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How communities are cultivating peace in Africa

Photo: Jaraad Hassim
 AFSC started working in Africa in 1958, providing aid to refugees from the Algerian War. That work shifted from emergency relief to long-term support for community-led projects.
 
Since then, AFSC has joined with nomadic communities in Mali, religious peacebuilders in Angola, rural villagers in Mozambique, and more. Today we have active programs in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Through our Dialogue and Exchange Program, we extend the impact of this work to 25 additional African countries.
 
After decades of conflict, the people of Africa are reknitting the fabric of resilient and thriving societies. They are healing from the trauma of violence. They are developing self-employment skills. And they are rebuilding a sense of community. Here are a few of their stories.

ZIMBABWE

Tarisai* is a 33-year-old mother who lives in a settlement on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe. Like many young people, she grew up amid intense political violence. At that time, many were indoctrinated to hate or fear people who belonged to opposition parties. Neighbors—even family members—often could not trust or help each other.  
But Tarisai’s life today is far different than it was just a few years ago. In 2018, Tarisai took part in conflict transformation trainings offered by AFSC and local partners. These trainings were open to all regardless of political affiliation. 
Over the past three years, nearly 2,000 people from three districts of Zimbabwe took part as well. In addition to peacebuilding skills, they learned carpentry, welding, fence making, and other trades. These skills helped them earn enough money to support themselves and their families. Some have even started businesses of their own. Tarisai chairs the community’s food processing enterprise group, which allows her to support her three children.   
Participants also learned how to work with government agencies to meet community needs. Since then, community members have formed local peace committees. These committees are non-political and inclusive. Young people, women, and people with disabilities are encouraged to participate. These are groups that have historically been left out of political processes.  
Tarisai serves on the Caledonia Peace Committee. The committee successfully advocated for the government to improve access to clean water. During the pandemic, members also stepped up to promote public health. They created a WhatsApp group so residents could report cases and share accurate public health information. And like other peace committees, their membership continues to grow. Together, they are improving everyday life for people in their district. And they are helping to build a safer, healthier future for all.     
—Nthabiseng Nkomo, country representative, Zimbabwe 
  
*Names are pseudonyms.  

"I was surprised to see even those who used to be my enemies present in the first [peacebuilding workshops]. I started building confidence to find ways of reconnecting and forgiving my neighbors and finally managed to say sorry to them. When they accepted me, I felt so relieved.” —TARISAI, PROJECT PARTICIPANT
 
In Zimbabwe, community members receive certificates for participating in the peacebuilding program. Photo: AFSC/Zimbabwe 

SOUTH SUDAN

Alice* is a peacebuilder in the Dinka community of South Sudan. She helps community members heal from the trauma of war, violence, and loss. She also helps resolve conflicts among family members, clans, and tribes.
 
But like many peacebuilders, Alice struggles with trauma of her own. Her husband was killed in the South Sudan civil war. Now she is raising their children on her own, and she faces stigma for being a widow at such a young age.
 
Alice’s personal trauma has made it harder for her to help people. She has felt angry and suspicious of others. And that has limited her ability to carry out her work.
 
In 2020, AFSC launched a trauma healing program in South Sudan to help peacebuilders like Alice get the support they need. During that first year, eight local organizations trained 36 peacebuilders on trauma healing. Those trained also learned how to train others. That ripple effect has since reached nearly 600 peacebuilders throughout the country. AFSC also helped the organizations create workplace policies to support trauma healing long-term.
 
When Alice attended her first workshop, she was unfamiliar with concepts like primary and secondary trauma. The training helped her share her story and face her pain and grief. She started counseling. And although she has only begun her journey, she says she already feels so much relief. Now she can listen to others’ experiences without applying the lens of her own wounds. That makes it easier for her to help people. Other workshop participants have shared similar experiences.
 
Today more peacebuilders are receiving the support they need—and the benefits extend to many others. —Zaina Kisongoa, county representative, Somalia and South Sudan 
 
“Peacebuilding before trauma healing training felt like flying with one wing. Now I feel like I am going to go far, flying with two wings.” —TRAUMA HEALING PROGRAM PARTICIPANT
 
Peacebuilding workshop in Burundi. Photo AFSC/Burundi

BURUNDI

In an open-air market in Burundi, Itangishaka sells mukeke. It’s a local fish that can only be found in Lake Tanganyika.
   
Itangishaka and her family were among the hundreds of thousands of people forced to flee their homes during Burundi’s civil war. Now they are among the many who have returned. Like others, they are seeking to improve their living conditions, regain their dignity and contribute to lasting peace.
   
Itangishaka started her mukeke business while participating in a peacebuilding project supported by AFSC and Cord and funded by the Belgian government. Over the past two years, the project has helped 1,750 Burundians to learn trades, start businesses, and support their families.
   
Beyond improving individual livelihoods, community members strengthen social cohesion. This is particularly critical in places that have seen an influx of returnees. Through the project, community members work together. They form community savings and loan groups (called “Self-Help Groups”) to support each other’s work. They develop peacebuilding skills to prevent and resolve conflicts. And they work with community leaders to find lasting solutions to issues they face.
 
When Itangishaka joined a Self-Help Group in 2019, she received a small loan of 50,000 Burundian Francs (about $25 USD) to start her mukeke business. Soon she was able to pay off that loan and take out a second loan of 100,000 Burundian francs (about $50 USD) to expand. Today Itangishaka can cover household expenses and send her children to school. She plans to buy a refrigerator to store and sell more fish and expand her business. Her life has been transformed and she now serves as a role model to others.
 
After years of war, many community members like Itangishaka report an improved climate of trust and tolerance. They are fostering reconciliation by building economic resilience for all. And they are creating conditions for lasting peace in Burundi.
—AFSC Burundi Program
 
Itangishaka (left) has expanded her small business after taking part in an AFSC-supported peacebuilding program. Photo: AFSC/Burundi