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Your location>Home>Publications>PeaceWays>Fall 2008

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Recovery in Mutaho, Burundi:
Rema (Have Courage)--The Mutaho Widows Group

By Adrien Niyongabo

One of the legacies from the interethnic killings that occurred in Mutaho is the large number of widows and orphans, both Hutu and Tutsi. The Friends Church, one of the most inclusive churches in that area, has had to face the challenge of supporting these members. In a country that is among the four poorest in the world, even the married people are hardly able to cover their family’s basic needs. Burundi’s economy is doing poorly. The wage of a whole days work would is barely 1,500Fbu ($1.25) for unskilled construction workers and maybe only 500FBu ($0.41) per day to cultivate someone’s field.

The main concern the Friends Church wanted to respond to was bringing psychological support to the widows. In a patriarchal society like that of Burundi, widows tend to be ignored and looked down at. Pastor Sara Gakobwa, responsible for Mutaho Monthly Meeting, had the courage to gather the widows from her church and start sharing-listening sessions on Saturdays. The main activities were singing, preaching and praying.

In one of the pastoral meetings that are organized by the Burundi Yearly Meeting, Pastor Sara, the only female pastor in the Burundi Yearly Meeting, presented the request of supporting war widows who are so numerous in most churches. She explained that these widows were struggling to feed their families, to send their children to school, to access health care, to rebuild their homes, and so on. Later on, relatives of some Friends missionaries who were in the country at the time sent her some money for the care of widows. Pastor Sara did not keep it for only the Mutaho Church widows; she shared it with five different monthly meetings in the area so that each one got $20. They used the money to start various project but it did not go very far. Beside the singing and preaching sessions, the group was able to cultivate a plot that had been offered by the church. But the return was not very significant because they could not afford to buy the fertilizers.

The Mutaho Widows Group, called Rema (“Have Courage!”) kept up their weekly gatherings. In 2003-2004, when HROC workshops were conducted in the area, the first women to be invited were impressed and reported to the group that every one should try to attend these workshops. Pastor Sara made a specific request for the widows to be given a chance to attend these healing workshops. It would have been hard for HROC to only invite the widows in the workshop. The whole community was and still is in a critical need of healing. After a number of workshops, the Mutaho Widows Group reported to HROC-Burundi that it had been easy for them to do a follow up since they were already meeting weekly to support each other. It was from those follow-up meetings that they finally made an appeal to HROC-Burundi asking for financial support so that they could run an income generating activity. Their suggestion was to raise goats.

Twenty goats were purchased for the forty-six widows. One goat was given to two women, one often a Hutu and the other a Tutsi. Since the Hutu lived in the countryside, the Hutu usually kept the goat and the Tutsi woman would go visit her Hutu partner to see who the goat was doing. Then when the goat gave birth to a female kid and it was big enough, it was given to the second person. Again when this goat gives birth to a female, it is given to another woman. So soon all the women will have goats. The significance of the goat is that when the manure is used on the field, the yield is easily doubled or tripled. This goats’ project allowed the widows to lessen their daily suffering.

The group became more tightly knit and known by the community to the point that other women joined them. The Mutaho Widows Group wants to have a cooperative. Their plan is to build a conference room that could be rented to people for seminars and workshops, rooms for guests to stay overnight, storage for crops harvested, and a small store to serve the neighborhood, which currently has no such store. The project aims to help widows be self-sufficient as they are the head of the family. Through AGLI, F(f)riends in Oregon and in Olympia, Washington contributed funds to launch the Mutaho Widows Cooperative construction. The hope is to finish the construction by the end of this year and then to open the store soon thereafter.

Liduine Ntikazokura

I am a member of Rema, Mutaho Widows Group. I am really thankful for what has been done since we started our association. You have been very supportive towards us, you gave us goats, and the goats are doing very well, and that has been very helpful. You have also been coming to support us, that shows the love and care that you have, and now you are helping us to build a storage area where we can put our harvest. You remember that last year our beans were stolen because we did not have anywhere to store them, so we look forward to having a safe place to store them this year.
Mutaho is an area that witnessed the war first hand, and it left some of us widows. During war, life becomes very tough. Normally the head of a family is a man, but in his absence the woman becomes head of the family. Things no longer go as you wish. That was the situation with me. I need to look after the children, to provide whatever is needed but I cannot do it as one person. I find myself incapable of being successful in the two roles as mother and father, leaving me to watch hopelessly at what is happening. We have to pay school fees for the children, to buy clothes for them and ourselves. Sometimes we struggle to find a way. Also sometimes our houses fall down and we need to rebuild them, but to rebuild a house as a widow is a terribly difficult thing.

We are comforted when we are with other members of the association, but once we are home and face all the challenges I mentioned, the sorrow comes back. What can one do? You’re all by yourself, waiting on God to do a miracle and provide the things you’re looking for.

So I am really thankful to Rema for the help they gave me, such as the goat I received. I cannot afford buying manure to fertilize my fields, but now I can provide it from the goat, which will help me feed my family.

More important is our weekly gathering. We meet and share about our life and comfort one another. That’s really important. I like how our Rema members work together. We grow beans and potatoes and such together, and when we harvest them we share some of the harvest and keep the other part for next season. That also instructs us in how to plan for our own activities; not just to eat everything we harvest but just be sure that next season we have seeds.

Do you see any future for Rema? Yes, for example the new building will help us increase our harvest. If we keep the harvest safe, it will help generate some cash. It will also be used to house some other projects to generate income that will be shared among us.

Could you tell us about your family life? I am thankful my kids understand our situation which we’re in. I lost my husband and two of our kids died, now I have two daughters and one son. The youngest is in 5th grade, and the two others are now at home. It’s terrible I could not afford to pay for school for even one child, so at one point they had to drop out. But she went back because of the government decision to make primary school free.

We widows have many sorrows. I remember when my neighbors refused to help me rebuild my house. But then they changed and they bought me some tiles, but they broke and so when it rains now the roof leaks.

And since during the war many bad things happened to me, when I remember my husband or my two kids who died, it makes me sad but we have to carry on. I still have hope. I have hope that one day I will have a good house for me and my kids. I have hope that someday I will buy clothes so that my children will have a second set. It’s hard to see your child in only one set of clothes all the time when other kids can change. I also hope we will be able to have enough food for our families.