Participants at a HROC basic workshop at Kihosha Secondary School in Bujumbura, Burundi.

Sandy Grotberg, an Extended Service Volunteer a number of times who helped introduce AVP in Kenya, made a pertinent observation, namely, that the real difference between East Africa and the United States was that in East Africa people die. While life expectancy in the United States is 79.8 years in Burundi it is 60.5 years, a difference of 19.3 years, almost a generation. If I lived only to the life expectancy in Burundi I would have died a long time ago, but if I lived to that of the United States I have six years to go. In the United States we expect that people will live to raise their children and stay around to play with the grandchildren (Bumper sticker I once saw: If I knew how much fun grandchildren are I would have had them first.) This posting illustrates the consequences of a short life expectancy where a good number of people will die before they reach the age of 60.

In April, Innovations in Peacebuilding-Burundi/HROC Burundi conducted six HROC workshops for 153 youth. Each workshop has testimonies and I have taken some of them to illustrate the difficulties and sorrows that youth face after their parents and family members have died. Some died in the fighting, in violence including rape, conflicts, by diseases including life-style diseases, poor health care, accidents, unknown causes, and so on. I report this with the hope that readers will empathize with the conditions that these youth have gone through. Since empathy is the skill of “finding that of God in others,” this then becomes an important cross-cultural lesson.


I lost my father a month before I was born. Until I was eight years old I knew my older brother as my father. What was strange was that my sisters and brothers were calling him by his name rather than “father.” I asked my mother why they called the one I knew as father by his name. She responded by telling me that he was not my father and added that my father was swallowed by a wild animal.

At school, when my classmates used to say that their fathers bought them something, I was looking to them and missed something to say as I didn’t have a father to buy anything for me.

One day I took a trip with my mum and we passed where my father was buried. I felt as someone caught by electricity and stopped to continue marching. My mum continued on the way thinking we were together. People who met me at the grave told her to go back and she came back to see me. She found there as I was unable to say anything. She brought me home. During the night I was beaten by a heavy nostalgia which obliged me to leave home and I went to pass that night on my father’s grave. In the morning I went to sleep in a hidden bush. One person from the neighborhood found me there and took me home.

Since then I wished to express myself but in vain as I seemed to lose my mind. When I was struggling in that situation, my mother got a serious car accident and died without telling what the source of my father’s death was. Some sources said that he was killed by a family member who was still alive. In this heavy sorrow I missed even my older sister. The political situation we were in didn’t allow us to mourn for my family’s loss and I’m really affected by what happened to me. I’m glad to participate in this three-day HROC basic workshop as I believe I will get complete healing.

Thank you for listening to me.


I grew up while my mother was doing her small business. Every day in the morning before going to her business center she used to give my sister and me money. One evening she came home after being violated. She went on being seriously sick and finally passed away. Since I was little boy, I was not told where she was buried.

The first idea that dominated my mind was to know who violated my mother to death. They showed the person to me and since then I got a heavy hatred against him. In this sorrow I missed even my father. What I remember is that I left him a little bit sick and returning back home I found him dead. This second death put me under heavy sorrow and questionings about who was going to support my life.

I lived my whole life under heavy grief since even my sister died a few days after my father passed away. I wished I could die soon and leave this bad situation.  Since then I lived in hard times and knew that none was ready to listen to my problems.

After attending the workshop I’m glad to know that there are individuals and programs built to help those living under stresses caused by political context or family problems. I come to learn that I must keep courageous and share my painful experiences of trauma. I understood why my neighbors use to tell me that I didn’t love or care for anything.


I missed my parents (father and mother) when I was little boy. Since then my aunt took me with her and took care of me with my two sisters and one younger brother. Years later my aunt died too. The three deaths affected differently. The one of my parents didn’t put on me a heavy grief as I was still a little one. But the one with my aunt affected me in a way I thought about committing suicide and die after her.

Even though her husband continued to take care of us in all we needed, I failed to manage the anger left in me by this death. Attending this HROC basic workshop becomes an opportunity to accept what happened and learn to live under this situation and its consequences for me. I understand that life must continue without those beloved one. I will continue to share my tough history as I come to learn that it’s the only way to recover from trauma.

Discussion session at HROC workshop for “Kora Iciza” Association members. Kora Iciza (“Accomplish the Good”) is an association of 50 members belonging to two Catholic parishes of Bujumbura. This association aims to assist any indigent or needy patient in different hospitals of Bujumbura who are suffering from incurable diseases and being under treatment for long periods and whom their family members have left them alone because they were tired with the long period in the hospital or unable to continue taking care of them. Another group is the one kept by the hospital as “prisoners” because they were unable to pay medical and other services invoice billed to them by the hospital. Kora Iciza Association is visiting these patients in order to counsel them and providing them little services such as washing them, cleaning their clothes, helping those moving on wheelchairs to meet doctors or reach places to enjoy the sun, or do shopping for them when needed.

Diane, a Kora Iciza member:

I was born by the second wife of my father. He got married a second time because the first wife failed to give birth to the number of boys my father wished to have. From this second wife I’m the first born and a female. There was a complete rejection from my father because I was not born a boy.  Since the day I was born my father never cared about me as I was a girl. Day and night he used to mistreat my mother regretting why he married her. Only boys had a place in my father mind. I asked my mother why things were that way. She told me that he has never been proud of me as he expected to have a son. When I learned about that, it made me a nervous female and never was a smile seen on mouth. For a long time I saw the love my father expressed towards my two young brothers. I was very angry with him. 

I grew up in this situation as I kept quiet and was very serious.  My mother tried her best to approach me when my father was out or visited his first wife as she understood my behavior and its source. My father didn’t live long. He died soon thereafter and the day of his death I never cried. The more I grew up the more I started to question myself why he died when I was still a little bit young. I felt I should ask him why he refused to show parental love. I went on even accusing myself why he died without asking him why he mistreated me that way. It’s nowadays that I start to cry for him and fell pain once I think about him and cry.

I struggled to accept to get married as I had a bad image in all men in my mind accusing them that they are the same as my father. I’m proud that I got a husband totally different to my father. For him, any child is blessing from God, girl or boy. This started to counsel me in my life. When taking care of patients in different hospitals, it’s rare/infrequent to see me taking care of men. My compassionate heart was dedicated to females and mothers who gave birth to girls. I kept in my mind that those groups need more attention. Today I come to understand what the reality is – what I went through affected me deeply and still affected even in my life and decisions.

Since now, I will take care of anybody and any strange behavior that should be expressed to me from any patient neither man or woman, I will know that may be what he/she is passing through or passed through in the past makes him or her behave like that. I will also apply an active listening to patients as I know they need it.


I was born in 1989 at Rukaramu Zone. In 1992 my father abandoned us and moved to Gatumba area to live with a second wife. Since that period, life was very difficult for us. My mother worked hard to support her seven children alone. Because of the crisis of 1993 we were obliged to leave our habitual residence to join others in the Rukaramu peace village. My elder brothers had never gotten a chance to go to school because of my father’s bad behavior. In all my family only my young brother and I had the opportunity to go school because of my uncle’s sympathy. He completely replaced my father. My mother was unable to give the needed contribution to have an apartment in the peace village, but my uncle supported all the demands by himself. Unfortunately a few years later, he was captured and killed for political reasons. Since that period I really assumed that I was an orphan. Which affected me more was that it took around five days to find his corpse. Even though we have no exactly information about the perpetrators, his death changed me and created in me a kind of mistrust.


The majority of my family members are Christians. During all my childhood, I never saw a member of my family who participated actively in the political life of my country. That which wounded me most happened recently. On 5th February 2017 a group of rebels attacked my family. One of my beloved uncles who was also a pastor of my church was among the captured people. The news reported that he had been tortured and cut up into small parts. This created a very big conflict in my family. Some had agreed that he really died while others were still waiting to see him come back.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.


David Zarembka

Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC)

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