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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

Introduction

Kamenge 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.

The reasons 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, and disease.

The Friends 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 and Health