by Lucy Duncan
During my time at the World Gathering of Friends at Kabarak University in Nakuru, Kenya, most mornings there was no water available on the dormitory floor where I was staying. The first morning I thought it was temporary, but as the days went on, I and my floor mates learned to deal with it, by taking showers at night, by keeping water in buckets, by getting used to accumulation in the squat toilets. In the end, it was a blessing. I didn’t take a shower for three days and when finally I did, at 2 am one morning when the campus was so quiet, I learned again how sweet it is to feel warm water on my dusty skin. Kenyan Friends weren’t fazed by the lack of water – Kabarak is considered fairly plush digs.
After the conference, I flew to Bujumbura, Burundi to visit the American Friends Service Committee local offices and to see the work of Quaker partners that AFSC supports. Triphonie Habonimana, Program Officer, Stephane Nkurunziza (both of AFSC), Florence Ntakarutimana of Healing and Rebuilding our Communities (HROC), an AFSC partner, and I drove out of Bujumbura past corn fields and banana trees to a “Peace Village.” Returning refugees, Hutus and Tutsis, live together in a number of these villages after reconciliation began healing the divisions of the 1972 and 1993 conflict and killings.
Florence and Triphonie gathered members of the community, both ex-combatants and victims, who had engaged in HROC workshops in the small Friends Church and invited them to tell stories about their experiences.
Anne-Marie, a young, slight woman, told us, “The one who killed my father, I used to see him, he was a soldier. When I saw him before the HROC workshop, my wound would re-open, I wanted to kill him, but now I have forgiven him, I’ve seen him since and I knew I was healed.”
Apollinaire told his story: “One day I was not at home, my wife was pregnant and I received a phone call that she had been beaten nearly to death. The man who did it had been my friend. We spent many years without talking with each other. One day he asked for my forgiveness. I said, “Yes,” but it wasn’t true. After the HROC workshop, I went to him, shared food with him. I asked him to forgive me for not forgiving him. Now he is my best friend, we take care of one another.”
Janine, a pregnant woman who shone with confidence said, “We are healed and healing others. After the HROC workshop, I felt I can tell the truth to others in conflict, some of our enemies are now friends. Some are surprised by our change. Our change changes them, if they are behaving badly, I can help them. We are doctors.”
Florence said in all the workshops she has led over many years, she’s never seen people not forgive one another. Often HROC will give people goats to share, for a Hutu and Tutsi to own together. They name the goats Amahoro (Peace) or Tumaini (Trust) and visit each other to care for the goat. This strengthens the relationships. The goat project is supported in part by Olympia Friends Meeting.
HROC also helps participants join self-help groups, which are often focused on livelihoods and joint economic activities. In this particular “Peace Village” clean water is a major concern. When I arrived several members of the community were shoveling and sorting gravel for the BioSand water filters the community constructs using materials funded by Quaker organizations including Friendly Water for the World. The water in the river next to the village is polluted, very dirty, and unsafe to drink. Florence took me to Anne Marie’s home and showed me the water filter she has and shares with her neighbors. Florence poured some river water in and gulped the clear water that emerged.
A woman was nursing her baby when we left. Triphonie said she was an ex-combatant and asked her why she still identified herself that way. The woman said, “Because we experienced shock, and we can’t forget what we did.”
It struck me that HROC and AFSC and other Quaker organizations together were bringing spiritual water to Burundi, pouring healing waters on old wounds and providing ways for the community to nurture one another with clear water, remembrance and forgiveness.