Earlier this year, in advance of the Live Below the Line Campaign, I approached Peace Direct to identify a peacebuilding project that would benefit from the funds raised by my five days of living on £1 a day. We agreed that Action for Peace and Development in Burundi had a youth peace clubs initiative that was ideal.
Although this project was not exactly mainstream in terms of extreme poverty, hunger and development, it was an opportunity to make the link between conflict and underdevelopment, and it would make a sustainable difference. A pilot youth peace club had been a success and APD were keen to use the same format across Burundi. The response surprised even the optimist in me, and my campaign raised finance well over the initial target of £12,000.
Earlier this month, I visited APD in Bujumbura – capital of Burundi – and met with 15 young people who have been the first to benefit. They told me directly about the success of the peace groups in their schools and the importance of their establishment in schools across the country.
In Burundi, nearly 1 in 20 of the population died in the decade from 1993 as a violent civil war affected every community. Recent years have seen a return to stability and democracy, with elections and some progress, for example in building united and professional armed forces.
But tensions remain, and too many young people are still exploited by others, resorting to violence to deal with disputes or indeed intimidate opponents.
APD aim to change that and prevent another generation seeing violence as acceptable. With youth groups in every school finding new ways to discuss and resolve differences, and a focus on future development not past battles, they can encourage a new approach.
The first peace clubs were attended by 74 young people in 3 schools. Meeting 15 of them on 8 July was an uplifting experience for me. This is peacebuilding at its most basic. APD operate out of a room at the back of a café. They have a picture of Gandhi on the wall to emphasise their commitment to peaceful change.
These young people want education, they want jobs and they want respect. They don’t have much, but they are hopeful about the future. When I asked, they were sure the extension of the project to all schools would make a real difference.
They are organised and inspired by the leadership of APD, who are constantly trying to build on the small beginnings. They are part of that network of community activists who are fed up with the old politics and conflict across the Great Lakes Region, and are trying to bring sustainable change.
I was in Burundi working with Mary Robinson, the new UN Special Envoy for the peace process in the Great Lakes. All those I met – community leaders, trainers and the young people themselves – wanted me to tell Mary and the leaders at the Conference that community peacebuilding, education, women’s participation and confidence building were key to a better future. Their message was well received.
I would like to thank everyone who donated to this during Live Below the Line 2013. Peace Direct and the McConnell International Foundation will use the small amount left over from APD to support similar projects elsewhere.