SUMMER, 2001: Volume 6, Issue 2
Trauma Healing in Burundi by Carolyn Keys
Note: This report was received by e-mail on 5/4/01
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 third of the trip. We ended up renting a small Toyota from one of the local ministers who is glad to make a few Fbu [Burundi francs] from it.
This morning we had a workshop with fifteen people present, including pastors from the Kibimba Quarter and the acting legal representative, 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 Burundians in such situations. But we warmed them up with a gathering exercise from AVP, a presentation about what the Burundi Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Center (BTHARC) is, its 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 ten minutes mid way but they wanted to come back in after five. 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 were not 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 awhile, while others had lived there still. [The man who experienced this] 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 liked 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 BTHARC 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 avocado 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, for the 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 forty 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 throughout the country along the roadways, some of the 110,000 unaccompanied children (UAC) 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 two-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 seven were male. It was 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 [Help Increase the Peace Project] 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, ‘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, despair, 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 three 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 six 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 the Peace Restaurant and went on to our rooms at the Magarama Friends Guest House, very happy for a great day.