Burundi Trauma Healing and Reconciliation CenterReport on Kibimba Work
May 3 to 6, 2001
We had a very successful day today in Kibimba, after a safe trip yesterday with me driving for the first time in Burundi. It went well and is nice to be behind the wheel again. And we only had one military stop, though there were many soldiers on foot, especially the first 3rd of the trip. We ended up renting a small Toyota from one of the local ministers who is glad to make a few FBu from it. When you're here we'll tell you about the fiasco in what we thought was a commercial rental which cancelled the last minute when they recognized we were driving to Gitega.
This morning we had a workshop with 15 people present, including pastors from the Kibimba Quarter and the acting legal rep. (David's replacement) Solomon Bahinda, and some staff from the Kibimba Hospital, all male, ranging from perhaps 30-64. They were at first a quiet audience, formal, as are Burundi in such situations. But we warmed them up with a gathering exercise from AVP, a presentation about what is BTHRC, history, objectives (now done in Kirundi), and who we, the team are. We then presented "what is trauma?", using many techniques to get them to share. And wow! We had them with us all the way. We took a break for 10 min. midway but they wanted to come back in after 5. And later we offered to end for lunch and finish the last section just after eating. They said they are used to waiting and to continue. Then as we finished, one asked if we wer enot going to continue in the afternoon. But we had the secondary students already scheduled.
They were especially interested in learning the symptoms of trauma as they realized that much of what they experienced personally and observed in others was actually the result of trauma. They had never known or even had an idea. In another section I led them in sharing what they thought had led to their own personal survival in all that they have gone through. They shared many experiences, from being in a refugee camp, asked by the chief to go to the building next door to bury the dead ones. There were five or six dead, whose bodies had been there a while, while others had lived there still. He expressed concern for those people and hoped we could find them now to offer our services to them as he was sure they must be really carrying some terrible thoughts. He also shared about being taken by the soldiers and kept for two weeks but being released alive which was quite unexpected and unusual in those times.
Another told of being taken along with his wife into custody by the soldiers who beat them for many hours. Finally they told them and others with them to sing the songs the soldiers like to sing when going to battle as they knew they were Christians and like to sing. They refused saying they don't sing that kind of song. They continued to be beaten. Finally they were asked to sing their Christian songs which they did. One soldier was so touched by it he asked that they be untied and released and the superior agreed. They got away safely,though they and their group were the only ones that had lived from that place. All the others were killed.
I helped them to see that yes, God had delivered them but they all had done something also. I took these things from their stories. One later asked how they could help others in their healing. We discussed many things. Charles led a discussion on how can BTHRC work together with them. They verbalized all the things we had wanted to do with them, including having us see some individuals and groups that they know need the help, having us come to the smaller churches to share as we did with them (and including others in the communities, such as Catholics), coming to the hospital to help with understanding some of the patients who, now they know, are suffering from trauma--crying out "the soldiers are coming... they're coming", etc. They offered that they could help find people who would like to be trained to help in such work.
We closed in the grassy yard in a circle and did the word toss from AVP, of course in Kirundi. It made everyone feel happy as we walked down the road to another building. We ended the session with a lovely lunch, prepared in one of the houses on the mission. The cooks were from the Peace Restaurant next to the hospital,which usually only serves tea and scones. We had rice and beans (it wouldn't be Burundian without that) with one piece of meat (goat) and a nice salad of shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and avacado slices with mayo on top. A very special luncheon, topped with Fanta (which is the generic name for coke and other sodas, all in glass bottles). It was pleasurable with much laughter. After the eating, several speeches were made giving appreciation for their participation and responding to our invitations, for the food, forthe program and for our work, with promises for praying for us in the work.
While we were waiting for the food to be finished (which is pretty unpredictable in Africa, even when planned for a certain time), I was in the large yard with Adrien and all the participants chatting about the beauty of Burundi, and picked some wild flowers. That act and being the only muzungu (white person) in some time, brought many children of all ages. Suddenly I was surrounded by some 40 or so children, all on their way to afternoon session of primary school. They gathered for photos and sang at Adrien's suggestion while smiling for the camera. What a delight! I took many photos, some of several of the very poor children who live somewhere in the area, probably without family, maybe in the bush. Like the many we see thoughout the country along the roadways, some of the 110,000 unaccompanied children UACs identified by the UN and NGOs.
At the Peace Secondary School, also on the Kibimba former mission station,in the afternoon, we waited for a torrential downpour to end. We then had a 2 hour workshop with thirty students of levels 3 and 4 of the Normal grades of school, probably the equivalent of 9th and 10th in the US. All but about 7 were male. Very quiet at first, as they sat on long benches, arranged in a kind of square/circle, they soon warmed up as we played "Jack in the box",a name exercise from the HIPP manual (it was copied for us at QPC). First we had to tell them what a jack in the box is. Then we led them in a "light and lively" called "The Big Wind Blows", an adaptation from HIPP/AVP. And then on to a brainstorming session Violence/Non-violence. They were very responsive and quick to identify both. We ended with small group discussions on "Building a Better Community". They were really interested and freely spoke about developing society with human rights, dignity, equality, freedom, etc.
I'm convinced that if given a chance these youth would build a great system with rights for all, quite unlike their country at present.They are not yet corrupted by power, dispair, anger or money. They left the group, interacting and laughing. These students who have been studying together in this Friend's boarding school are of both Hutu and Tutsi backgrounds. Some have been together for the past 3 years when the school reopened after some horrible massacres had taken place in the area in October, 1993. There are 275 students now. Thaddi, the headmaster, told me that they hope to have over 300 next year. They are slowly rebuilding some of the structures damaged in the "crises" and by the several thousand refugees who lived there for 6 years.
We returned to Gitega in another huge rain, passing many people walking,some sheltered by huge banana leaves or riding their overloaded bikes. We had dinner at MiPAREC and went on to our rooms at the Magarama Friends Guest House, very happy for a great day. But sad that Brad is not with us as he elected to stay in Bujumbura. On Friday, the second day of our work at Kibimba, we began with scones and tea at the Peace Restaurant connected with the Kibimba Hospital. We were joined by one of the pastors who had attended the workshop the day before, who just happened to be in the building at the time. He shared that he had been forced to flee his home in 1972, in another massacre of his ethnic group. He had stayed as a refugee in Zaire for 26 years, and had to flee from there in the middle of fighting four years ago and returned to Burundi. He proudly shared that his son is a doctor, who studied in West Africa and is now in Kansas. He also had a daughter in Canada.
Our first event of the day was held at the other end of the mission area,about a half kilometer, down a baaaaad clay, washed out road, avoiding many people on foot walking in the rain, passing many broken down buildings, plantings of coffee with seeds still green, some wild flowers and much bush. The workshop was planned for 10 teachers and staff of the Friends Secondary School (Robert Chilton School) and with 10 teachers of Kibimba Primary School, run by the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately,the secondary teachers, none who are Friends, elected not to attend, in protest because we are not offering per diems and not even beer at the end as is often the custom at gov't school and some NGO events.Ironically, from the gov't primary school 10 teachers, male and female attended. Thade, headmaster of the the Friends' secondary school, and his assistant, Emanuel, both Friends, and the accountant for the school,Georgina, a Pentecostal, not only attended but assisted in much of the logistics, such as seeing that lunch was properly served and speeches were made. Also attending was Aloys, a Friend, male nurse and the hospital administrator. He had been unable to attend the one the day before with his staff and the pastors and was an eager participant. He also arranged the food preparations for both days. Patrick David, aFriend, who lives in Kibimba with his family and works in both K. and Bujumbura as a handyman, also attended. Charles was the moderator for this day.
This workshop began with Charles leading a Gathering in which the participants gave their names, what level they taught, and positive affirmations about themselves. The agenda was presented. Adrien then presented the background, history and objectives of BTHRC. A handout of the objectives in Kirundi was given and was of much interest by the participants. Carolyn then facilitated discussion on what is trauma, including the cycles of trauma, the normal reactions and recovery, and age appropriate symptoms of trauma. This precipitated much discussion and sharing. A break was taken. We resumed with some discussion about PTSD and mental illness related to stress. There were many questions about how to tell the difference between reactions to trauma and being possessed of evil spirits. Charles then led a discussion on how BTHRC could work with participants in the future. This lively session produced much sharing, some about the difficulties in teaching classes of up to 100 children, most who have been traumatized,some still displaced. One teacher even shared about her own child, to us who is obviously suffering from PTSD, has been put to work in the fields and beaten in front of her class, all in an effort to make her return to her normal behavior.
The teachers asked that we return regularly, work within the school, helping to identify those suffering the most from trauma, work with the teachers to develop skills in helping the students,and with some the parents and even form a club of those who have suffered from trauma. We agreed to seek approval from the appropriate Ministry of Education staff and to plan to make monthly follow up visits to both the primary and secondary schools.
We ended the session with a word toss that ended the session with laughter and good feelings. We moved on to another room where a nice lunch of beans, rice, a piece of goat in a nice tomato "soup", and a salad of fresh shredded cabbage, tomato and avocado was served to the participants. A round of Fanta made everyone happy and was followed by the customary speeches by representatives of all the participant groups. The male teacher who spoke relayed that they had hoped it was to be an all day workshop, even though this was their usual day off. *The break after lunch allowed team members to introduce Frisbee (purchased for the program by Carolyn in SA) to some of the younger,curious children who had been hanging around Carolyn and the car, both real novelties. They all stayed a distance from Adrien and me and some became quite good at catching and throwing the Frisbee. Many just stood around and stared. An unusual day was happening at Kibimba.
We moved down the road to the basketball court complete with hoops and nets, but with the most worn-out court you can imagine, with some potholes 6 inches deep. On either side of the court are broken buildings without windows or doors. Functionaires against a team of Etudientes fora round of basketball which was cheered by a large crowd standing. Weeven had a referee, a teacher in the secondary school. Rain began to fall half way but I seemed to be the only one that noticed. (It is getting to the end of rainy season now so every rain is much appreciated). The game ended with a 16-16 tie. Everyone moved up hill to the volleyball court for round 2 of the event. In even heavier rain the same Etudientes including some others for a team of 8, and the Functionaires who were joined by Thade, Patrick and another competed with the students winning after 3 rounds. But the older players held their own. The match was cheered by a large crowd of students, a few soldiers, and others, all standing in the pouring rain. I was the only one covered, me with my newponcho, another novelty.
After the game all of players entered the area where we had done the workshops earlier and were treated to a Fanta and speeches of thanks for the events. The student representative spoke of their wish for a basketball as they can not practice now. We sadly had to tell them that the ball was purchased for the program and must last for quite some time. But we promised to return again for further activities. After receiving greetings up and down the road in Kibimba, we drove our rented car back to Gitega.
We had dinner at MiPAREC (the MCCGuest House/Restaurant). We met Ali Blair, the Country Director of World Vision and one of their program directors, a Burundian. She was complementary about what she had heard about our work. We retired to our comfortable, clean rooms at the Magarama Friends Church guest house. Charles again borrowed from Pastor Justin and his wife, Modesta a charcoal heated iron to prepare his shirt for the next day.Although the house had electricity, the price of an iron for up-countrypeople is prohibitive. And the antique iron worked beautifully.
Sunday began with Adrien up early to go to the large market for beans and sweet potatoes, much cheaper than in Bujumbura. We all met up at MiPAREC again and had a hurried breakfast before paying up our loading up our things, guest house bill, greeting arriving Friends at Magarama churchyard and heading to Kibimba. As we entered the mission station area we met Pastor Daniel already heading the several kilometers up to road on his bicycle. We left Charles at the large Kibimba Church where he was to preach, headed back and picked up Pastor who had put away his bicycle,glad to ride in a car. In about 15 minutes we arrived, having noted the Kabeguzo Church and primary school on the top of a ridge along the way.It was a long drive in on a clay road that had perhaps not seen a car for years. We were delighted to see and give a lift to Pastor Solomon Bahenda, the oldest pastor in Burundi in his late 60s. He had already walked about 7 kilometers (4 miles?) to that point. The other people walking were happy and curious. Whether about the muzumgu (white person) or the car, we couldn't tell. This was a lovely, large, relatively new church with clay floor, many open shuttered windows providing a lighter,more cheerful worship space than I had seen before in Burundi. The structure was of red clay, hand made bricks with a cathedral, open beamed ceiling. Across the large yard was a long, red brick, one story structure, the primary school of perhaps 8 classrooms. When we arrived about 300 adults and 100 children had already gathered and were singing and clapping to the rhythm of two drums, one made from a 50 gal.drum with a goat skin, accompanied by about 4 guitars, two electrified and perhaps powered by auto batteries and amplified by two new looking hand made speakers. The batteries were perhaps carried in ona bicycle or on peoples' heads as there certainly were no other cars. Andthe inside of the speakers probably came from an old car somewhere.Recyling is certainly done in Burundi.I was delighted upon hearing a soloist, and a trio, and four choirs, some visiting from other Friends Churches. Of course, most of these people had walked for many miles, perhaps the day before. One choir we were told had won a competition within two Quarterly Meetings. All of the songs were in Kirundi, most were composed by the choir leaders or members and reflectedlife in Burundi. One, translated for me by Adrien, was "Many have been killed, where have they gone? Beautiful women have been taken, where have they gone..." All of the choirs sang in harmony. The children listened with close attention from their locations on the mats in front of the benches.Adrien gave the sermon which was well received by over 50 people comingto the front to pray at the end. Outside we were rushed by the whole crowd of children gathering around me and the car. I gave my camera to Adrien and he snapped a photo. Back to Kibimba we went to rejoin Charles. We received another 50 kilo bag of staples for Adrien to take back to his large household. I was given a gift by a child I had helped in November, a rooster. We drove on to Bujumbura noting the increase in the amount of soldiers at their watchstations as we came within about 30 kilometers of the city, a reminder that there is fear of another attack on the urban area.
We bought fresh bananas, spinach, sweet purple onions still on stem, dried peas along theroad, my companions helping with Swahili in the bargaining process. We were thankful for the safe journey, happy for the well received work we had begun, and tired. I untied my new rooster, named Phoenix, and took him to the roosting place to join the other rooster and 2 hens. I was assured by Chantelle, the house girl next door that the rooster would be okay, as she put him into the shed.
Now we will be planning how to do the necessary follow-up with our participants while continuing with reaching out to pastors and chairpersons (clerks) in the other 3 Quarterly meetings.
By Carolyn Keys
About AGLI | Peace Team Opportunities | Contact us | What's Related | Home Page