Elyssa J. Salinas
One wheel with many spokes is how the Community Empowerment Project in Burundi acts – one project that supports many communities or “collines” as community members make their hope for the future a reality in the present. With support from ELCA World Hunger through its implementing partner, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), each colline focuses on a set of key issues related to the well-being of community members. As the people take part in the activities, they develop the skills they will need to ensure long-term sustainability for themselves, their families and their neighbors. These collines are “growing and growing” says Adela from the Musha colline the elected leader of the Musha colline’s self-help group. Her participation has helped her develop her own skills as she helps her fellow colline members. “As leader of the group, I have become more self-confident.” As a result of the program, Adela has seen an increase in food security and productivity. People in her town are now able to have meals three times a day instead of one, and they have extra funds for medical expenses and school.
Regina, a grandmother left homeless after the recent civil war in Burundi, is also a witness to the benefits of the project in Musha. With support from LWF, she received help she needed to build a new home and reclaim the swamp for agriculture. “I am able to get enough money to pay the school fees. I grow produce in the swamp – rice, bean and sweet potato,” she says.
Amina is from the Cendajura Commune and was a refugee during the later years of the civil war. In 2000, she left for Tanzania, traveling without food or water with her child until she got to a refugee camp. During the mobilization to return to Burundi, Amina moved from camp to camp, fearful of returning to a war-torn area. Amina is part of the Muslim community, but she thankful for the interreligious aid she is receiving in the form of a new house, “I am a Muslim, but I feel very well that it is Christians who help me.” She is slowly but surely gaining hope for her future as she is in conversation with LWF about a house for her family.
War, homelessness, and food production are not the only issues Burundians face, as community members in Mwiruzi well know. In this region, contaminated water has created a crisis. As Oscar, a worker at the project site says, “For us, when there is a water shortage, we don’t have life. So we are fighting for life .” As with the activities at other collines, this project is community-initiated, and LWF is providing materials to aid in the building of wells and improved water systems.
Emile Nihende is a LWF facilitator, and is responsible for a colline where there are activities assisted by LWF. He spends only one weekend a month with his family and lives alongside the community he is helping. “I am here because I had the chance to be educated. Because I have been supported, now I want to share the fruits of this education with the community.” This perspective is key to the Community Empowerment Project’s sustainability. As neighbors build their own skills and meet their needs together, the entire community can look toward long-term sustainable change together.