In a tiny church with a dirt floor in a small Rwandan village, Kelly Johnson spoke through a translator to six people who wanted to learn more about counselling.
The former Calgarian planned to spend a year in the East African country teaching Rwandans the basics of counselling so they could support and care for one another as the nation continues to deal with the lingering effects of its dark past.
But with no other long-term counselling agencies or training services in the country of 12 million people that was ravaged by genocide in 1994, Johnson discovered a deep need for her services and she’s stayed in Rwanda for much longer.
In the four years since that first meeting in a rural church, Johnson has trained nearly 100 Rwandans to be lay counsellors and she’s provided professional counselling services to countless citizens through an organization she founded called Live Again Rwanda.
“Traditionally, counselling has not been something Rwandans do,” Johnson said.
“To actually have people go and talk to someone that is a confidential service, that keeps your story secretive, away from other people,
is a new thing. As people experience this freedom and healing in their lives, this transformation, it’s a word-of-mouth culture, and more people are interested.”
Johnson, who has a master’s degree in counselling and worked as a therapist in Canada for several years, first fell in love with Rwanda in 2009, when she visited for a cross-cultural counselling course while completing her degree.
“It’s a country that’s had a horrendous history, but it also has a bright future,” she said.
She returned in 2011 to train Rwandans how to counsel one another in hopes of helping the country move beyond its tragic past.
“The places that have been devastated for generations in Rwanda, I believe they’re going to be rebuilt by Rwandans, not by expats,” Johnson said.
“If we can train them how to do counselling, they can sit with each other, listen to traumatic stories, know how to do interventions, and then the healing of a nation can start to happen.”
Johnson recently visited Calgary and other major Canadian centres to raise awareness about her work and she plans to return to Rwanda in December and stay for an undetermined amount of time.
“I have a vision for a full-on centre, a one-stop centre where anyone can come and receive both professional and lay counselling services,” she said.
“Until that comes to fruition, I don’t think I’m ready to (leave Rwanda) yet.”
In her nearly five years in the country, the 40-year-old has already accomplished a lot.
Heavy demand has transformed what started as a 10-month lay counselling course taught in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s official dialect, into a busy counselling and training services organization.
Alongside Amos Furaha, Johnson launched Live Again Rwanda in Rwanda’s capital city Kigali in 2012.
The organization provides the gamut of professional counselling services ranging from therapy for people with PTSD or trauma-related history, to marriage counselling.
Live Again Rwanda also offers a six-month lay counselling training course that teaches students basic counselling skills in a classroom setting every Monday night and Saturday morning.
Students, including lawyers, doctors, accountants and interested community members, go on to use their skills in their workplaces and some have started counselling rooms in their homes, churches and communities.
A new partnership between Johnson’s organization and her alma matter means students who take the six-month Live Again Rwanda course will soon receive a diploma from Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Winnipeg.
“People are starting to desire healing,” Johnson said.
“There are so many people in the country that have experienced either directly the genocide or vicariously through their parents or other family members. There’s a shift and a desire for more healing and more transformation than there ever has been.”
Read it Online here