Recovering from years of ethnic and violent conflict is a long and complicated process that requires healing from the trauma of war, rebuilding a cohesive community life, and stimulating an economy so that people can make a living and get what they need to build resilience.

With half a million refugees affected by war returning to Burundi in the course of a decade, the government and United Nations have prioritized the need to reintegrate people, both socially and economically.

Many people live in settlements known as “peace villages” or “integrated rural villages,” often alongside people of different ethnic backgrounds. Through community associations that AFSC and its partner organizations helped establish, individuals can appeal for a loan to support their business endeavors.

Before joining the association in her village, Damienne Ndoricimpa was struggling to care for her family. Just finding food every morning was difficult. Then an accident made things worse.

“I was extremely poor,” she explains. “Though the situation was as such, my husband who ran here and there to support the family made an accident. He was a motorcycle driver. He spent a whole year in the hospital.”

“It was not easy” to survive during that year, she says.

When a neighbor approached her about joining the association, she was skeptical that it was open to her:

“One day, I saw one mum coming to my house to sensitize me in order to take part in this group. When she explained to me the process, I told her that I could not have money to contribute, even 500 Burundian Francs (about 33 cents in U.S. currency). She really insisted that I must join the group; she even gave me 1,000 BIF to contribute for the first day.

For the first time, I contracted a loan of 10,000 BIF and bought sugarcane and cassava flour. After selling them, I realized that I really gained much. For the second loan, I bought beer, peanuts, and oranges as a second income generating project.

Before, we ate just once per day but now we eat twice a day and even in the morning we always have tea. It’s fantastic. Now, when my children are ill, I have no problem to bring them to the hospital.”

Damienne’s experience is not unusual; other members have been able to buy farmland and equipment for their businesses.

As they repay their loans, they begin to see each other as partners, even if they were on opposite sides of the conflict.