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Young Child of COOPAC, watching a recent AHE community workshop

Young Child of COOPAC, watching a recent AHE community workshop

Africa Healing Exchange (AHE) is developing programs and partnering with organizations that offer new tools for managing and overcoming chronic stress related to trauma and poverty. The services will mainly be offered to primary caregivers, which generally refers to mothers, but also some fathers, grandparents, teachers, healthcare workers, community leaders and counselors. AHE’s programming is rooted in positive psychology, which means our approaches are forward-thinking and we meet people where they are at while focusing on what may already be working (rather than looking for a problem that we can ‘fix’). We are taking great strides to ensure that all of our services delivered in Rwanda are culturally-contextualized. Beyond translation of the written word and interpretation of the spoken word, our American counterparts are working closely with Rwandan advisers, in particular the Rwandan Cultural Health Centre, to incorporate traditions and cultural play from pre-genocide Rwanda.

Some things are universal and one of the greatest rewards of doing international work is when, after recognizing our differences based on culture (such as family tradition, religion, language, geography, politics…), we come to see how we are also alike. The most recent training-for-trainers and community workshops delivered in Rwanda were profound on so many levels. It is becoming more apparent that almost everyone would like new approaches for managing daily stress and anxiety, regardless of nationality or economic background. In Rwanda, once we say “the T word” (trauma), the entire mood of a room shifts in an uncomfortable or even bored and disinterested way. If we are talking about trauma in a place like Rwanda, most certainly we will be talking about the genocide and then perhaps we will be asking people to share their personal experiences. Again. If we keep the focus on stress management and building personal resiliency in order to cope with future challenges that life may bring, the audience is more likely to remain eager and engaged.

There are different types of stress but the impact on our psychological and physical well-being is the same. Chronic stress creates adrenaline which elevates blood pressure and increases the production of cortisol – all productive and useful when you need to activate the fight or flight response system – but when people are in a constant state of stress (eg. living in poverty and/or experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder), systems stop working optimally, resulting in some or all of the following:
Digestive Problems
Heart Disease
Sleep Problems
Memory and Concentration Impairments
More research is showing that chronic stress leads to heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening medical conditions around the world.

As the founder of AHE, I am passionate about being of service to others in order to offer new solutions toward living a more peaceful existence. I see my role as bringing people together for the greatest good and in the process I am learning new tools to use in my personal life. As a single parent, I experience daily stress related to raising a young child. It is a rewarding opportunity and it is the most challenging thing I have ever done. I am grateful to have a network of support and to have good health and other resources to make the job less stressful. Still…sometimes I lose my temper and sometimes I say  or think things that I regret. We are all human and there is always room for improvement. For individuals living in extreme poverty and without the basic resources to care for self, let alone others, it is frightening to consider the trickle-down effect of chronic stress.

Let us work together to create a healthier community for ourselves and for our children. Murakoze cyane / thank you.
-Sara Stender, Founder and Executive Director of Africa Healing Exchange

Sara and her son, July 4th, 2014

Sara and her son, July 4th, 2014