“The people who killed my father still live in my neighbourhood,” said 17-year-old Michael, a schoolboy at the Lycée Sainte Famille de Kinama school in post-war Burundi. “I see them wandering here and there in total freedom. They have no fear of justice for my father.”
He was speaking to a group of 25 fellow pupils who are members of the first peace clubs set up last month by Action for Peace and Development, our peacebuilding partner in Burundi. They had all grown up in the aftermath of a civil war that lasted nearly five decades and killed 300,000 people. APD had brought them together to learn how to contribute in the search for reconciliation in Burundi. And Michael had a burning question for the group.
“My mother keeps on reminding me about these people. She makes me feel guilty because I have not taken revenge.” He paused. “I see that I am the only source of solution to this problem. My question is – what I shall do as the solution?”
In this we hear the reality of the consequences of conflict. The group consoled Michael, thanking him for not wishing to take revenge and encouraging him to resist his mother’s push to retaliate. It was clear Michael was not alone in what he felt – others confessed similar feelings of guilt. The group discussed how to deal with feelings of revenge, agreeing that it is a step backwards not forwards. They all agreed on the importance of committing to peacebuilding activities, influencing their elders not to retaliate but to accept the past and focus on the future.
As Michael said, young people are the solution. In a country where 65 percent of the population are under the age of 20, it is vital that they are fully involved in the opportunity for peace – but they need guidance to do this. Such guidance can come from the vital support of APD.
The peace club is one of three pilot projects that APD are running in secondary schools in Kinama, a northern area of the capital city, Bujumbura. It is one of the city’s poorest and most crowded districts and, until the peace agreement in 2008, was a stronghold for armed groups. The local community, after experiencing decades of violence, is now highly fragile. It is frequently affected by land or political conflicts caused by poverty and each party fighting to win the vote of this densely populated neighbourhood.
The peace clubs aim to counter this by bringing together young people to share their experiences of conflict, discuss their concerns and consider options for building their country’s future. They talk about how to establish justice, the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the need for political tolerance – particularly at election time. The aim is that through helping youth to voice problems and discuss solutions, the project can support the next generation in establishing lasting peace.
APD was visited this month by Lord Jack McConnell, a former peace envoy for the British government and a supporter of Peace Direct. He met students involved in the peace clubs and was impressed: “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. The extension of this project to all schools would make a real difference.”
After the pilot phase, APD is preparing to implement the project in 10 secondary schools. They aim to reach 500 students who will be trained in how to resist violence and political manipulation within their communities. As Lord McConnell says: “These young people want education, they want jobs and they want respect. They don’t have much, but they are hopeful about the future.”
APD is supported by our Grow Peace Fund, which offers a unique opportunity to scale up the work of dynamic local peacebuilders into a regional or national force within their countries. It enables people who have been affected by war to find their own solutions to conflict – and to build their own better, safer futures. With your help, APD have already established three effective pilot projects and a plan for expansion. Together we can fund, advise and support ADP and other peacebuilders in our Grow Peace Fund to increase their impact and ensure a brighter future for all.