brothers murdered by neighbors.

Imagine seeing the wife of someone who killed your family, take food to him in prison while you are starving with nothing to eat.

The traumatic experience left wounds too deep for me to heal on my own. I was not alone to suffer some form of physical or emotional hardship because of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

By June, 2019, Damien NKUBANA, PEARLS-RWANDA program Manager, came at my home in Musanze. He was conducting a research on depression, anxiety or trauma cases among genocide survivors and young single mothers in Musanze. He interviewed me and collected all data related to initial evaluation: PHQ-9(Physical Health Questionnaire), GAD-7(Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and NSI (Neurobehavioral Symptoms Inventory). After the conversation he started counseling me for several months and sessions. After that my life started to change a bit positively”! I appreciate his hard working to help me.

Later, Damien NKUBANA invited me for a societal healing event organized by PEARLS-Rwanda program for Ruhengeri/Musanze prison aiming at forgiveness and reconciliation between genocide survivors and perpetrators.

I eventually got the courage to overcome my trauma after participating in that societal healing event.  However, it was not an easy journey for me to heal from my distress and extreme paranoia.

First, as genocide survivors, we were not happy when the perpetrators confessed and were released from prison. We thought they will come and finish us. When we were brought together, I was afraid. In this reconciliation village event, survivors and genocide perpetrators collaborated in bricklaying. I often had fears that in the process, one of them [genocide perpetrators] will hit me with a hoe from behind. But with time I have forgiven them. No one forced me to forgive. Despite what they did, reconciliation is possible. We are the story.

It was hard to look eye to eye with someone who killed my family.

On his part, Jean Pierre, an ex-genocide prisoner said:

“I was scared to face the families of people I killed during the genocide. But with counseling by PEARLS-RWANDA PROGRAM, I decided to open up and confess what I did. I also confessed to my wife, to whom I had lied all along that I was unjustly imprisoned. I told her the truth that I killed our neighbors. She was shocked. My wife and children were traumatized after learning the truth’’.

END of testimonial.



The researcher, Judith Herman, wrote a seminal book called: “Trauma and Recovery: the Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror”. She believes there are three elements involved in the healing process: Survivors need to reach a place of safety, reconstruct the trauma narrative and restore the connection between individual and community.

The adverse impact of the genocide still weighs heavily on Rwandan society today. The country still grapples with a burden of trauma and mental health conditions. The reason why Rwanda Rehab and Career Center is a need as investment in mental health, address trauma and enhance social cohesion in Rwanda for better future. 

10. Wow! This is incredibly moving. I am wondering more about the former combatants…

The story of Lambert, an ex-combatant

After nearly 20 years, deep-rooted trauma from the Rwandan genocide still haunts many.

Through PEARLS work in Rwanda, we bring together victims and perpetrators of the genocide by providing microfinance, trauma counseling and dialogue clubs.

This programme helps the communities to move forward and rebuild their lives together, avoiding the risk of renewed conflict.

The story of Lambert, an ex-combatant

“I was just 17 at the onset of the 1994 genocide war when my family was forced into a refugee camp in the Congo by the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers. The camp was dismantled but I suspected some of my family members would betray me so I decided to join the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in the Congo to fight the RPF from 1998 to 2004.

I was badly wounded – I thought I would die and decided to return to Rwanda and hand myself in to the authorities to get medical treatment for my worsened physical condition.

After treatment, I was sent to an ‘integration camp’-MUSANZE in the north of the country and joined by other friends who were fed up with and depressed by the daily hammering of war. We were given US$350 as a stake to begin a new life. I wasted my money on alcohol to relieve my depression, sense of isolation and loneliness.

A few years ago I heard about Damien NKUBANA PEARLS programme for ex-combatants, about other men suffering from depression. The first step was trauma counseling – my hate was reduced, for the first time in many years I no longer felt isolated and lonely.

Through the programme, after the counseling I participated in a micro-financing project to create a farming project. This time the money was not wasted on alcohol.

One successful project has led to another – I am now married, have a family and we are building a life together filled with hope. This could not have happened without the support of the dialogue club and counseling.” Thanks to Damien NKUBANA.

End of testimonial.

If you would like to help with the healing, please contact Damien Nkubana at dkubana1976@gmail.com

We are also needing funds for a peace and reconciliation project: https://gofund.me/c6e741e4

More about PEARLS: https://depts.washington.edu/hprc/programs-tools/pearls/

More of Damien’s projects: https://dontwantyourcivilwar.com/2021/07/02/rwandan-women-teaching-the-world-about-peace-and-reconciliation/

Published by Swan

Hiker, Guide, Peace activist, Yoga student, and Nature lover.

6 thoughts on “Healing in Rwanda with Damien Nkubana

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