is a stigmatized community. The best comparison to a U.S. context
would be Southeast D.C. or South Central L.A. during the crack
epidemic in the 1980s. It’s one of those places “you just don’t
go.” The Friends Women’s Association (FWA) clinic staff
often find that their colleagues in the medical community react with
shock when, given their advanced education and social status (even
though most of FWA’s staff come from Kamenge itself), they
tell them they work in Kamenge. Other umuzungu (Kirundi for “white
person”) quickly produce a copy of the latest security report
which undoubtedly contains warnings about travel to Kamenge.
for such stigma lie in Kamenge’s recent history.
Kamenge is an urban community about 5 miles north of Burundi’s
capital city, Bujumbura. While once multi-ethnic, Kamenge was one of
the main theaters of mass violence during Burundi’s “crisis,” or
12-year civil war, resulting in the community becoming almost entirely
ethnically Hutu. Thousands of people were killed there in 1994 during
stand-offs between Kamenge’s infamous gangs and the predominantly
Tutsi military. It later became a recruitment ground and stronghold
for Hutu rebel groups such as the FNL and CNDD-FDD.
The scars and stigma of this violence are still evident today. Some
houses remain destroyed. Others are covered with bullet holes. It is
one of the poorest communities in urban Burundi with virtually no access
to public services. There are few water points, mostly open sewers,
and one of the lowest rates of education. And underneath the surface
are still deeper, open wounds: stories of loss, rape, hunger, lootings,
Women’s Association was founded in 2002 with the
support of the African Great Lakes Initiative to address some of these
deeper wounds, particularly in the lives of women who have been made
vulnerable by years of war and poverty. The Friends Women’s Association
has embarked on the long road of peace and recovery, using public health
as the starting point. This is our story.
Next article: War