Nyanza Lac was a beautiful place to stay; the East African hotel right by the lake. The chargrilled Makeke excellent. Sleep not helped for most of the group by the disco which went on until 4am; me I slept through it.
Then into a fascinating day that focused on how this nation has successfully been reiterating returning refugees. We are talking large numbers here; tens of thousands. In 1972 many fled into neighbouring Tanzania where they lived in camps for nearly 40 years. So many of these returnees were born in the camp and grew up speaking Swahili and English, not Kirundi. Others fled in the 1980s and more again when the most recent crisis began in 1993. A smaller number fled to Congo and returned across the lake. Those in Tanzania were effectively forced to return by the Tanzanian government; we met some where the husbands, Tanzanians, are still there. In 2009 I saw streets lined with people living under UN plastic sheeting whilst beginning to build a home. Now there are large numbers of new settlements designed for these returnees. Some are entirely new, others are linked with existing local communities. Christian Aid has helped with 1 such village of 900 homes. The settlement we visited was smaller but still we heard good stories of reintegration; of locals and returnees living harmoniously together. There were water stand pipes and signs of commerce. Land has been given for cultivating. It has not been easy but overall it is a remarkable success story. Especially as land is connected with ancestral rights so not just any piece of land will do. There is much to be done around land registration to ensure these people feel secure. More schooling space is required, along with quality teachers. But the story through the day, and in Cuba, Karusi Province was consistently positive. The school we visited largely built and extended by the Diocese of Makamba with the help of the Refugee Education Trust, is 40% returnees children. It is woefully under resourced (as are so many schools) with an average class size of 50, no library books, no laboratory equipment and no ICT. When children do succeed in their education they are courageous and remarkably persistent to succeed against many odds. But harmony between communities is part of the success.
On a steep hillside near Rutana is a remarkable community based project in which trenches are dug and trees are planted to overcome soil erosion and deforestation. Thousands of kilometres have been dug by hand as the community comes together once a week to protect their environment. Hundreds of thousands of trees have been planted. They tell of improved harvests and of community harmony through working together. Returnees spoke up of their sense of belonging through this work together. There are over 4,000 volunteers in this particular project. It is a fine example of the community doing for itself what it can and noticing the difference. Small funds from Christian Aid, Episcopal Development Relief and others have assisted on the way. They have proved much more effective than the bigger bucks from World Bank and others. Why? Because it is locally owned, directed, and managed. This makes the difference.
The same applies to the dramatic presentation given to us in Cuba (Chooba). It is very remote. But in powerful dramatic form this cooperative told of the impact of the Mothers Union literacy and savings programmes on their lives. Returnees telling of the welcome given and support offered; families telling of transformed home lives where now all children attend school, not just the boys; where domestic violence has ended; where men are recovering the dignity of work and where the community works together to see life in all its fullness break out. They all see prayer and worship as part of this transformation but it is closely linked to their holding one another to account; standing with one another in times of need and a commitment to see their lives improved. We are still talking deeply poor people but their lives are changing – because essentially they are taking responsibility for themselves and for their community together. There is much we in the West can learn from this core community mobilisation which leads to transformation.
A call on a Batwa community also focused on this theme of community transformation. Further to go here but it has begun.
The afternoon saw us royally entertained at the site of King Mwezi’s miraculous deliverance in 1908. This is where the world famous Gishora Drummers perform. They are outstanding. Drums are deeply important in this nation. They are symbolic of power, of communication and these drummers and dancers are icons for the nation.
Then an early start to return to Bujumbura for a meeting with the nation’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza. From being one of the rebel leaders for many years he became the elected president in 2005. He was re-elected in 2010. He was good enough to give myself and my 2 MP co travellers, John Mann & Graham Jones 30 minutes private conversation. It was private so no comment on its content. He was friendly and engaging. He is passionate for his nation and its future. He knows there is much to be done.
A really helpful reflection time on the whole of our Burundi visit with the bishops of the Anglican Church here followed.
Then one of those unexpected bonuses that happen on these trips. Hippos spotted close by a local bar. We sat for nearly 2 hours watching them as the light faded away. They were playful with each other. 2 babies and 4 adults together. Behind us a group of young adults were out celebrating 1 of them’s birthday. They played guitars, sang and danced. They were relaxed and very good. They even played a request or two from us. They mixed Burundian songs with internationally renowned ones. It was simply a delight sitting there being entertained from both sides; hippos in the water and Burundians singing. Occasionally we even entertained ourselves with witty remarks about each other and the past week.
This has been a happy group with which to travel. Before we met up in Kigali 2 weeks ago some of us had never met each other, and others met only occasionally. We come from church, NGO and parliament. The Parliamentarians are not Christians; the Christians are not politicians. Yet together we have made a rich mix and all recognise that the visit has been the richer for what each other has brought to the journey. We will return home with different memories and perspectives but all with a deep appreciation of what the people of Burundi are seeking to do for themselves. We all believe that at present Burundi is getting a raw deal from our own nation and from the rest of the world. It must not be a forgotten and ignored nation. Burundi what’s and needs our prayers, support and above all our friendship.

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