Rebuilding war-torn communities in Burundi

15 Oct 2010

The village of Gitukura, in the northern Burundi province of Cibitoke, has experienced firsthand the devastating consequences of two decades of ethnic conflict and civil war. Located on the Rwandan border, its inhabitants, mostly women and children, live in almost complete isolation and deprivation.

With UNDP support, the Government of Burundi has initiative a post-conflict reconstruction programme along the northern border shared by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo aimed at the peaceful reintegration of returnees and ex-combatants back into a society made vulnerable by war. Survivors from different sides of the conflicts are coming together to rebuild infrastructure and initiate environmental programmes.

For three months, beginning in May 2010, workers received approximately $US3 a day, enabling them to not only provide for the immediate needs of their families but also to invest in new income-generating activities, such as buying livestock or purchasing land. In Gitukura, war widows and war veterans, both of them marginalized and under-employed groups in post-conflict Burundi, have come together to build a school for the village’s children.

“This morning we laid down the cement to build the wall ties for the school,” said Reheri Ngoyabarezi, as she passes bricks to her neighbour, Karumelina. “Our children will study here. There will be seven classes and office for the head.”

Reheri, a war widow, finds hope that the village residents and the war returnees are able to work together on such a project.

“The fact that we spend entire days working together in perfect harmony is a good sign,” she said.

Across the province, participants are being employed by the programme to rehabilitate everything from latrines and irrigation canals to public buildings and bridges. They are also making bricks, replanting forests and working to fight erosion caused by environmental degradation. Not only does the programme provide economic support and reconstruction to the area but it will bring about social cohesion and stabilization as different factions living uneasily together work together on projects of common cause.

After Gitukura’s butcher kills a cow that will be shared equally amongst the school-builders, he hands out the meat on a credit basis, satisfied that he will receive his due on pay day.

“The butcher trusts us, this is a sign that people are getting along well in our area,” Raheri said approvingly. She plans to buy some meat to feed her children.

The work days starts early in the morning, around 7 a.m., and finishes around 3 p.m. There is a feeling of enthusiasm in the air as the workers pitch in next to their neighbours to raise the school.

“I am sure that our children will be just as proud as we are to attend a school that exists thanks to our collaborative efforts,” she said.