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New UBC PhD Masahiro Minami begins work as a UBC postdoctoral fellow

Recent UBC PhD in Counselling Psychology, Masahiro Minami, continues his work in peace and reconciliation in a new role - as a postdoctoral fellow with UBC Education's Peace Action Research program.

Helping survivors of war to forgive those who tried to kill them is the mission of Dr. Masahiro Minami, who recently completed doctoral studies in Counselling Psychology at UBC. Masahiro observed the pain of those survivors while back-packing in more than a dozen communities, including Israel and Palestine, Ukraine, Kosovo and South Korea, Ethiopia and South Africa. What he saw inspired his research.

As a trained therapist, Masahiro observed the suffering and scars of survivors across the globe. But on reflection, he can now say: "One of the most beautiful sights a therapist can witness is the moment someone shows resilience in the most difficult times, and hope and strength shines through that we can all share."

Masahiro began his research in a village in Rwanda in 2009, where he witnessed an intervention called forgiveness-based reconciliation. During this process, perpetrators of genocide begged the forgiveness of survivors of the conflict who had lost family and loved-ones, with the goal of reconciliation.

Masahiro noticed that being relentlessly asked to forgive placed great pressure on the survivors. It often increased their anguish and, understandably, made it more difficult for them to forgive. In addition, the inability to forgive caused the survivors further psychological distress. Masahiro began to think about alternative strategies and developed a model he named the Action-Based Psycho-Social Reconciliation Approach (ABPRA).

Following ABPRA, perpetrators of conflict offer to demonstrate their remorse by giving time and effort in working for survivors. The perpetrators ask the survivors if they will accept their labour, and the survivors can take time to consider whether they will. The best outcome is when a survivor chooses to accept a small amount of help, as an apology in action. The hope is that when the two parties engage in meaningful interaction, it will lead to reconciliation.

Masahiro recalls that one survivor had originally expressed doubts about the sincerity of the remorse verbally expressed by a perpetrator engaged in forgiveness-based counselling. However, when she accepted the offer of labour under the ABPRA, she reported that she could hear his heavy breathing and see the huge droplets of sweat, and so she was convinced he was contrite. Masahiro notes that: "This kind of contrition is completely speechless but completely potent, and one of the many unexpected but positive outcomes of the program."

By way of advice to those contemplating their own research projects, Masahiro suggests: "Have a topic that’s not only interesting and powerful, but with outcomes and data that will resolve a field problem. That means, simply, that our research results must bring benefits to society that are visible, observable, countable, and save money... or lives."

With some colleagues, Masahiro founded the PFR-Morita Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Research in Rwanda, and has been serving as its Director. Since completing his PhD, Masahiro has also accepted a position as a postdoctoral fellow in the Peace Action Research program at the Faculty of Education, UBC.

Masahiro is now preparing to facilitate the ABPRA in many other villages across Rwanda. Having experienced remarkable successes in his field pilot study, he is confident that his approaches will not only assist the reconciliation process, but also help to avoid future tragedies. His ultimate aim in his own words? "Building peace through developing relationships between former enemies, to prevent future ethnic conflict and war."

Based on exchanges between Dr. Masahiro Minami and Dr. Elizabeth Wallace of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Here is Dr. Minami’s PhD Thesis: Development and field testing of action-based psychosocial reconciliation approach in post-genocide Rwanda