Ellyn Bader

KagameYou might know that Pete and I have been building schools in Kenya for four years. We work in communities of refugees who were traumatized and displaced by political and tribal violence, and we have a special connection with the wonderful people struggling for survival in this part of Africa. In fact, we are now counting the days until we return to build another school in a new refugee community called Lemolo.

So it was especially inspiring for me to hear the current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, speak live at Wisdom 2.0. Kagame talked about Rwanda’s long journey to move past the tragic genocide that occurred in 1994 between the Tutsi’s and Hutus. Approximately one million people were murdered including nearly 70% of the Tutsi’s then living in Rwanda.

The road to rebuild after such massive trauma has been difficult. Essential to President Kagame has been finding a way to recreate a feeling of national pride and resilience in the Rwandan people.

President Kagame wants to build a strong feeling of everyone being there for each other. He uses Twitter to communicate more broadly with the people in his country. One special project occurs the last Friday or Saturday of each month when everyone is strongly encouraged to do a day of community service. All these hours have gone to building schools and clearing land for roads to be built.

Speaking of the government and the people of Rwanda, he says, “We must be accountable for ourselves. We aren’t victims. But, we can’t do it all alone and we will work hard to develop strong partnerships with organizations and governments around the world.” This is his overarching philosophy: we must be accountable and we can’t do this alone.

His talk ended with an inspirational performance by a women’s drumming group. Hutu and Tutsi women partnered together to form a drumming circle to help usher in a new era. Traditionally in Rwanda drumming was reserved for only men. These brave women united and crossed tribal lines to create music and support healing, love and connection.

Their next project is…..an ice cream business! Some of the women who originally joined forces for drumming are now going into business together. It’s a beautiful example of overcoming differences and forming new connections.

I was inspired to hear about Kenya’s neighbors in Rwanda rising to recover from their horrific history. And of course, my thoughts naturally go to couples dealing with trauma. What aspects of political recovery parallel couples recovery? I can think of a few similarities, and I would enjoy reading your thoughts on the subject.

I also look forward to sharing with you what I learn in Lemolo this coming summer.


Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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Joann Anderson
7 years ago

Dear Ellyn and Pete,

Your story of building schools in Kenya and summary of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is deeply touching.

Thank you for all you do.

Warmest regards, Joann

Anne O'Connor
7 years ago

Thank you for this message. When I am struggling with bravery, I go back to the image of the first black students walking through a police barricade to enter high school. I was the same age as they were at the time. That image from television coverage, not even personal experience reminds me to face difficulties. Sometimes I am not willing to be disturbed by the suffering of others who are far away and I remind myself to look for strengths rather than always focus on pain.

Leslie Boies
7 years ago

“We must be accountable. And we can’t do this alone.” Accurately describes the approach needed for effective couples work. Stay in the both/and.

~Wendy Brox
7 years ago

I can imagine the benefit that would come to a couple if they would do the same thing, one day a month of community service. Working together on a common goal. Also forgetting past wounds and coming together to heal. Putting the good of the whole ahead of their own personal agendas. Inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

Silvia Burwell, LPC
7 years ago

Ellyn, what a wonderful labor of love you are doing. I to worked for many years and still do with people, in my case from Latin America, both political refugees and undocumented immigrants to this country who were the victims of war and violence in their countries. I would love for you to visit my blog: http:// healing-the-immigrant-family.com, specially the last post I published on The Trauma of War and Violence. It would mean a lot to me to hear your feedback. I salute President Pagame for leading his country out of a victim mode and into a giving mode. Beautiful. I have seen that happen in my country, Chile, who is to this day trying to heal the wounds of years of brutal dictatorship which happened now over ten years ago.

Vij Richards
7 years ago

My thoughts that parallel trauma and couples work is the suffering in silence. Taking a risk to differentiate and share their stories, brings hope not just to the relationship of the couple, but the community they live in. I love hearing about the work you do. All the best to bringing your wisdom, growth and inspiration to others.

Richard Yancey
7 years ago

Hi Dr. Ellyn, I was not aware that you and Dr Pete were building schools and working in communities of refugees. That’s really something! I am working toward my pilot’s license and plan to volunteer to fly medical staff and supplies to people in different areas where needed. I may fly with MAF, an established aviation group based in Seattle who delivers food and medicine in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Do you find the work rewarding?

7 years ago

I like the model of moving from the role of a victim to building.
Its easy to be on the wrecking crew but building relationships and moving ahead
will bring healing and hope.
Thanks so much for your labor of love.

patricia lucas
7 years ago

I heard Kagame’s speech. I was particularly moved by his bringing attention to Rwanda’s commitment to creating its own new constitution and really taking ownership of building its future rather than abdicating to stronger nations to come in and just do it for them! He seems an insightful and powerful leader that recognizes the careful balance of taking responsibility for one’s healing and also fostering realtionships that help. A very good model for therapy indeed! Thank you for your wonderful sharing of your work and life purpose. I have very much enjoyed my emails from you!

7 years ago

Thank you all for your comments-And Silvia for your excellent blog and the work you are doing with immigrant families. The work and concepts described by President Kagame are needed in so many circumstances. Sometimes it amazes me what couples will power struggle over-or feel entitled to get. There are times I’d like to take them to Kenya or other war torn countries and ask them to work on a project there together-and see what happens to their level of gratitude and acceptance of one another. In some cases the women drumming are drumming with women whose fathers killed their parents.

7 years ago

Richard-The work in Kenya is extremely rewarding. What matters alot to me (since I am not wealthy )is that small amounts of American dollars can make such a difference in so many lives. I also know the money is getting directly to the people without going through big bureaucracy or into the black market. I love seeing the smiles on the kids faces or holding their hands and letting them know they are not forgotten.