Rwandan Psychiatrist to Receive Hopi Award
Dr. Naasson Munyandamutsa, a 55-year-old Rwandan psychiatrist, has been selected by the nonprofit Hopi Foundation to receive the 6th Barbara Chester Award, designed to honor individuals who work with survivors of torture. Munyandamutsa has dedicated his life to bring healing to Rwandan communities, families, and individuals traumatized by the genocide of 1994. He has been described as the “father” of mental health in post-genocide Rwanda, a gifted and sensitive clinician.
Deemed the “the world’s first anti-torture award”, the award includes a $10,000 cash prize and a Hopi handcrafted silver eagle feather sculpture. These will be formally presented on the 12th of October on the Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. Previous Barbara Chester Award recipients are Shari Eppel of Zimbabwe (2000), Juan Almendares of Honduras (2001), Allen Keller of New York (2003), Alp Ayan of Turkey (2006), and Mary Fabri of Chicago (2009).
In 1994, the world awakened to genocidal mass slaughter that took place in the East African state of Rwanda. Over the course of 100 days, an estimated 800,000 people were killed. The murders were brutal, with people murdered at close quarters with machetes and hammers, carried out by longtime friends and neighbors. “We used to live in the same village,” recalls Munyandamutsa, “to play football together, to pray together.”
Although not present in Rwanda in 1994, Munyandamutsa lost all of his family except for one brother who was also out of the country during the genocide. His birthplace home was destroyed. He returned to Rwanda to help with the country’s recovery from massive trauma by training others as well to respond to the traumatic reactions of genocide survivors.
Survivors of genocide often become profoundly depressed, feeling hopeless, and wanting to die. One survivor, Henriette, who was 19 at the time of the genocide, described how Naasson listened to her story with understanding and kindness, affirming her suffering and gradually redirected her to what she had to live for, “Dr. Naasson saved my life.” She went on to receive training as a trauma counselor. By helping others, she continued to recover and regain a sense of hope and future for herself and for Rwanda.
The Barbara Chester Award is given as a tribute to honor the life and work of the late Dr. Barbara Chester, a pioneering clinician who directed the first treatment program for torture survivors in the United States. Later she treated indigenous refugees from Central and South America, as well as survivors from more than 50 countries. In particular, her work stressed the role of culture in determining both how an individual experienced the trauma of torture as well as the best approach for recovery.
“Hopi philosophy holds that the wellbeing of individuals, the local community, and the world as a whole is served by integrating all aspects of life into balance with ourselves, the environment and our spiritual beliefs,” states Phillip Tuwaletstiwa, a Member of The Hopi Foundation. “We are pleased to award Naasson Munyandamutsa the Barbara Chester Award. His work exemplifies the Hopi philosophy of healing.”
- Contact Information
- Robert Robin
- The Hopi Foundation
- (1) (928) 313-2359
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