Tag Archives: Burundi

#240 — Trip to Rwanda and Burundi– August 22, 1013

          Here are five observations from Gladys’ and my recent two week visit to Rwanda and Burundi:

Peacemaking is tough: When I was in Gisenyi, Rwanda, talking with the people we work with in Goma in North Kivu, Congo (it is too difficult for me to get a visa now to enter North Kivu as I have to get it in the US where I don’t stay), they told me that on the next day, August 13, there was going to be a general strike for peace in Goma with parades and demonstrations indicating that the people were tired of all the fighting. I remember in 2002 when AGLI’s AVP facilitators who were in Bujumbura, Burundi, participated in a similar action with the Friends church and others. Here is Zawadi’s report on the strike:

Oh my goodness, you heard about it? It was planned that the peace activists would do a demonstration but it did not take place. The government issued a warning to those who would get involved. Shopkeepers got scared and closed their shops in fear of looting. But in the afternoon a MONUSCO [the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo] car hit a pedestrian who died instantly and the local population in retaliation mixed with anger beat up a MONUSCO soldier almost killing him. Some say he later succumbed to the injuries but we cannot confirm that. Now the situation is calm.

Housing above Gisenyi: As I drove down the steep hill into the town of Gisenyi, Rwanda, on the border of Lake Kivu, I noticed a town where there were many new houses with shinny corrugated iron sheets. I had been told when I had seen them a few years before that the Rwandan government had moved people off the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains so that they would not be killed by landslides and gave them a plot in the town, and funds to build a new house. They were like the houses favored by the elite in the region with very steep roofs which I estimate take twice as many iron sheets as a regular roof would – iron sheets are one of the most expensive items in building a house. As they were when I first saw them a few years ago, most did not have doors or windows and were empty. The peasant farmers with their allotment had built much bigger houses than the funds that they received and so they were monuments to the African custom of dreaming bigger than the reality of the funds available. The countryside in the region is filled with partially completed houses. I sometimes say that if every house in the region which had been started were completed, then the population would be well housed.

Tale of tress in two countries: As I traveled the steep climb out of Bujumbura to the top of the mountains of the Rift Valley, I noticed that men were laboriously digging out the stumps of the ancient large tress which had long before been felled for firewood. The stumps were being used to fire bricks as there was a lot of building going on in Bujumbura and the surrounding communities. As a result there was hardly a tree thicker than four inches since all had already been cut down — even small trees were being cut to make poles for roofing. Eucalyptus trees grow about ten feet per year in this region even as they suck the moisture out of the ground. It wasn’t until I was about forty miles from Bujumbura that I began to notice more mature trees.

          Rwanda around Kigali had the same problem. About five years ago, the Rwandan government banned the making and burning of bricks. People were required to build with cement blocks which are much more expensive. The result, though, is that now there are many trees in the area around Kigali that are six inches in thickness and in future years will grow much bigger. Whenever roads are rehabilitated, one to three rows of trees are planted alongside the road so that, where they have become six inches in thickness, there is a pleasant wooded roadway.

A success story – Kibimba Hospital: I first visited Kibimba Hospital, owned by Burundi Yearly Meeting, in 2000 or 2001 when the civil war was still hot. The hospital was a disaster as one would expect in the war torn countryside where active fighting was taking place. There was no doctor – at one time there was a Congolese doctor, but, after one month at the hospital, he vanished. I remember seeing the incubators for the premature babies. There were four of them, all broken with only an electric light bulb to warm them; there was also a fifth one which was no more than a carton with a blanket at the bottom, another light bulb, and a top with some holes in it. The staff was doing the best it could with its limited resources, little medicine. I remember that one the AGLI work camp teams from the US took four 70 pound boxes of medicines, donated by one of those NGOs that specializes in this activity, to the hospital. I had been somewhat concerned when I saw that lots of this “medicine” was no more than vitamin pills. But the next time I visited the hospital I was told that the vitamins were extremely useful. The area around the hospital had a malaria epidemic and where normally they would have about 4,000 cases of malaria in a year, they were suddenly swamped with 46,000 cases in a few months. When patients came with severe cases of malaria, if they were given the vitamin pills along with the malaria medicine, they recovered much more quickly. So I was wrong – the vitamin pills were useful.

          Now the hospital has metamorphosed. There are five doctors and thirty nurses. The number of beds has expanded from sixty to two hundred and the beds were full. The premature room was heated with eight functioning incubators – and the hospital had a back-up generator if the electricity from the grid failed – each with a premature baby and a woman taking care of the really tiny babies. What a difference! All the buildings – and there were many newly built ones – were tiled with ceramic tiles on the floor which made the hospital look bright and clearn and, as Gladys noted, makes cleaning the floor easy. In addition there were ceramic tile “benches” along all the walls where patients could sit and tiles up to five feet on the walls. I asked about family planning and was shown the falling planning office where all methods of family planning were available at the choice of the woman. Since the mostly Catholic hospitals in the region would not dispense family planning methods, this was facility was quite busy with 150 or so women coming in each month.

          How did this happen? Dr. Elisee Buhenda was born in the hospital a few years after it had been opened in 1952. He was a doctor there from 1990 to 1993, but had to flee when the civil war broke out. He went to Ivory Coast where he had done his medical training and worked there until 2006. The peace treaty in Burundi was signed in 2005 and so he returned to the hospital. In a previous visit in 2007 or 2008, I was told that he had to fight off interference by the leaders of Burundi Yearly Meeting in order to develop the hospital. He has been supported by Mid-American Yearly Meeting in the US, an evangelical Friends yearly meeting who had done much of the missionary work in the past in Burundi. Friends of Kibimba Hospital (kibimba.blogspot.com) is the organization founded to support the hospital. Their mission statement includes, “Our desire is to make available both medical and spiritual healing for the community by improving staffing, facilities and equipment at the hospital.”

I like their passage from the bible, Mathew 9:35, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

Work camp community celebration: From June 24 to July 18, AGLI and HROC-Burundi held a work camp in Mutaho, Burundi, with Rema, (meaning “to be comforted”), a women’s group at Mutaho Friends Church led by Pastor Sarah Gakobwa. Rema had already built a social hall so the task of the work camp was to build the first two of eight rooms so that people could spend the night at the facility – I hope in the future when I visit Mutaho, I can stay there rather than the Catholic monastery five miles down the road. The work camp had ten Burundian youth – five Hutu and five Tutsi – and two international work campers from the US plus a number of the women who would come each day to help. The work camp began with a basic HROC workshop and the four main projects in Mutaho – Rema itself, the bio-sand water filter coop, the Peace and Democracy Group, and the women who received goats — each gave a presentation on their work, again attended by the local administration. The people of Mutaho are saying, “God had remembered Mutaho and sent us ‘wazungu’ [foreigners]. The last wazungu who slept in Mutaho were the missionaries in 1934. Isn’t this amazing.”

 At the end of the work camp a community celebration was organized that included the local government officials and the AFSC Burundi director (the AFSC had helped with financing part of the work camp). A historic soccer match was held which brought two teams of mixed Hutu and Tutsi players on each side – something that had unsuccessfully been tried by the country’s vice president.

I met with the Rema women on Saturday, August 17. At the same time the local commune (the smallest governmental level in Burundi) leaders were having a gathering nearby to recognize all the recent accomplishments in the recent past – the 2015 election campaign is already beginning. Pastor Sarah was then called away to the gathering to be honored by the government officials because of the work she had been doing in the community. According to the government plans there were six guest houses planned for Mutaho and the Rema guest house was the third. AGLI, HROC-Burundi, and Rema are planning another work camp for next summer.

#236 — HROC in Baltimore — July 12, 2013

            AGLI is now bringing the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program back to the United States. American facilitators were trained in our International Trainings in Burundi and Rwanda in the summers of 2011 and 2013. They have come back and, sometimes with the mentoring of our HROC facilitators from Africa, have conducted a small number of basic HROC workshop, mostly for people who work in the immigrant community. Recently a workshop at Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore was held for Bhutanese immigrants – 18 were expected but 38 showed up – and they would like to continue with more HROC workshops with their community. If you would like to attend such a workshop, please email me (dave@aglifpt.org) and I will put you on the list to receive notices of up-coming HROC workshops.

In May, a basic HROC workshop was held again at Stony Run Meeting for Quakers and those working in the immigrant community. Madeline Schaefer, Aarati Kasturirangan, and Lucy Duncan from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) attended this workshop. These are three reports on the workshop reproduced with AFSC’s permission from their web publication, Acting in Faith: Connecting Friends to the work of AFSC.

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Stone in the belly: Transforming trauma in community

by Lucy Duncan

Water/stress filling glass

Water/stress filling glass

Photo: Lucy Duncan

Copyright: AFSC

“Unless pain is transformed, it will be transferred.” – Richard Rohr, quoted by Amy Rakusin

When I was in Burundi after the World Conference of Friends in 2012, I visited a Peace Village outside Bujumbura where Hutu and Tutsi refugees were living. AFSC staff Triphonie Habonimana and Florence Ntakarutimana of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC) program served as my hosts. They brought together perpetrators and victims of the decades-long conflict that had participated in the trauma healing workshops that HROC conducts in Bujumbura and elsewhere, sometimes in partnership with AFSC. The participants gathered in a small Friends church in the village and told me how the workshops had impacted them.

Each of them told stories of transformation: victims talked of forgiving horrendous acts perpetrated on them, and perpetrators talked about how they had reconnected with those they had harmed and had been healed from the shock of their acts. Listening to these stories of such deep and seemingly lasting change, it sounded like the workshops must work magic for there to be such healing. I wanted to learn more.

In mid-May three of us from AFSC participated in one of these three-day HROC workshops in Baltimore at Stony Run Meeting, led by one of my hosts in Burundi, Florence Ntakarutimana, as well as Americans Amy Rakusin and Bill Jacobsen.

During the workshop a woman who was a trauma nurse talked about how, with physical trauma, the wound often needs to be abraded, opened, exposed in order for there to be healing; if the wound isn’t cleaned and opened, it festers and can get worse or cause the loss of a limb, or even death.

This is true with wounds of the spirit, too. People can suffer spiritual death if they hold their wounds too tightly; they can let their hearts turn to stone.

In one activity on the first day, Florence provided a vivid demonstration of how stress and trauma operate in individuals and impact the community. She put a large glass on a tray in the middle of the room, with a pitcher of water next to it. She said, “Things happen that cause stress.”

“In Burundi, it’s sometimes not so easy to get breakfast for your children. They go to school without tea. One day you might not have bread.”

She filled the glass about a quarter full of water–the water was the stress, and the cup was the person without bread for their child.

She said, “You don’t have bread, but the next day you get some and feed your children. You feel better.”

Florence poured most of the water back out of the glass. She said, “You feel better, but not all of the stress is gone, the stress you’ve known.”

Florence said, “Normal stress comes and goes.”

“But let’s say, I am here in the United States and I get a phone call that my first born is in the hospital.” Florence filled the glass nearly to the top with water. 

“And then I get another call, my son has died. Now I have no more space to hold the stress.” Florence filled the glass until it overflowed, the water spilled out onto the tray.

“Then I return to Burundi and my husband is hit by a car and dies. This kind of stress is hard, it makes a hard place in my belly.” She added a piece of wood to the cup and more water spilled out onto the tray. The wood represented repeated, difficult events in one’s life, but not necessarily ones that people planned.

Florence said, “And some stress is like stones, it breaks me.”

“What if some parents raped their own children and killed them… this is like a stone, a stone in one’s heart.”

Florence put a large stone into the glass. The water overflowed into the tray.

“This kind of stress is beyond what we can hold, beyond our capacity to hold.”

“This is traumatic stress. Sometimes we experience or perpetrate such hard things, sometimes our heart is broken, there are scars and they remain. Some wounds are fresh, others aren’t fresh, but they are still there.”

“Some are caused by natural disasters, but the hardest are those that people planned. This kind of stress causes trauma, because of what we have heard, what we have seen, or what we have done. There is also cumulative stress; all together things are so hard to bear. When you live on the edge of stress, it can be what seems to be a small thing that puts you over the edge.”

“What if your parents experienced trauma and haven’t healed, then you could be born with a stone in your belly, and that makes it hard to bear stress, to be resilient.”

Florence invited us to look at the tray. The tray holding the glass was full of water. “The family and community around the person who has experienced or is experiencing stress and trauma also is affected because the trauma, the pain, the stress overflows into the community.”

Sharing, she said, is critical in the healing process. In order for people to heal, it is important for them to expose the trauma they’ve experienced to the light and re-discover the threads of human care and connection. “The more we are able to open our hearts, the more we can let love in,” Florence said. As people share in community, the more all can sit together in the mystery and face what is unknown together.

This was the first day of three. In the next two days we explored how the stones of trauma can be softened and melted. We learned how the water in that overflowing glass can be replaced by healing waters from the community through sharing and that as each person heals, they can support the healing of others.

On that first day I was already beginning to see that through this very intentional and powerful, but quite simple, process the healing that occurs isn’t magic, but is miraculous nonetheless.

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The empty chair: Bringing love into the room

by Aarati Kasturirangan

Copyright: Carol Von Canon

Note: In May of 2013, three AFSC staff including Aarati Kasturirangan, Program Officer for Integration and Impact, went to the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) workshop held at Stony Run Friends Meeting in Baltimore. Aarati attended the workshop to understand firsthand the HROC work she had heard of from AFSC program staff in Burundi. She went to find out if she thought HROC could be useful for other AFSC programs around the world.  – Lucy

I attended the workshop because HROC sounded miraculous to me. I went because it sounded impossible. I went to see with my own eyes and hear with my own ears. I didn’t realize I also went to heal with my own heart.

On day two of this workshop, we all sat in a circle (Read Lucy Duncan’s blog post here for a beautiful description of a lesson from day one). Amy Rakusin, one of our facilitators, said, “I want you to think of someone who loves you or someone who has loved you. If you are lucky enough to have more than one person, think of whoever is most present for you right now.” 

An image of my little sister leapt to mind. “Now think about why that person loves you.”

Think about why that person loves you. Not why you love them, or why you are so close. Why does she love me? It was a simple assignment that, for me, produced immediate, unexpected feeling. Why – does she – love me?

Amy continues, “Now I want you to stand behind your chair. Imagine you are that loved one. Be that person telling you why they love you.”  When it was my turn, I stood already choked with tears I could not quite understand:

“Aarati, I love you because you were my first friend, another mom. You loved me unconditionally when I felt angry, when mom and dad did not know what to do. You have been there for me whenever I needed you. You are my best friend, and for a long time you were the most important person in my world. When things got bad at home I knew you were with me.”

I spoke these words to myself and felt a flood of love from my sister, pain in remembering those hard times she would have spoken of, anger that love is so often forged in the crucible of shared hardships, and a longing to see her because she now lives thousands of miles away.

This was the empty chair exercise. And one by one, each person embodied the one who loved them, and spoke of why they themselves were loved. Each of us reached into our own pasts to see with someone else’s eyes how our words, our acts, our mere presence had eased another’s sorrows, brought laughter into dark spaces, created safety in strange times. 

As individuals, we each had our own reaction to the empty chair in front of us. So often, as someone recounted a story of love, it was coupled with pain, loss, grief, or anger. In some cases, hearing others’ stories gave us new eyes to see our own with. 

We could also see how even someone who had done horrible things could have experienced love in their lives, love that could lead to recognition, remorse, redemption, and peace. And we could see how recognizing that person’s experience of love, we might be able to forgive past wrongs, rebuild connection, and move forward in community with those who had done us harm.

Together in that circle, we witnessed the powerful presence of love in the lives of 25 people, mostly strangers, but now somehow closer to us, part of our own connection to the human experience of love. 

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 About the author: Aarati Kasturirangan is a program officer for the Integration and Impact Unit of AFSC. Her name is pronounced Arthi Kus-thu-ree-run-gun. She was born in New Delhi, India; raised in Wilmington, Del.; became an activist, wife, Ph.D., and mother in Chicago; stayed home with her kids in D.C.; and has now settled in Philladelphia. She blogs about identity (aaratikasturirangan.wordpress.com), sings as much as possible, and tells dumb jokes with her kids.

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Community

by Lucy Duncan

Copyright: AFSC

What is needed to build trust in community? After the HROC participants discussed healing from trauma and trust and mistrust, we set about to answer this question in small groups, and then reported back to each other.

As a whole group, we built a list of 49 qualities and practices needed to build trust in community.

I looked at this list and thought that these are the ingredients for creating one small plot of heaven—not one in which there is no conflict, but a community that is based on love.

Are there any qualities/practices that we didn’t include? What would you add? – Lucy

  • Don’t try to live ahead of your stage of evolution
  • Be consistent
  • Create commonly understood expectations
  • Foster good communication
  • Provide opportunities for input
  • Establish common goals
  • Work together
  • Share experiences
  • Share and discuss values
  • Provide opportunities for dialogue
  • Open spaces for telling stories
  • Listen, listen, listen
  • Promote self-reflection
  • Take time to know yourself
  • Teach techniques for conflict resolution
  • Create a climate of self-care
  • Validate people’s experiences
  • Be aware of your own weaknesses and limitations
  • Be aware of your strengths
  • Provide times to play with one another
  • Create small groups for intimacy and connection
  • Make spaces to gather together by identity to share perspectives
  • Provide elements of choice
  • Make opportunities for people to contribute their gifts
  • Recognize people’s gifts
  • Create porous, but clear, boundaries
  • Name the injustice we have perpetrated
  • Be who you say you want to be
  • Share responsibility for what needs to get done
  • Celebrate
  • Create ceremonies/rituals
  • Address the needs in the community
  • See the needs of others, address those needs
  • Practice the values you share
  • Practice faith
  • Practice patience
  • Be brave
  • Sing and dance
  • Take time for a personal spiritual practice
  • Be slow, careful, intentional
  • Share food
  • Understand a hurt person’s limitation to respond
  • Take responsibility for your actions
  • Practice courage
  • Trust yourself
  • Work to help conflicting parties find common ground
  • Practice healing before forgiveness
  • Understand the historical context
  • Be warriors of the heart