Tag Archives: kigali

#241 – Mutaho, Burundi, Workcamp — August 25, 2013

 burindiNote: On August 23, Blair Forlaw posted an article on Huffington Post entitled “Children’s Libraries Seek a Sustainable Peace in Rwanda.”  These libraries are supported by AGLI. This was posted under the “Good News” section. Blair Forlaw was a member of St Louis Meeting with Gladys and me, but she moved to DC and is now a member of Friends Meeting of Washington. Her husband, a doctor, has been posted to Rwanda for a year to work on training of doctors and health workers so Blair will be going back and forth from DC to Rwanda and is volunteering at the Children’s Peace Library in Kigali. Her article can be found at  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/blair-forlaw/childrens-libraries-seek-_b_3803460.html.

If you would like to donate children’s books to these libraries, please contact me at dave@aglifpt.org. But do note that it cost about $3 each to mail the books to Rwanda. So in addition to the donation of the books, there will be a need for fundraising to send them to Rwanda. Ask me for details.

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This summer’s work-camp has been one of our most successful ones to date. This is mostly because, in addition to the usual work-camp construction, Adrien and Florence used the work-camp for peace building and reconciliation.

There were only two American work-campers — Wanda Carter and Judy Scheckel. People commented that this was the first time that wazungu (foreigners) had slept the night in Mutaho since 1934 when the missionaries first came. The conditions at the work-camp were basic — no electricity and a pit latrine — and both accommodated to this with no complaining. There were ten Burundian work-campers who came each day and went home. This was the first step in reconciliation at the work-camp because five of them were Tutsi from the internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camp and five were Hutu from the surrounding village. There was also gender balance. The organization sponsoring the work-camp, Rema (“be comforted”) is a group of widows mostly from Mutaho Friends Church which donated the plot for the buildings. Three of these women usually joined the work-camp each day as their part of the labor contribution.

The task was to build the foundation for 8 guests rooms and the washroom and construct the first two guest rooms. These are next to the already completed Rema social hall. By the end of the work-camp the foundation had been laid — reinforced from the original idea so that a second story could later be built on top of the first 8 rooms — and the two guest rooms built above the lintel. By the time I saw it four weeks later, the two rooms had been roofed, but the windows and doors were still missing. When Gladys and I meet with 8 members of the Rema group, they had put a lot of grass on the floor so that we could meet in the newly constructed room.

The work-camp began with a three-day basic HROC workshop for youth — this included 10 Tutsi, 8 Hutu, and 2 Twa (the small, marginalized group). From what I can tell, the Americans did not attend this workshop.

Four afternoons during the work-camp, teraryarenga (meaning “gathering together”) occurred, including the usual drumming and singing by the Mutaho choir to attack an audience. On each of the four days one of the major HROC programs presented their activity to the whole community including the local government officials. The first was the Rema group itself, the second was the bio-sand water filter program, the third was the Peace and Democracy groups that monitor the election process and local civic peace, and the last was by the women from the goats’ project. In addition to the drumming and singing each group presented dances, role plays, and testimonies. Judy counted 85 adults and 115 children at one of these events.

The work-camp ended with a community celebration with over 300 people attending. Those attending included not only the local administrators but also Moses Chasieh, the AFSC director in Burundi — the AFSC contributed to the expenses of the work-camp, particularly the HROC workshop, the 4 gatherings, the celebration, and some for construction materials. When I met with Moses, he told me that he was impressed and excited by the celebration and the activities being done in Mutaho.

In the previous year, the vice-president of Burundi, who comes from Mutaho, had tried to organize an inter-ethnic Tutsi/Hutu soccer game, but failed. HROC didn’t fail as there were two integrated teams from the Tutsi IDP camp and Hutu from the community. “This game was historic for Mutaho,” the commune (local government unit) administrator said during his remarks.

When Gladys and I visited the construction site a few weeks later and had a meeting with the Rema women, Pastor Sarah, the forever joyful hugging 65-year-old first female pastor of Burundi Yearly Meeting and the leader of the group, was called away by the local administrator because she was being honored by them for the work that she was doing on behalf of the community. It seems that the local government plans include 6 guest houses for Mutaho and this is the third one being constructed. But the guest house has a long way to go since I estimate that it will cost about $15,000 to complete the first 8 guest rooms and bathroom. When I visit Mutaho next time, I hope to sleep there rather than the nearby Catholic monastery.

We will be planning another work-camp in Mutaho next year from June 28 to August 2, 2014. I hope that we will have more than two international work-campers for this unusual experience.