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Mapping Painful Memories to Move Forward

  • Nyoyo House, right, scene of torture and memorialization

    Mapping Memories for Future Healing Kenya's Nyoyo House, right, has gone from the scene of torture to a place of memorialization. Image Credit: Flickr.com/DEMOSH

  • A torture survivor's body map

    Mapping Memories for Future Healing Body mapping exercises help create reconciliation and healing while preserving memories of traumatic events. Image Credit: Sites of Conscience

  • Mapping Memories for Future Healing Body mapping exercises help create reconciliation and healing while preserving memories of traumatic events. Image Credit: Sites of Conscience

  • Mapping Memories for Future Healing Body mapping exercises help create reconciliation and healing while preserving memories of traumatic events. Image Credit: Sites of Conscience

  • Girl standing with her artwork.

    Mapping Memories for Future Healing Body mapping exercises help create reconciliation and healing while preserving memories of traumatic events. Image Credit: Sites of Conscience

Mapping Painful Memories to Move Forward

When tracing a path forward from traumatic experiences, sometimes one’s own body serves as the most telling roadmap of all.

To memorialize past atrocities and help survivors move on, former victims of conflict and torture in the African countries of Liberia and Kenya have taken part in body mapping exercises coordinated by Fetzer collaborator Sites Of Conscience. Within the growing field of transitional justice, mapping is one of several memorialization initiatives and memory practices that are gaining recognition as tools that directly contribute to conflict transformation, peace building, reconciliation, and forgiveness.

In Kenya, 11 survivors of torture and detention centers like the infamous Nyayo House, identified by the National Victims and Survivors Network of Kenya, participated in the workshop.

In a body mapping exercise, participants draw life-size pictures of themselves to pull forth memories of their life’s journeys. This includes traumas, recoveries and changes of direction. At one end of a large poster, participants sketch a past experience, before the trauma. At the other end, they sketch their vision or hopes for the future. In between is a silhouette of their body.

Within the figure, they list or draw the physical effects of their experiences: scars, injuries, and pain inflicted during trauma. But they also sketch the relationships, inspirations, and events that have given them strength to move toward their vision. Participants share their work at the end of each exercise and discuss how it reflects their personal experiences.

“It’s a healing process,” one participant, a survivor of the Nyayo House Torture Center, told Coalition staff.

It’s also a vital way of preserving history, however uncomfortable. Many of the memorial sites that are Sites of Conscience have been turned into living spaces for peace education. The challenge for most societies is how to ensure that the younger generations, who did not live through the events being commemorated, incorporate or transform their significance.

To help spread the practice, Sites of Concience also created a toolkit to guide future practitioners with memorialization exercises including body mapping.

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Law Professions.

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