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First International HROC Training of Facilitators
By David Zarembka, AGLI Coordinator

The First International Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) Training occurred in Burundi from August 9 to 27, 2011 with twenty-four participant trainees. The diversity among the participants was exciting. They were from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Congo (North Kivu and South Kivu), England, and the United States. Training began with participants taking part in one of four HROC basic workshops conducted in various parts of the country. International trainees were participants in the workshop so that everyone had experienced a basic HROC workshop firsthand. As happens in HROC workshops, many emotions were released and shared.

Comment on basic HROC workshop by Florence Ntakarutimana, HROC trainer:

I enjoyed being part of the three day basic HROC workshop in Rutana. The group went back and forth from Rutana Center to Giharo every day, a trip of one hour each way. They did not complain about the long journey on a dusty and bad road. In the workshop, all participated including the international participants were not only observing but contributed a lot to make the basic workshop a success. All the participants shared their stories and the international ones were happy to jump in quickly.

I noticed that for the first day of this workshop, the local participants were closed but, as they continued to hear international participants sharing, they became more comfortable. They said, “We were thinking it is Burundi only that needs help.” The local participants began to open up more as we moved on with the workshop.

Outside of the workshop sessions the interaction with the local participants was amazing. I still remember the first day when we ate food with our hands as we had forgotten the forks at the Center. I asked the friends, “How is to eat with your hands?” I remember one of the international participants saying “Even in the US it happens that we eat with hands.” Also, the fact that the internationals were learning some Kirundi words and trying to memorize the names of the local participants helped Burundians feel connected to the internationals. There was dancing and laughter.

At the end of the workshop, one international participant, Santa Sorenson said,
I am happy I got this time to come to Africa. I told Florence when I met her in the US in 2008 that one day I will knock on her door. I am happy I could come. What I have learned from you is awesome. I give a piece of my heart to you.

The training itself was held for the next two weeks at Burasira Seminary, a Catholic retreat center, built a long time ago by Italians. Hence, one can easily imagine being in Italy (until you eat the food). It is in a remote area and largely self-sufficient since they grow most of their own food. In order to connect with the Internet, one had to go to a particular building and climb to the second floor and face out the window for reception.

The training was conducted by Adrien Niyongabo and Florence Ntakarutimana from Burundi, Theoneste Bizimana from Rwanda, and Zawadi Nikuze from North Kivu, Congo. These are HROC’s most experienced lead facilitators.

Participants were positive about the experience. Here is what Jean-Pierre Mfuni from World Relief in North Kivu, Congo, said:

As a Peacebuilding officer, this training means a lot for me. Coming from a country, which has experienced violent conflict for many years, this training has helped me to acquire more skills on how to deal with trauma and, thus, how to help communities to reconcile. Before attending the training, I had organized various trainings on Conflict Resolution and Transformation, which are important in empowering communities with techniques in promoting peace, but how to deal with internal wounds was unknown to me. Now I am able to help communities to deal with internal wounds, which is a very important aspect to bring sustainable Peace and Reconciliation.

Joyce Victor from Seattle, WA commented:
The HROC International Training was a tremendous experience for myself and our group of participants. Most of the participants were already deeply involved in peace-building work, often under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances, and many had suffered trauma in their personal lives as part of living in communities traumatized by war. Our learning occurred on many levels: In order to help others we had to each assess our own experiences of trauma and to speak openly to others about our personal lives and ways in which we are working to be healed. Our exceptional trainers modeled and taught us how to lead community workshops.We learned from one another as each member of our group brought unique insights and abilities.

Of particular value to myself, as an American, was being with Africans involved in peace work and getting to see the context in which HROC works. For example, the centrality of Faith, the practice of shared prayer with song and movement and the pivotal role of churches in peace work was evident. For a person of quiet Quaker ways, this outpouring of devotional expression was a special experience I might hot have had in a training in the US where Faith is often more privately expressed. There are many other things I absorbed by being in Burund. I learned the central importance of sharing food together as part of building community. I saw some of the reminders of war and atrocities - a memorial to school children burned alive and the shells of destroyed house. I witnessed the extraordinary capacity for forgiveness as well as the presence of military checkpoints and heard the stories of terrible as well as heroic deeds committed by citizens. I was able to hear about the work of other participants as well as to learn about the work of NGOs run on a shoestring and the deep desire to do good. If we had been in the US, most of our Africans participants would not have been able to afford to come to the training. Best of all, by being in Burundi, surrounded by Africans, I was able to build life-time friendships which will allow me to travel and to maintain contacts with this special group of exceptionally warm and caring people.

The main problem of the training was that one person from South Kivu did not know English. Other participants had said that they would translate for her, but this did not work out well so she missed a good deal of the more difficult aspects of the training. The Kenyans complained that there was not enough ugali, a corn meal mush that is the staple food in Kenya, while some Americans complained that the food was the same every day – long ago I realized that the ability to have different foods each day is a luxury.

Elin Henrysson, Quaker Peace and Social Witness peace worker with HROC-Burundi:
During one of our training sessions, Theoneste Bizimana quoted a saying that relates to the African philosophy of Ubuntu. He said, “I am because we are.” This, to me, is where HROC finds her heartbeat. In his book No Future without Forgiveness, Desmond Tutu explains the African concept of Ubuntu as follows: “A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”

As each group of participants goes back to their home countries and communities, some to contexts of relentless poverty and war, some to highly individualized, violent societies, I hope that we take back, not just new skills, but a sense of Ubuntu. A heart-sense that in the midst of great suffering we find healing though community with others. A sense that

I am because you can accept, hold and honor my story.
I am because I can listen to, value and remember your story.
I am because you see the humanity in me and I see the good in you.
I am because I can see that you have suffered, like I have.
I am because we are.

I attended the last day of the training and led the discussion on the way forward for each group – Kenya, South Kivu, North Kivu, northern Uganda, and the United States. The next step in the process is for the newly trained facilitators to apprentice in a number of HROC workshops with an experienced HROC trainer guiding them. Here are the plans from the various groups:

Bukavu, South Kivu, Congo - These three participants do peacemaking work in Bukavu (the main city of South Kivu) and some nearby communities. They are not well funded so they will have to do workshops that are low budget with the participants perhaps bringing their own food for lunch. The HROC program in Burundi will be able to mentor these new apprentice facilitators.
Goma, North Kivu, Congo - The three participants were from World Relief and their leader, quoted above, is an experienced AVP facilitator, which is how he learned about the program. Their new fiscal year begins on October 1, 2011 and they plan on conducting their apprentice workshops then with help from Theoneste in Rwanda and Zawadi in Goma. Their major peacemaking activities take place north of Goma in a place called Rutshuru, an area where conflict was intense and HROC-North Kivu has only held one workshop.

Gulu, Northern Uganda - In this area impacted by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army, trauma is especially high. Quaker Peace and Social Witness in England had been working with a group in this area called Empowering Hands for a number of years. Three members of Empowering Hands attended and, if they can get support for the apprentice workshops, the HROC program can send mentors for the workshops.

Kenya - Two participants were from Nairobi, where Theoneste has already introduced the HROC program. One is the coordinator of the program who had never taken the training; the second is an HIV+ woman who wants to use HROC with those who are HIV+. Since the program is ongoing, there should be no problem developing apprentice workshops. HROC has also been introduced in western Kenya, but one of the two main facilitators obained a job in Nairobi and a second was hospitalized for over a month and is still recovering. Consequently there is a need for additional people who could become lead HROC facilitators.

United States - There were nine participants from the United States; three came from the Richmond (VA) Peace Center; and another three came from Arcadia University near Philadelphia. The final three participants were from various places.

Richmond, VA - Two experienced AVP facilitators from the Richmond Peace Center had taken the HROC manual off the AGLI webpage and begun conducting HROC trainings with a peace building organization for African immigrants from seventeen different countries. Since they have already conducted some workshops, they are geared up to do more with African immigrants. I find the international aspect of this African organization to be unusual; as is their realization that African immigrants have experienced considerable trauma – usually in the country where they originated - and definitely in their entry into American society, which, I am sorry to say, is not always very eager to welcome them.

Philadelphia, PA - The three participants connected to Arcadia University know each other well (two are married to each other) and already have plans to conduct apprentice workshops. They indicated numerous sub-groups in America that could use the training, including the prisons where AVP is established. One of the members is involved in peace work in Northern Ireland and, when she is fully trained, would like to introduce the program there. Her comment was that during the ten years of “peace” in Northern Ireland the peace has been kept by building more and higher walls and fences between the groups – hardly what we would consider peace.

We are hoping that the participants will conduct at least four apprentice workshops in the next six months. If the trainees do their “homework” of four apprentice workshops, we will offer the follow-up one-week training at the Gisenyi Peace Center in Rwanda, perhaps in February 2012. The lead facilitators will be available as mentors with Theoneste coming to the United States in October 2011 after the AVP International Gathering in Guatemala to mentor the newly trained facilitators

In my recent three-month tour in the United States, I found extensive interest in HROC training for the American context. We are also planning to hold the Second HROC International Training in the United States from June 13th to 30th , 2012 at the Stony Point Conference Center north of New York City. In August 2012, we plan to hold the Third HROC International Training in Gisenyi, Rwanda. We are in the process of working out the details. If you are interested in either one of these trainings, please contact me at

The HROC training laid to rest my search to understand the visual violence that took place in the Great Lakes region, especially Burundi. Since I am on a healing journey myself, I was amazed by how much a community, so hurt in the past, could reconcile their differences. In addition, I was elated to hear some of the stories that were told by the members of the community. Those stories were very soothing and a promise to the fact that Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities works. After the training, I felt a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.
Elsie Okpu, Richmond, VA, but originally from the Cameroon.

I traveled seven thousand miles in my journey towards peacemaking. Even though there is enormous need close to home, it was very valuable for me to spend an extended period in an environment that was hugely unfamiliar. This helped me to see the common humanity of people around the globe, which includes people in my own neighborhood. I know I won’t fully appreciate what I have learned here [in Burundi] until I return home and our experiences settle into my mind and heart. But I am sure I am forever changed. Every American should experience Africa or other developing countries. Many of us simply don’t understand how difficult life is for an enormous part of our world population. It will give me a new appreciation of diversity, difference, and of the service I am expected to embody and practice as a global citizen.
Anne Swoyer, Philadelphia, PA

I am Pastor Marcel form the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have work for World Relief since 2001. During the war, I lost my young brother who was killed by unknown armed people. I love very much my brother because he resembled me. It was difficult for people to distinguish him from me. Since that time I didn’t have any opportunity to speak about that. It was a wound, a burden in me, but I was able to share about this for the first time during this HROC basic workshops in Rutana, Burundi. I felt released by sharing about that traumatic event.
Pastor Samuel Serubungo, Goma, North Kivu, Congo