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On the Long Road: Burundi
By Alexandra Douglas and Dr. Alexia Nibona

Introduction

War and Health

Health and Peace

A Community Peace and Health Model

FWA’s Philosophy

On the Long Road: DRC
By Alexandra Douglas and Zawadi Nikuze

Summary

The Story You Need to Hear

Learning From Within

The Worst Place to Be a Woman

Conclusion

Health and Peace

Health is fundamentally connected to peace. Just as the lack of health and human security was a root cause of Burundi’s civil war, the fulfillment of health and human security is a root of sustainable peace.

The end of Burundi’s civil war has seen a massive influx of conflict resolution and general development aid. Literally millions of dollars are currently being poured into the country by foreign donors. While local conflict resolution actors, such as the AGLI supported program HROC, have worked in Kamenge, very little international aid intended for work in HIV/AIDS, public health, or food security has reached the Kamenge people, in part because donors still deem it too “insecure” to work there.

Yet this supposed “insecurity” is exactly why the Friends Women’s Association believes that it should be working in Kamenge.

The people of Kamenge face many interconnected challenges in the post-conflict environment. Among these are HIV/AIDS, food insecurity, lack of access to potable water, no healthcare, stigmatization, sexual violence, and deep psychosocial trauma from the years of war. Amidst Burundi’s relative peace today, Burundians—especially the people of Kamenge—recognize the extreme consequences the war had and has on their lives and well-being. Nonetheless, these challenges are like open-wounds and stress fractures lying just beneath the surface. If they are not cared for, they can infect and/or break, especially if exposed to the right political instigation.

Peace should not be viewed as just the end of armed conflict. Rather it is the series of sustained actions which build and maintain trust, safety, and personal security in people’s lives. Without these elements, the seeds of instability and conflict continue to grow and multiply.

Yet many people like to divide health, peace, gender, poverty, etc., into their own individual categories. Doctors treat disease. Peaceworkers mediate conflict. Women work against sexual violence and aid workers distribute food. However, the reality is that if peace is viewed as not just the end of armed conflict, but the creation and sustainability of a society where the root causes of conflict are eliminated, it is impossible to separate these categories as such. They are deeply interconnected.

For example, to provide quality medical care, it is also necessary to address poverty. A doctor cannot care for a patient if the patient cannot afford the necessary medications. Similarly, it is dangerous for both the patient and the community if a patient can only afford to buy part of the treatment regimen as this builds up resistance to the most effective medications for that disease. Medications and treatment also do no good if a person develops side effects from lack of food, such as vomiting from taking medication on an empty stomach, which is common occurrence among poor HIV+ patients in Kamenge.

In the same vein, addressing healthcare and poverty must also address gender-inequality. Take this story from the FWA clinic as an example:

One day a woman came into the FWA clinic and tested positive for HIV. During the course of her counseling session, it was revealed that she was the fourth wife to her husband. All three of his prior wives had died of HIV-related complications, yet her husband had never been tested for HIV. The clinic staff eventually persuaded the husband to come in for testing and, indeed, he was HIV positive. An international volunteer at the clinic during this time then asked the clinic’s staff how the man was still alive when three of his wives had already died from HIV. They responded, “In a poor family in Burundi, it is the men who get the milk, meat, and medicines.”
To truly address the root causes of conflict and work towards sustainable peace, the interconnected challenges of a population must be addressed simultaneously.

The Friends Women’s Association believes that health is the best entry point to meet the challenges faced by Kamenge. In line with the belief that health, poverty, gender, and peace are interconnected, we define health as not just the absence of physical disease, but the whole well-being of body, mind, and spirit of both individuals and our community. We, therefore, provide medical care in addition to adherence support, psychological counseling, community trauma healing, nutritional support, micro-credit loans, and women’s empowerment programs.

Our work is on the long road of peace.

Next article:A Community Peace and Health Model