“Burundi has gone through war. Burundians fled, left everything behind, many lost their lives, anarchy reigned. … In the hearts of those who stayed back and those in the bush were severe pains. Blood had been shed and could be felt everywhere. This made everyone wounded.” opening to “Life after conflict in Burundi: Socio-economics and trauma healing”

A new documentary film featuring five Burundians shows how healing from trauma helps make way for rebuilding community in the wake of protracted violent conflict. [Watch the film now.]

The film, “Life after conflict in Burundi: Socio-economics and trauma healing,” was produced by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)’s Burundi program. The film’s June premiere was attended by many international NGOs; officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, and Ministry of National Solidarity; national civil society organizations; AFSC’s institutional partners; and the media.

Community rebuilding is a national concern in Burundi. The government partners with many organizations to help communities develop economic opportunities while strengthening relationships among themselves and neighbors who experienced the atrocities of war for over a decade.

Like other international organizations in Burundi, AFSC supports grassroots organizations in developing social cohesion and economic reintegration. But AFSC also coordinates trauma-healing sessions in many communities. This unique aspect of the program has helped individuals work through past trauma and become a strong force in supporting one another.

In the 20-minute film, Burundians from different communities tell stories of their time spent in exile, returning home, and the struggle to settle into a new life while carrying the memories and scars of the past. The stories also provide a picture of how host communities experienced an avalanche of vulnerable residents as people returned from years living elsewhere as refugees and combatants.

As the film opens, Valérie Ahishakiye, a returnee and mother of six, explains, “Leaving our country as we did is not an easy thing. We were separated from our families and relatives, each went a different direction. It was very hard to abandon our homeland and go away. But we had no choice because we were being chased with arms and gun shots.” 

Later in the film, we meet Frédéric Ngenzebuhoro, an ex-combatant who rejoined a community, but whose battle scars brought scorn and mockery his way, causing him to feel ostracized. “It is not easy to live again with others when you are back from the rebellion, especially when you have such remarkable scars,” he says.

Frédéric, Valérie, and others talk about the experience of trauma-healing sessions. Their stories of change show how anger and jealousy fell away as they worked alongside other community members.

They describe demonstrating their trustworthiness to neighbors through the way they handled money responsibly, making small profits from neighbors’ loaned funds, enabling them to provide for their families and then support other people’s small businesses.

Hélioude Ntiranyibagira is another program participant who was a combatant during the war. In the film, he talks about his transformation. “I am happy because the community members trust me, even though I was a killer before,” he says. “They made me a leader. I help in terms of ideas and advice, morally and materially. That is different than some years ago.”

At the film’s debut in Bujumbura, attendees discussed trauma healing. They agreed that there is a need for more effort from the government and the international community to include trauma healing in their program interventions. Each attendee received a DVD with the documentary, as well as an accompanying leaflet.

To view the pictures from the launch, please visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/afscburundi