One of the things that I appreciate most about the Christian faith is that it provides a common denominator between people around the world. This common identity can be a catalyst for important relationship building across national boundaries. In early June, I joined the Church of the Brethren young adult work camp trip to Burundi, hoping to both build relationships and see some of the great peacebuilding work being done in the African Great Lakes region. These relationships and my increased understanding of the challenges in Burundi will feed into the work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, as we increase our level of engagement with advocacy relating to the region.
Located south of Rwanda, Burundi is consistently ranked among the poorest countries in the world. In 2017, the GDP per capita was just $818, according to the International Monetary Fund. In addition to poverty and humanitarian concerns, Burundi has a history of genocide and election violence. Conflict between Hutus and Tutsis killed upwards of 300,000 people in several outbreaks of violence between the 1970s and the early 1990s. More recently, political conflict has led to instability. Just a week before our work camp traveled to the region, 15 people were killed in election violence related to a referendum vote.
Our group was hosted by Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS), a partner of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service office. THARS provides mental health services to Burundians still impacted by the history of violence. This includes operating listening centers, facilitating support groups, and conducting training workshops. In addition to mental health work, THARS runs two programs that are funded by the Church of the Brethren, including training for farmers and a feeding program for Batwa schoolchildren.