__________________________________________________________

African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams

Report from Kenya #285 – June 27, 2014

Kamenge Youth Project Report

__________________________________________________________

Kamenge Youth Project Report, May 2014

By Edith Kaze, HROC-Burundi

Quaker Peace and Social Witness Peacebuilder

Acknowledgements

Having completed the first set of activities in this project, HROC would like to take this opportunity to thank once more the African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) without whom this program would have been no more than mere words on paper. Thanks to your substantial contributions, HROC was able to bring together 53 youth from 13 neighbourhoods and impart teachings which, by the latter’s own admission, were most informative as well as constructive. HROC is most confident, that the days ahead will prove an even more enriching and transformative experience for both the youth and HROC itself.

Participants Stories

Below are some of the stories, participants shared during the workshops. Their names have not been included, as their permission was not sought, prior to recording these accounts. These narratives are proof of the crucial need, for HROC and AVP-style activities throughout Burundi.

1) Although my parents were well educated, the war did not permit them to afford a decent living. One day my aunt was given a car ride, under the pretext of being given a lift upcountry. She was murdered by stoning. Her brutal end was the result of her ethnicity. She used to be so kind and supportive towards my family. The men, who handed her over to be killed, are still very much alive. This fact hurts and angers me. I despise them to no end but cannot do anything about it. Another one of my aunts met a similar fate. She was killed by stabbing and there were even talks, of her having been gang raped first. She had been looking for shelter, to escape the bloodshed that had been taking place, only to be murdered by those she asked for help. My dad was hunted down as he tried to hide in the fields. He was cut to pieces. I do not know where his remains are interred. We were never able to bury him with dignity.

2) I was raised by my aunt and her husband, thinking they were my biological parents. For a long time, my aunt had hidden the truth about my real parents from me. But her children used to often taunt me, telling me that “I was not in my own home”. When I was 12 and being naughty, my aunt started making statements I found very confusing. She said things like, “Perhaps I should let your relatives raise you instead”. As my aunt soon found me impossible to handle, she started calling on the assistance of one my uncles whenever I did something wrong. This particular uncle was a soldier and a vicious one at that. His punishments were so severe that once I was mercilessly beaten to the point of losing consciousness. Whenever I was deemed to have misbehaved, my aunt would threaten to send me to live in the rural areas “with my family”. I was bewildered by these perplexing comments. Doubt started creeping in and I soon had the ominous feeling that something was horribly amiss. I had to know the truth. Frustratingly, each time I asked relatives whether I had another family, I was met by a wall of silence. I started wondering whether my aunt, whom I still thought of as my mother, simply no longer wanted me around because of my conduct. I was so distraught by what was happening around me that I felt suicidal. I started becoming frequently unwell and my aunt felt like she had had it with me. Other relatives were asked to look after me. Doctors could not find the cause of my chronic sickness and my medical bills were mounting. When the truth of my parentage finally came out, my whole world was turned upside down. I was in a state of absolute shock. I felt so alone and vulnerable. I was told that I had been abandoned shortly after my birth and that both my parents had been recorded as dead for some time. I enquired about property I may have inherited. I was told that everything had been split between my relatives, including my aunt and uncle. I accepted this as I understood that my upkeep, especially in my current condition, must have incurred costs which needed to be met. I have since lived with a number of relatives, who have all found it difficult having me around. I have trouble getting ahead at school. Very often, I am too consumed by the grim reality of my circumstances to be able to concentrate or talk for that matter. I have been going through life a disgruntled figure and become profoundly mistrustful of other people, however kind they may seem.

3) My brothers were kidnapped by rebel forces and dragged deep into the forest. They were held for ransom. My family was able to come up with the first instalment on time. When it came time to make the second payment, the messenger we had entrusted with the money helped himself to some of it. Both my brothers were executed. We never saw them or their bodies again. Their killers are the only ones who know what became of them.

4) One day as I was heading home from school, I saw my aunt and grandmother looking visibly upset. I enquired as to what was the matter, but was merely told to go home. I soon found out that they had been on their way to bury my mother who had just passed. As my dad was also deceased, it was decided that my uncle and his wife would live with me, in my parents’ home. Soon after the move, the daily beatings began to occur. My uncle was a violent and sadistic man. Not even my aunt was safe from him. We were both subjected to much brutality. He was also very cunning and deceitful. Every chance he got, he spread malicious lies about me to slander my character. He did everything he could, to manipulate people and turn them against me. As a result of this, relations of mine felt entitled to reprimand me for misdeeds I have supposedly committed. Some even took to hitting me. Greedy as he is, my uncle also wasted no time in claiming full ownership of my family’s entire estate.

5) My father and one of his comrades-in-arms decided to leave the army. One day whilst at home, dad was set upon by a group of men who beat him senselessly and then let him go. My siblings and I were present while this savage onslaught took place. My father’s friend was picked up, his hands tied above his head and hung to a tree. His skull was repeatedly battered and his abdomen stabbed. His body was left hanging until it was found. Dad was never the same after his ordeal and what happened to his friend. He lived in a permanent state of fear and paranoia and soon became a pale shadow of his former self. He spent 3 years in hiding thinking that he would be picked up too and tortured or killed. One of my relatives was thrown in jail. Another died of poisoning. On the day of the latter’s burial, his stomach was strangely severely bloated. As he was just about to be interred, his belly exploded in front of the entire congregation. This set tongues wagging and our whole family lived in shame for being constantly beset by seemingly endless misfortunes.

6) I was one of four children when my mother died. My father used to punish me in the harshest of manners and for the slightest of faults. When I got a little older I was taken to live with relatives who also relished raising their fists at me. I can still recall one incident when a relation of mine broke my ankle whilst drunk. He showed no remorse afterwards. Before long, one after the other, all my siblings died. I was devastated. Another of my relatives expressed serious concern for my welfare and suggested I move in with her instead. I had been longing for the warmth and support of a caring relative so I was thrilled at the prospect of leaving. She assured me I would be safe with her and looked after, as though I was her own. This particular relative was caring to start with. But a new side of her quickly emerged. She soon made it clear, that she expected me to stop attending school and be a full time nanny to her children. She had a great number of them and was adding to her brood each year. She was a callous woman. She found me repulsive and sneeringly told me, more than once, that perhaps it would be better if I died. I soon felt compelled to abandon school. I often wore rags for clothes as my aunt would categorically refuse to buy me any. A friend informed me that school was now free and urged me to go back. When my aunt discovered that I had resumed going to school, she went ballistic. She contemptuously told me that I was too old to be in school and that I had no future anyway. She obstinately refused to give me money to buy pens, sanitary pads or even medicine. Another relative soon took me in, but my fate did not improve. There was a time I welcomed death. Being dead seemed far more preferable than the pitiful excuse of a life I was leading. I lived in constant fear, of what punishment awaited me and what would become of me. My father is a man of means, but has always been adamant that I would never get a dime out of him. Each time he sees me, he hurls abuse at me. I had always assumed that his hostility had something to do with horrible things my mother may have done to him. But everyone I asked said that all had been well in their marriage. I found it all very puzzling. I wondered if I was loveable. I have been rejected by the very people who were supposed to care about me and show me some compassion. I grew into a bitter and revengeful person. I am often tearful because nothing good ever seems to happen to me. I have gradually resigned myself to the sad reality of my lot. My existence is a never-ending cycle of hope and disappointment.

7) My father was a soldier and a bigot. My siblings and I were expected to recite every day and every night that Tutsis were the enemy. When I think about it now, I think it a blessing he is no longer with us. I fear the kind of people we would have become otherwise.

8) I grew up without a mother. My father did not get along with her when she died. My dad is a very strict and short-tempered man. He has also always refused to elaborate on the circumstances of her departure from this world. I would see other kids with their mums and it would break my heart. Such sights were a constant reminder of what I have lost. My mother really loved me and was the sweetest and kindest person I knew. As nobody would tell me what had happened to her, it became harder and harder for me to be at home. I threw myself into the business of looking for travelling documents so that I could go to Rwanda where she was from, and find out as much information as I could. I went in search of people who might have known her and perhaps even had some idea of what had actually happened. To my absolute horror, I discovered that dad used to beat her black and blue frequently. My relatives told me that, really it is a blessing that her life was cut short. What she had been through was no way to live. This revelation was almost too much to bear. Whenever dad is in a foul mood he would say wicked things like, “I am not your biological father you know — your mother was a promiscuous woman”. He would say these things to upset me and though I knew that none of that was true, it still cut through me. My mother was a virtuous woman. Those who knew her confirmed this and assured me that without a doubt, my father is my real dad. Try as I might to stay strong, often it was very difficult. Some days I could not focus properly at school. I know I can never trust my dad. Thankfully, I found God and therefore a new lease on life. My faith has been my unwavering strength.

9) I can still recall the day when a group of men burst into our home armed with whips, machetes, nails and knives. They had come to kill my dad. For some reason, they asked to be served alcohol first. My family scrambled to find them as much of it as we were able and miraculously, our father was not killed that day. He was locked up instead and later released. These would-have-been-killers were our old neighbours. The hurt and betrayal my family felt was beyond measure. It was all too much for my mother and she suffered a nervous breakdown. Although she did get better, when she fell pregnant she had a relapse. She died shortly after giving birth. I never got the chance to bury her. I was a student away at boarding school when it all happened. We used to write to each other all the time, but that changed in the days leading up to her passing. The family proceeded to a funeral without giving me the opportunity of seeing her one last time. When I returned home, I tried my best to comfort my brother and sisters, even though I was close to losing it myself. I was certain I would never find happiness again. My dad married another woman, and this further disrupted the already fragile state of our family. He wedded a woman who did not care about us. Not once, did she ever show us any love or affection. My sister left school early, to take care of our mother’s new-born baby. The infant was sickly but managed to survive. One day I went home, to find that my younger brother had dropped out of school. No one knew where he was either. Fortunately I was able to find him. I discovered the depth of his unhappiness. His home life had made him so melancholic that this feeling overshadowed all other areas of his life including his education. This was profoundly disconcerting to me. I have always been very protective over my siblings, yet felt unable to help them. I also feel guilty that I have managed to keep going whilst my family has barely been able to lead any semblance of a life. My faith has been a pillar of strength, but my powerlessness to better the circumstances of my siblings has seen me falter at times.

10) I am a Hutu, who grew up in a family of Christian Hutus and Tutsis. We were brothers and sisters in Christ. We visited each other’s homes regularly. Kinship in my family was such that, I never looked at my relatives in terms of their ethnicity. They were just family and we were a close-knit family too. And then the war began. I saw people being tied up, kidnapped and later found out that they had been killed with machetes. A Hutu friend of mine went to fight and was hacked to pieces. Another Hutu friend was murdered too. Tutsis did not fare any better. Some of my Tutsi friends’ families were killed too. One man that I knew very well was chopped up and his remains, disposed of in a pit latrine. Everybody knew him. My family home was burned down and I went into hiding. As I was fleeing, I ran alongside an elderly man who had strange protruding bits on his back. It soon dawned on me that those things were in fact pieces of wood. The poor man had been impaled with wooden bars, but somehow had managed to escape his torturers. As I ran for my life seeking a safe refuge, I saw people continuously dropping to the ground as they were being shot at or had things thrown at them. Among the people who perished during those years were many of my friends, neighbours, acquaintances and even some of my school teachers. The carnage of war I witnessed still haunts me to this day.

11) During the war, my family fled to an area which was renowned for the sorcery which allegedly took place there. Although I fell ill, I was soon on the mend. Sadly, the same could not be said of my mother. She had been poisoned and soon was on the brink of death from which she never returned. My younger siblings and I were taken to our grandmother’s to be looked after. Under her care, we were malnourished and kept in squalid conditions. Our father remarried. His second wife was a mother of four. As I was not very little, unlike the other children of the house, it was expected of me to do the laundry for the entire family, as well as all the cooking and cleaning. I barely spoke as I was growing up. I said very little. We were abused by our step mother. She was a materialistic woman who kicked up a fuss whenever, we, her step children, asked our father for money for things we needed. Our school fees or school books were never considered important to her. Whenever he decided to give us a bit of money, she would turn on the drama and start weeping saying that our father only cared about us and not her. Sometimes she would even go as far as to threaten to leave him. She would blackmail him emotionally saying things like it’s them, as in us, or her. To her, we were merely leeches bleeding her only source of income, our father, dry. Quite frankly, she was a malignant presence in our family life. She was also very vain. She insisted that my siblings and I washed her on a regular basis. Even worse for us was the fact that our dad stood by silently and not once did he ever stick up for us. He never showed concern at our poor treatment at her hands. Some years passed and I was told to go live with my older brothers. I so wish my mother was still alive.

Background

Burundi is in the process of entering a critical chapter in its history. The 2015 elections are just around the corner and hope remains for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The country’s political scene is, nonetheless, far from stable. The atmosphere has been marred by intra-political party disputes; fears among opposition parties of an authoritarian turn in the State; the adoption of legislation which infringes political rights and freedoms; and, ongoing intimidation, harassment and physical attacks, perpetrated by youth affiliated with political parties[1]. The high level of unemployment among this group, and their limited access to basic social care has rendered these young people particularly susceptible to political manipulation. All these issues and many others have generated a climate, which risks plunging Burundi into further atrocities.

Mindful of its vision for a peaceful Burundi, and the fact that the future of any country rests on its young, HROC decided to view these trying times as an opportunity to empower youth, with principles that are conducive to long lasting peace.

As HROC had been previously involved with a group of youth from the Kamenge area, in the capital, Bujumbura, these young people were considered ideal for a possible project. Kamenge and the suburbs surrounding it have been the scene of bloodshed at various times during the conflict. The vast majority of people in these areas survive on a very modest income. They often find themselves residing in violent and unhealthy environments and frequently have limited access to employment and education opportunities as well as basic services. Inadequate and insecure housing are also common realities. These less than satisfactory circumstances have often lead even the most fair minded of individuals, to commit despicable acts in exchange for promises of a better life.

During the war, the youth from these quarters were at times embroiled in some form of violence or other, both as victims and perpetrators. Many of these districts remain, therefore, potential hotspots for violence in the upcoming elections and possibly also during the implementation of a TRC. This is another reason HROC wished to work with youths from these particular quarters.

Project Description

In order to prepare young people for these pivotal events in their country’s history, HROC devised a series of workshops and activities. A HROC (Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities) basic workshop; an AVP (Alternatives to Violence Project) workshop; civic education classes; citizen reporter training; and, a workshop on the TRC. These undertakings would serve the purpose of facilitating trauma healing; teaching alternatives to violence and empowering youth in the advent of a TRC and throughout the electoral period.

HROC’s ultimate goal is that, should this venture produce a meaningful impact, this project would be expanded into a country-wide program. Young people from all corners of Burundi would participate in similar activities, creating a bigger and stronger force for positive change.

Since the start of this project in April 2014, only the workshops pertaining to trauma healing and alternatives to violence have taken place. HROC is most pleased with the response these programs have received thus far, and is looking forward to the next round of activities.

Project Objectives

1. To provide a safe space, in which the youths can start their healing journey, using constructive approaches.

2. To teach young people about effective means of avoiding violent conflict.

3. To empower and enable young people to actively and peacefully participate in the political life of their country.

4. To train those over the age of 18 to report, mitigate and respond to incidents of violence in their communities.

Target Group

In selecting youth for the purpose of this project, HROC sought the assistance of the young people with whom it is already affiliated. Wishing to involve higher and diversified numbers, the existing group agreed to invite youth from various backgrounds, from a variety of religious creeds and political affiliations, of all ethnic groups, aged between 17 and 26, a comparable number of males and females, friends, acquaintances, school pupils, university students, school drop outs, working youth, married youth, teenage parents, youth who have displayed good leadership qualities and young people who are going through a lot and could really benefit from being amongst other young people learning worthwhile concepts.

Project Activities

1. Selecting participants

Aiming to afford young people a sense of ownership of this project, HROC invited a small group of youth already known to it, to discuss and decide together, the kind of participants to invite to take part in this venture. As stated above, gender, age and ethnicity were a few of the many factors taken into account, in consenting to a list of criteria.

2. Workshop facilitation

The differences in subject matters covered in the AVP and HROC workshops naturally required that outside facilitators be brought in for certain aspects of the project. A need for adequate gender representation, combined with the issue of facilitators’ availability, resulted in thirteen facilitators being chosen. Six men and seven women. In all but one workshop, three facilitators were called upon. There were four facilitating one of the workshops, to enable a trainee to hone her facilitation skills.

3. Two Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) basic workshops (April 7 to 9 and April 10 to 12).

In these trauma healing workshops, participants learned about trauma, its possible causes, symptoms and consequences. The concepts of loss, grief and mourning were examined and active listening skills taught. The youth were presented with the opportunity to pay tribute to their losses and share their grief with those present. What constitutes deep anger was additionally discussed as was finding constructive means of responding to it. Finally, the notions of trust and mistrust were assessed and participants urged to reflect on how to build trust in their own communities.

4. Two Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) basic workshops (April 14 – 16 and Apirl 17 – 19).

Over the course of three days, participants examined ways in which we respond to situations where injustice, prejudice, frustration and anger can lead to aggressive behaviour and violence. They learned how to manage strong feelings such as anger and fear; deal more effectively with risk and danger; build good relationships with other people; communicate well in difficult situations; recognise existing skills and learn new ones whilst remaining true to oneself and respecting others. The five pillars of AVP — affirmation, communication, co-operation, community building and transforming power — were all explored as well. Participants reflected on what they have learnt from past experiences, and how listening to others helps us to grow as people. The AVP approach has at its core the belief that there is a power for peace and good in everyone, which can in turn transform relationships[2].

The HROC and AVP workshops are interactive programs. They constitute a mixture of learning and exchange sessions intermingled with games, group exercises and team building activities. All the games have lessons attached to them and are vital in keeping participants’ upbeat and bringing them back to the present, especially following emotionally demanding sessions. Participants were not mere students. They were driving forces in their own learning process. They were even instrumental in establishing proceedings’ ground rules. At the end of each workshop the youth were encouraged to use their newly acquired knowledge, to help their friends, families and communities where they can.

Outcomes

*HROC is satisfied that the first two objectives of this project were successfully completed. Participants’ feedback (see later) is further proof of this.

*Overall, 53 young people were involved in this project.

*Attendees hailed from 5 districts of Bujumbura and 13 neighbourhoods.

*49 youth attended the full HROC workshop and 43 the entire AVP course.

*Participants’ ages ranged from 17 to 29 years old. Although this may seem a big age bracket, owing to a range of social and economic factors, a person can be 25 years old and still easily be in secondary school.

Among those who attended the complete programs were:

*5 Catholics, 43 Protestants and 1 Muslim;

*21 females and 28 males;

*24 school pupils;

*17 university students;

*4 single parents;

*21 young people had their parent(s) as their main care-givers;

*22 were under the partial care of another relative(s);

*6 were self-sufficient as a result of full time employment or student bursary;

*2 were the main bread-winners in their households;

*2 were in full time employment;

*6 had political affiliations;

*8 are from displaced persons families;

*1 is from a refugee family;

*43 received AVP certificates of attendance[3].

Participants Feedback

In order to get some feedback from participants they were asked to answer the following questions:

What do you feel went well today?

What do you feel did not go so well?

What could be done to improve things?

Did the workshops meet your expectations?

The young people were told that they need not name themselves, when supplying their comments. Below are participants’ observations on the things that they were happy about and felt went well:

*I am really pleased with the teachings we have received as I have learned a lot of new and truthful principles.

*Your teachings are truly helpful and valuable.

*We have learned the importance of respecting and loving one another.

*I feel better equipped to handle the things that life often throws at us.

*These workshops came at the perfect time. I feel that vast majority of us will leave here having acquired tools which will enable us to impact on our respective environments in a positive way.

*My thirst to learn more grew with each passing day and by the time the workshop ended my need was well and truly sated.

*Upon being told that we would be fed over the course of the workshops I thought I could always come back for the food. But by the end of the day, I was determined to return and it was not for the food. I was eager to learn more things and enhance my knowledge base.

*I feel very fortunate to have been able to participate in this project.

*I am very thankful for the HROC and AVP workshops.

*I am really happy that HROC thought of the youth and their abilities to affect change.

*I feel I have made friends and found a new family through HROC.

There were of course, some things that the young people were not too happy about (some of these issues were remedied the following day):

*I am upset that I was not given a certificate when there was nothing I could do to prevent missing a day of activities.

*There were times when facilitators permitted far too many questions to be posed.

*The discussions were not followed by sufficient notes on the board.

*Some sessions went on for longer than planned.

The participants listed some recommendations to improve the HROC and AVP workshop experience:

*A copy of the syllabus would have been nice.

*I still have many questions about how to respond to violence in a non-violent manner and wish there had been more time for questions and answers.

*I hope that there will be further such teachings throughout the country.

*There is a crucial need for these teachings in our families, communities and across Burundi.

*All young people should take part in these workshops, so that they too may feel empowered to contribute to the building of a peaceful and stable Burundi.

*I hope that we will meet more often to discuss these important issues.

*You should keep up the good work as there are many people keen on having their country rightly governed.

Below is some of the feedback participants gave on the set up of the workshops:

*The style used in teaching us was very good.

*Our questions were well answered and we received thorough explanations which helped us understand things.

*I enjoyed working in groups and helping each other in doing activities.

*I liked the games and the interactive activities and the teamwork work we did. They were a lot of fun and taught us a lot too.

*You made us feel appreciated and respected and smiled at us.

*The facilitators were humble and the sessions were very engaging.

*I appreciated that the suggestions for improvement we gave were put into practice the following day.

*The workshops were very informative and well facilitated.

*Facilitators made good use of the time available.

*I liked that each day started with a song and a prayer.

*I liked the approach used in conveying the teachings.

*I liked the fact that we were able to teach each other and that we were all students really.

Although the young people were generally pleased with the workshops, some aspects of the latter struck a chord with them, more than others. Below, are some of their remarks:

*I found the session on Johari’s window, to be particularly thought provoking. It compelled us to reflect on ourselves and how we ought to carry ourselves, so that people can appreciate us and we can all live in harmony. The window taught me a lot about everyday life and to be conscious of my behavior and how it may come across to other people.

*I have understood that I am as valuable as any other human being. I have learned to talk and discuss things with other people. I have realised that I am able to do great and positive things and should not be afraid to aspire for great things for myself and be optimistic about my future.

*I have learned to not respond to anger and violence with anger and violence.

*We have learned how to break the cycle of violence and grow a tree of peace.

*I now understand that we are all party to the violence that we see around us, one way or other, and that there are ways of preventing it, handling it and reducing its prospects of escalation.

*I have learned what is trauma and that it can have many causes and symptoms.

*I now know how important it is to listen to others and to do so in an appropriate manner.

*I used to think that traumatised people were crazy or deranged. I had no idea how to behave towards them and had always assumed they were a lost cause.

*I now know that it is alright to look to a brighter future and not lose all hope and faith.

*I did not know that crying can prove so therapeutic and help us unburden ourselves and alleviate our pain.

*Although I have lost my family and my parents and took it in my stride, I have now realised the extent to which people’s lives can be thrown into absolute turmoil because of such upheavals.

*It had never occurred to me, that the people around me could be going about their business with such broken spirits.

A good number of youth claimed to have been changed, by what they experienced during the activities. Below are some of their reflections:

*I find myself transformed, especially by the teachings we received on anger. I feel that something has changed in me.

*I realised that I really needed to hear these teachings.

*I had never been aware that I was traumatised all this time.

*I feel that I am on my way to a healthier outlook on life and a healed heart.

*I have learned how to take care of myself and start my own healing journey.

*The constant inner fear I used to feel has now vanished.

*I feel I have gained some life skills which will help me become a better person.

*I now know not to let my anger consume me but rather handle it in a positive way.

*I realise now that I had been holding in a lot of anger and had been in denial about this fact too.

*I feel that a sense of tranquillity has settled over my heart and mind.

*I have learned to mourn for what I have lost and not allow things to eat me up.

*I initially thought that by involving myself in this project I would go away with a nice little sum of money. Frankly, I was not very impressed with the first day of the HROC workshop. I was not sure I would show up on day two. But I have since realised that there was something deep within me which had been longing for release for quite some time. I had no idea that having a good unrestrained cry could make one feel so much better afterwards. I have been suffering from chronic stomach problems ever since my father died. I used to lie about it and hide what I had been feeling all these years. I am very grateful to have been enabled to confront my feelings in this manner. I am now very happy. My heart feels lighter and I have since acquired a sense of inner peace. What I have gained by attending has proved far more valuable than any money.

The participants have also expressed a strong desire to be instrumental in the betterment of the lives of the people around them:

*From now on, I will encourage those that are in pain to share how they feel, so that they may feel a lot better about things.

*I am now firmly committed to helping others tackle their own issues too and help them heal.

*I hope to benefit the country with what I have learned.

*Indeed when one is changed, transformed or healed, a thousand are in fact changed, transformed or healed.

*I feel that I have obtained a certain capacity to help others.

*I am now certain that some of my friends are in fact traumatised and will do my best to ease their suffering.

Below are other general observations, made by the youth at the end of the workshops:

*I would like to pursue some in-depth study of the topics covered during the workshop.

*I had heard of HROC before coming here but I now have a renewed appreciation for its values and work.

*I have achieved my objective of leaving knowing everybody’s name. As a psychology student some of the HROC’s concepts I already knew of, but only in theory. On day two of the workshop however, I witnessed for myself some of those principles in practice and it was captivating.

*I understand HROC’s mission and what it is seeking to accomplish by holding these activities in this pre-electoral period.

Challenges

The demand to participate in this project was such that, had some youth not been turned away, costs would have been well in excess of the budget and counter productivity for participants would have been a real possibility.

Since the first phase of this project took place during the Easter holidays it was impossible for some to participate as would have been hoped. A few youth were expected to be helping out at home whilst others had family and travel commitments. Also, due to the recurring school and university strikes, a small number still had school and therefore missed a couple of hours here and there. This resulted in a few people switching groups at various stages to not miss anything. The consequence of this in some of the workshops was that there were greater numbers of participants than planned. The inevitable outcome of this was that certain sessions lasted longer, which participants were not too happy about. For HROC, striking that balancing act of ensuring that all who took part got the most out of the activities whilst staying on schedule, was a tasking exercise at times. Several questions were asked and answers awaited accordingly. And yet, for those who had to resume their daily routines, staying over time proved an imposition.

Although unlike HROC, AVP was prepared to issue certificates of attendance, its facilitators were quite strict when it came to deciding who would be entitled to them. As stated above, being absent during parts of the workshops was beyond the control of participants. AVP nonetheless stuck to its policy of not dispensing certificates to persons who failed to be present throughout certain aspects of its program. This was understandably very upsetting, for the small minority of young people who by no fault of their own did not receive accreditation.

HROC Evaluation

The young people, who took part in this project, were a delightful and dynamic bunch. They were unassuming and yet very bright, witty but sensible too. Astonishingly, the dreadful circumstances many had called their daily life have not rendered them incapable. They are a strong and resilient group. They were friendly and charismatic as well as ambitious and hopeful — for themselves and Burundi. With these many attributes in evidence, it was impossible to not be in awe of them and their kind-heartedness.

HROC was disappointed at having had to turn some of them away, even though doing so was necessary for the benefit of the participants who were already registered.

Upon being told, of the crucial part they could play in the rebuilding of the country, the youth were amazed that they could be perceived as thus important. They soon expressed their commitment to doing their best to contribute to the creation of peaceful Burundi.

HROC is very happy with how the first phase of this project has gone. Participants were clearly at ease with the facilitators as well as in each other’s company. They felt they could trust the people around them enough to share their own happy and painful experiences. The fact also that participants felt comfortable making comments and observations on the set up and content of the workshops, attest to that sense of safety they must have felt. Intelligent and highly inquisitive, the youth were very vocal about the concepts they appreciated or were not too clear about. They were firmly intent on having answers to their many questions. The animated discussions which took place, revealed a broad-mindedness and creative spirit in the young people. From the start of the workshops until their end, the youth displayed an enthusiasm and hunger to learn, principles which will better them as people and enable them to improve the lives of others as well. When HROC last saw them, they were most eager to find out which activities will be coming up next.

HROC was additionally satisfied with the approach of the facilitators in dispensing their teachings. They were quick taking on board participants’ suggestions and adapting sessions accordingly. As mentioned earlier, the great numbers in some of the workshops resulted in longer sessions and some participants feeling like their questions were left unanswered. HROC along with the facilitators and young people, decided to use parts of the break times, to cover all the remaining questions. All involved seemed happy with this arrangement.

HROC was touched by the compassion and sympathy the young people exhibited. During the sharing sessions, whilst some were sobbing violently as they recalled the awful, some of those listening would lay a hand upon them to comfort them silently. The young people got very emotional as they heard the plight of their peers, some never having had any idea that they could have been going through so much.

The youth’s bravery and firm resolve to improve their outlook on life in spite of everything they have had to witness and endure was truly inspiring. Their poignant testimonies were positively heart-breaking and yet, they remained undeterred and found a new lease on life. HROC is humbled to have aided them to start seeing life through new eyes.

There were many assertions of transformation, thanks to the experience of being part of the workshops. Many have vowed to put to good use, the knowledge they have gained so that many others may be enriched too. HROC is always thrilled to see that its work should have such a positive effect on people’s lives. It is therefore looking forward to doing further workshops and activities with the youth.

Next Steps

Towards the end of June, HROC will contact participants to enquire whether they feel there have been some changes in themselves or their outlook on life since they took part in this project. This will enable HROC to monitor the impact, the AVP and HROC activities are having in the lives of the young people.

Leave a Reply