Building Resiliency Speech

Hello friends and in Kinyarwandan, Mwidue neza. I am honored you have chosen to learn more about the resilience of Rwanda and to spend your evening with Africa Healing Exchange. I recently learned that humans are becoming more empathic in and this means that we might feel the pain of a stranger’s like it was our own. This is really cool in alot of ways as it might bring us closer together and perhaps will minimize acts of violence toward one another. On the other hand it means we must be that much more mindful about how we take care of ourselves and how we stay upbeat when we are surrounded by so many sad stories. We are learning that trauma can be passed on, from parent to child even in the womb, and when coupled with chronic stress it leads to a host of other issues. The good news is that there are proven solutions that aren’t even that complicated. So we each get to decide what we will focus on and how we will respond to what life brings us. In order to avoid being swallowed up by negativity, we must focus on the solution and that which is already working. Sometimes it is invisible to the human eye but we can always find something neutral to build upon.

When we turn to models of post-traumatic growth, and we look to emulate those individuals and communities that have experienced extreme trauma yet appear to be genuinely happy and healthy now, we see the human spirit that is within us all. We invited you here tonight to witness such resilience and to inspire hope and change in a world that is often filled with tragic cases. I am excited to introduce you to the beauty that is Rwanda, for those of you who have not yet been there.

On a personal level, Rwanda has changed my life. It was six years after the Genocide of 1994 that I first learned of it, which in and of itself is mind-blowing. I had lost sight of myself and did not know what my purpose was. I seemed okay on the outside but I was generally so unhappy and full of self-pity that I had numbed out and did not see how I might be of service in this lifetime. When I saw a film about the genocide at the age of 21 I was broken open. I started to feel again and I cried for the first time in a long time. The seed was planted then for me, and it was the start of my personal healing journey and Rwanda has been shaping me ever since.

I am so grateful to be clear and purpose-driven now, and through Africa Healing Exchange we are offering skills and innovative solutions for long-standing suffering that can be alleviated through proven models that are culturally-contextualized. We are connecting individuals and communities in need with service providers and organizations that have evidence-based methods for spreading genuine recovery and resilience in places that have experienced severe trauma. We are offering tools for daily stress management and reduction, primarily for caregivers of youth who are also living in poverty and who have requested such services so that they might be self-empowered to create a healthier and happier life. We also invite many of the participants who show entrepreneurial promise to connect in with business mentors and western volunteers who are seeking global service opportunities. We are partnering with the indigenous populations wherever we work and are building a train-the-trainer program in partnership with the National University of Rwanda and specifically the medical school, in order to spread the skills with local leadership. In partnership with Rwandans, we are creating an innovative and sustainable model that can be replicated anywhere in the world. Within ten years Africa Healing Exchange will be a multi-national organization, working on multiple continents, collaborating with other organizations and institutions, maintaining a ‘go global, act local’ and a ‘trade not aid’ approach.

In exchange, we Americans receive so much. I feel it is my duty to share with you the skills and wisdom from ancient African cultures that continue to change my life. I like the sentiment ‘West does not know best’ but in a more positive light, let us open to learning from our wise elders who may be lacking in some resources while flourishing and thriving in other ways. If you spend one day with me in Rwanda you will know what I mean. If you walk down the street there your life may change. If you look into a genocide survivor’s eyes, you may never see the world in the same way.

I am so excited to share this film, Sweet Dreams, with you all, and it is near and dear to my heart. Jenny and Alexis stayed with me in Kigali, Rwanda for two weeks when I lived there in 2009. They had come from Brooklyn, NY to explore the possibilities of starting a social venture to bring more happiness to the nation. They were learning about the culture and meeting with potential suppliers and partners when I guided them to the Ingoma Nshya drumming troupe and their leader Kiki, whom I just met with in February.

You are most welcome to stay after and talk with me and any member of our board here tonight. Please be sure to stay engaged w6494_104097519037_3293952_nith AHE on a local level, as it is only a matter of time that we will be introducing African-inspired Wisdom Workshops(tm) here in Asheville. Thank you again and enjoy the show!

-Delivered by AHE Founder and Executive Director, Sara Stender, on April 30th 2015 at Fine Arts Theatre in Asheville, North Carolina.

A note from recent student-trainer who participated in AHE’s intensive training at the National University of Rwanda. From Sam Habimana Fils:
“Tell them that i thank to African healing Exchange for their opportunities offer for us for being with SARA and her staff from Trauma resources institute in last February. we gain more and they stimulate us to start our organization(RRGO) in Rwanda for helping our society which had destroyed because of genocide against Tutsi in 1994 and its effects.tell them that now we are working in helping these victims to return in resiliency zone. tell them that we want their supporting ideas to reach to the world for bringing social welfare on human being.”