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Quakers in Burundi: Offering relief after the flood

By: Madeline Schaefer
Published: June 4, 2014

A view of Burundi.

Photo: Christine Vaufrey via Creative Commons / Christine Vaufrey

In February of this year (2014), torrential rainfall in the East African country of Burundi led to devastating floods and the death of over 60 people, destroying properties and leaving 12,000 people homeless.  The Burundi government came to the aid of the victims by calling together various relief organizations to provide support, including the American Friends Service Committee, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) and other Quaker organizations in Burundi.  Together, these organizations developed an Action Plan to respond to the needs of the thousands of homeless and injured community members. 

The plan, with a budget of about $25,000, complemented the efforts of other relief organizations that were located within the communities with friends and families.  Among the Quaker organizations in Burundi, AFSC provided support to kick-start the emergency response project while other funds could be mobilized. In all, the emergency project succeeded to mobilize about $21,000 of which AFSC supported with $15,000, African Great Lakes Initiative (AGLI) provided $5,000, and the Friends Church brought in about $1,000.

A Coordinating Committee was set up for the response plan and was composed of members of the AFSC, HROC and members of the Friends Church.   They provided Food Items such as rice, beans, corn flour, palm oil, salt, etc. and Non-Food Items such as dignity kits for women and girls, family hygienic kits (mosquito nets, washing soap), school materials for children (school bags, uniforms, notebooks, mathematical sets, and pens/pencils) and clothing for all age groups.   71 families (378 people) were helped through this coordinated plan, both Quaker and non-Quaker.

The project served as a testimony of the power and impact that Quakers can have when working together to address a real need.  The families and communities affected by the floods are slowly rebuilding their lives with the help of allies at home and abroad. As stated in the Flood Relief Project Report, “The Quaker assistance has brought a new spark of hope, love and warmth to those who once were devoured by floods. It has brought new smiles to fatherless children, self-esteem to numerous mothers and fathers, and confidence that God has not forgotten the victims of Bujumbura floods in February, 2014.”

What follows are the stories of several men, women and children who were helped by the generous donations of Quakers in Burundi.

Joselyne Mushinzimana, 34, is a member of the Friends church. Before the flood she had 4 children—3 boys and one girl. The flood destroyed her house, and caused the death of two of her children.  She was hospitalized for two weeks and was unable to bury her children due to sickness.

She is happy to have received the help of the Quakers—it helps her see that she is not alone. She appreciates how the distribution was organized; everything was done quietly, without struggle.  She said: “When other people bring their assistance, I get nothing because I do not have enough strength to struggle. Those who have strength take everything.”  She added: “I feel relieved because I see that there are people who care about us.”

Justin Niyonzima is a married man, 45 years old, and father of six. He says that when the rain started he was still awake, but he could not imagine that it was going to cause such damage. Within a very short time, the family found themselves overwhelmed by water. The father did all he could do to save his family but could not save their property. Today, his house is destroyed, and his family lives separately, among family members or friends who have not been affected. He is very happy to have received the required means to send his six children to school and to feed them. He said that although he went through problems, he is relieved to see that there are people who care about them.

Justin Tuyisenge is a 9 year old boy. His family was also affected by the flood. His parents, brothers and sisters are still alive because they were awakened by the cries of neighbors. They had time to flee but could not save their school materials and other equipment. Justin was no longer going to school because he was left without school materials and his parents had no means to buy new ones. He said: “I am very happy to return to school now that I have the necessary school materials to use.”

Sonia Irakoze and Leila Irakoze are two Muslim sisters affected by the flood. After the flood, they continued to go to school because their classmates bought them some notebooks, but they were not enough. They are now very happy for the help they received. “We are very surprised to see that we are assisted by people from a different religion”, they said.  “If we are given the opportunity, we will also help regardless the religion. God bless you.”

 

About the Author

Madeline Schaefer

Madeline is the Friends Relations Associate. She grew up in the beautiful Radnor Meeting community outside of Philadelphia, and attended Friends Schools in the area until the end of High School.  After several years of studying and traveling, she returned to Philadelphia only to immerse herself once again in the stories, the culture and the spirituality of Philadelphia Quakers.  While living in collective house in West Philadelphia, she grew curious about the history of young Quaker activists in the neighborhood, and started an oral history project to find out more.  Madeline is interested in exploring the ways in which life in community can stretch our capacity for compassion and growth.  Her dream is to create more alternative communities of people learning how to live together, creating models for a society fueled by cooperation and love.

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