Monday, August 31, 2009

Ripple Report: Beyond the Trees in Burundi

by Aly Lewis

The impact of Plant With Purpose’s newest program in Burundi, Africa goes far beyond the benefits of planting trees and spurring sustainable development. Like all of the areas Plant With Purpose works, Burundi is plagued with extreme poverty and environmental devastation. However, a widespread current of intolerance, anger, and misunderstanding between the country’s Hutu and Tutsi tribes intensifies these devastating environmental and economic problems. After decades of violent civil war, these tribes have only recently reached a peace accord. Though both Hutus and Tutsis living and working in the Rutana province share a common set of socioeconomic problems, long-standing hatred and prejudice remains. As refugees flood back into the country and people begin to rebuild, Burundi is faced with the challenge of transitioning from a nation on the brink of extinction to a nation of hope.

Similar to Plant With Purpose’s restorative work along the Haitian/Dominican border, yet unique among PWP’s other programs, our Burundi program offers a vital Peace & Reconciliation component. PWP encourages restoration and reconciliation two ways: by providing training and facilitation to community leaders on peace and reconciliation and, more importantly, by requiring that projects are all inclusive of all community members, Hutu and Tutsi alike. Community projects bring together people who were on both sides of the conflict to achieve project goals. This practical reconciliation is the most important and significant part of our strategy.

We’re already through year one in Burundi and have been excited to witness true reconciliation and heart changes. Leoni Karenzo of our Dushirehamwe group shared with us about her renewed hope and confidence since joining a PWP community group. The group consists of Hutu and Tutsi who have shared goals and interests. They work with, not against, each other. Since joining together, they now have harvests to bring home to their families. They feel love for each other and have regained confidence as a community. They have benefited from the economic gain and also rebuilt trust. Leoni recalls that before her exile, life was stable, but when she was forced to flee they suffered from malnutrition and poor health. Rebuilding life in Burundi was difficult and when she heard about the group she wanted to join. Now they have access to seeds, they can plant again, and they are rebuilding their lives, together.

We can’t wait to hear more stories like Leoni’s!

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