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SUMMER, 2002: Volume 7, Issue 2

AVP-VP-Burundi Completes First Phase

Phase I for beginning AVP-Burundi has just been completed. A team including US citizens, and a Ugandan, sponsored by FPT's African Great Lakes Initiative and the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Service of Burundi Yearly Meeting joined together to facilitate a series of workshops during the month of April.

We started with a Basic workshop in Bujumbura, the capital city, and then moved upcountry to Gitega. In Gitega we conducted a Basic, an Advanced, and a Training for Facilitators at Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation Under the Cross (MIPAREC), an ecumenical program. In the last week, newly trained trainers had the opportunity to use their new skills by leading one of three different Basic workshops.

One was held in Bujumbura and one in Ngozi. The third one was scheduled for Ruyigi but was canceled on short notice because of security concerns. Responding to the provincial governor's declaration on National Radio that the military had pushed the rebels back to the Tanzanian border, rebel troops arrived in the town of Ruyigi just a few days before the workshop was to begin.

Thanks to GUHUNGU Samson, an AVP facilitator who trained last year in Rwanda and is a member of the Evangelical Friends Church, we were able to replace the Ruyigi workshop with a workshop in the Gitega prison. This was only possible because of Samson's and Ray Boucher's (USA) meeting with the prison director last year and Samson's long-standing acquaintance with the director. All workshops were translated between English and Kirundi. The seven workshops reached approximately 100 people, though some for multiple workshops.

As in Rwanda, AVP has been received with significant energy and interest. Fifteen people have completed the Training for Facilitators, and thirteen of those have just finished facilitating their first Basic workshop. Three of them are staff members of THARS, others are pastors, teachers, an artist, university students, and school directors. Two men from eastern Congo attended all three levels and then returned home. They are eager to see opportunities for AVP extended into their region of the Great Lakes area.

Peter Yeomans and George Walumoli
Peter Yeomans and George Walumoli

On the morning after the Training for Facilitators workshop, the group gathered to organize and establish a steering committee for AVP Burundi. They elected nine people that reflect the diversity of Burundi on many different dimensions. They will meet next month to further detail the capacities in which they will serve.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of AVP is how it allows people to see that they already have the skills to address the dilemmas that grieve them and to answer the questions that trouble them. In each Basic workshop, we ask people to share a conflict they resolved without resorting to violence. The stories people shared were rich with skill, wisdom, faith, and bravery. Participants had interrupted soldiers from abusing innocents, prevented young men from beating a youth from a different ethnic group, spared the life of those who had killed family members, as well as a host of less dramatic but equally courageous acts of peacemaking in the home, at the university, and on the street.

Only after sharing these stories are the participants introduced to the heart of AVP—Transforming Power. This is the term we use to describe the power that we can access, that resides within us, and that if we are open to it, can transform a potentially violent situation into a nonviolent one. The concept helps to make explicit the skills the participants already have and gives them a reference point by which they can more consciously use them. As they realize they are better equipped to do deal with conflict than they knew, the end of the workshop marks the beginning of practicing these peacemaking techniques more skillfully.

After one month, AVP has reached only 100 people. But already, these participants have begun to share what they have learned with others through both word and action. Once more money is raised, there will be more workshops. Many of the participants expressed the desire that the socially powerful Burundians also receive this training. Inmates in Gitega prison, many of whom are arguably political prisoners, wished those who put them in jail could have had such training. One participant from Bujumbura, announced his pledge at the end of the workshop, that he would not rest "until the Transforming Power mandala hangs above the entrance to the President's office." Maybe the day will come.

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