by Cameron Macauley, CISR Peer Support Specialist
The Burundi Peer Support Training Workshop for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Women concluded today after a very enjoyable, successful week. The 25 women who participated expressed great satisfaction and displayed an impressive range of peer support skills at the end of the workshop. There was enthusiastic thanks for CISR’s patronage and repeated requests for us to return for further educational events.
The workshop content proved well-designed for this particular audience, although we discovered that it was necessary to adjust teaching methodology to a few cultural characteristics specific to Burundi. First, much of the course is built around question-and-answer dialogue between facilitator and participants. It seems, however, that Burundian women who have not attended school are unused to this format, and they tended to respond in the traditional Burundian style, that is, lengthy speeches or stories meant to illustrate a point or respond to a question.
Another issue we encountered was a distinct problem related to a discussion of “goals and objectives”. Peer support workers are encouraged to help survivors establish goals, however women in Burundi almost never determine their course of action alone: decisions are made in groups, in the family, and frequently by men in this patriarchal society. They felt uncomfortable and a bit skeptical that an individual woman could determine her own activities by herself.
Despite these hurdles, the women all proved to be intelligent, perceptive and highly resilient. Most of them volunteered stories about their lives in which they proudly described participating as soldiers in combat. Rather than garnering praise and respect for their service, they were instead usually subjected to rape, torture and abuse, in
many cases for years on end. Their fortitude under these conditions is profoundly admirable.
CISR and CEDAC have contributed greatly to these women’s lives by building their skills and bolstering their self-confidence. I certainly hope we will continue to implement program activities in Burundi.