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Crossing Thresholds, Deepening Relationships
By Elin Henrysson and Andrew Peterson

The initial goat project was supported by Friends from Olympia, WA and the expanded project by the Goldman Sachs Social Entrepreneurship Fund.

A central principle of HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities) is that the healing of the inner wounds of trauma go hand in hand with reconciliation and the building of relationships. The HROC trauma healing workshops create space for both, but it is sometimes difficult for participants to find ways of continuing to nurture and cultivate these relationships outside of the workshops. Many HROC participants have organized themselves and taken initiatives to deepen the healing and reconciliation of their communities by, for example, visiting perpetrators of violence in prison. In another instance, a group of widows in Mutaho decided to meet regularly and to cultivate a piece of land together. Eventually, these women wanted to nurture their reconciled relationships even further – encouraging each other not just to meet together, but also to cross the threshold into each other’s homes. This is how the idea for the goat exchange project was born.

With support from AGLI, each Tutsi woman from the internally displaced persons’ camp was paired with another Hutu woman who had remained in her community during the conflict, effectively crossing ethnic boundaries. Each pair was given a pregnant goat that they cared for together, often visiting each other’s homes. After the goat gave birth, one woman kept the mother and the other took the kid. The women were then paired with others, and the cycle continues. This initiative was so successful in deepening relationships across boundaries and in raising the confidence and quality of life of the women that HROC decided to replicate the project in other communities.

From January 2009 to December 2010, Goldman Sac’s social entrepreneurship program and AGLI supported the initiation of fifteen additional groups. These groups have now distributed the first generation of goats, have been re-paired and are looking forward to the multiplication of their efforts. Each of these groups is taking ownership of the project and it is clear that it has allowed them to continue the relationship building they began in the HROC workshop and that the goats have helped improve their lives.

The process of the goat-exchange has not been problem-free, but in facing challenges each of the groups have made the project their own. In one community, there was an uproar during the distribution over who would get the biggest, healthiest looking goat until one of the facilitators devised a system through which they would be distributed randomly. In another community, the members decided to contribute a regular membership fee to make the group more sustainable, making exceptions for those participants who could not afford to pay; such as allowing them to pay after their harvest. In many groups the death of a goat or a kid caused lively discussions. Although these were difficult conversations, they allowed the groups to set up their own rules and guidelines for how the project would continue to function. They also effectively created a forum where members were asked to handle conflict constructively, ultimately strengthening relationships and group cohesion. Some of the groups, significantly in Mutaho, have also started to become involved in the communal administration; learning about and promoting the project. Thus the project has also become a way for the community to make themselves heard wherever decisions are being made.

Relationship Building
When the kids are old enough to be exchanged, the groups gather together, bringing the kids along. They sing, pray and talk about their experiences of the project while sharing soda and mandazis (a kind of donut). Afterward, each member of a pair who kept the goat in his or her home, ceremoniously hands over the kid to the partner, often with a heartfelt speech, the naming of the kid and a hug. Each of these aspects of the process opens a space for the strengthening of relationships and it is clear the groups are actively seizing the opportunity to continue the work of reconciliation.

Many of the participants shared how they have met together regularly with their partner during the project, visiting each other’s homes, sharing drinks and cooperating to take care of the goat. For example, in Gwisabu a set of partners met together in the internally displaced camp to ensure that their sick goat got the right treatment. They managed to nurse the goat back to health and were proud of the way they had worked together. In Mutaho, a Tutsi man from the internally displaced camp was paired with a Hutu woman from the community. They talked about how they had chosen to name their goat urukundo (meaning “love”) and how they visited each other often. In another community, Ryarunyinya, one woman in the project died. The group decided that her daughter would take her place in the project. Beyond just including her, the partner she was assigned to worked to ensure that extra resources were made available to her. This is a powerful demonstration of the opportunity for relationship-building brought about through the goat-exchange program.

The goat, urukundo, “love” with its owners.

Improving Lives
The project is particularly appealing to HROC participants who live mainly in rural areas and the majority of whom live on subsistence agriculture and small-scale income generating activities. The goats provide a valuable source of fertilizer, where the participants would previously have had to either buy it from others who own cows or goats or to buy unaffordable chemical fertilizer. As the exchange continues, each member is paired several times and will eventually have more than one goat. This will create an important safety-net for difficult times or emergency expenditures – one goat can be sold freeing up cash, while others remain, maintaining the benefit of fertilizer. As the goats multiply, they will also provide an important source of occasional meat.

The benefits beyond fertilizer have yet to be realized among the groups who have started the project. However, a less tangible but equally important benefit is taking root among the participants. One woman in Ruyigi said, “I am so proud of my goat. I could never think that I could own a goat, but now I have one and I enjoy so much to take care of it.” For her the benefit is not just a practical one, but also a sense of pride and confidence in herself and her life. Many others expressed similar thoughts, demonstrating the value of even this small addition to their lives.

The project grew out of the creativity and pro-activity of a group of HROC participants in Mutaho and has now grown to include many more groups across Burundi. It is a tangible expression of the cultivation and nurture of the tree of trust, a core HROC lesson. The initiative demonstrates the value of a holistic approach that is rooted in the healing of hearts, the building of relationships, the improvement of lives and the empowering of communities. HROC will continue to accompany these groups as the project continues to grow and multiply.