by Christine Bohne , LWF Burundi Program Assistant and Princeton in Africa Fellow.
Participatory, rights-based approaches are integral to LWF’s work in Burundi. That’s why we were excited to revisit the open-air community hall at Gacokwe for a meeting of colline chiefs and representatives from Musha and Gacokwe that would set priorities for the upcoming year of the Community Empowerment Project (CEP). In a rights-based approach, the nature, quantity and duration of support are determined by the community, and indeed, the gathering at the hall was a representative cross-section of village life, with elders, youth and the in between crowding the low wooden benches, and muddied but happy babies scrabbling about on the floor. Past the hall’s low walls and over a wide valley the landscape rolled into the hills that mark the border with Tanzania, and goats grazing on patches of Lantana dotted the scenery nearby, seemingly waiting to be turned into brochettes.
Inside, members of associations of livestock, agriculture, and alternative-income generating activities split apart and began brainstorming to focus on what issues they wanted addressed in 2012 and the kind of solutions that LWF may be able to offer. The groups reconvened after a one hour work session to share their lists of priorities with the gathering and with CEP Field Officer Evariste Kabura, who officiated the meeting.
The priorities they chose can be grouped into three categories: social infrastructure, agriculture and livestock improvements, and alternative-income generating opportunities.
For social infrastructure projects both Gacokwe and Musha collines requested a health center as they currently must walk up and down hilly dirt paths for over 10 km to reach the nearest clinic. They would also like to rehabilitate the road and bridge connecting the two collines and leading to the Tanzanian border. Other suggestions included renovating the potable water schemes, primary school, and adult literacy class building. The need for additional communal seed storage facilities was also voiced.
In a change from the last few years, community members no longer simply requested for LWF to build these things for them, but asked for assistance in return for community labor for the projects.
Livestock and agriculture projects that were prioritized include trainings on agro forestry, soil erosion control, and growing fruit trees, milk cow initiatives, plant nurseries, and veterinary services for livestock.
Alternative-income generating activities that were deemed especially important include bamboo furniture making courses, stone transformations, soap making, fruit juice businesses, bakeries, and English and Swahili lessons to facilitate working in other East African Community countries, particularly Tanzania, which is only a few kilometers away.
Manirakiza Susan, age 25 and mother of four, said that her concerns were all addressed at the meeting. “Many ideas were raised at this meeting that will improve agriculture and livestock activities in my colline.” She also advocated for a course on conflict management for leaders enrolled in the CEP Leadership Course.
With the end of CEP Phase I in December 2011, the community priority-setting meetings that took place in all seven affiliated collines at the beginning of February were especially important because they both set priorities for this year and precedents for the whole of CEP Phase II.
CEP intends to transition communities from emergency-relief aid to a sustainable, empowering development approach. The second phase represents the crux of this transition as LWF moves away from distributions to focus nearly exclusively on capacity building trainings. Mr. Kabura has already seen this change take hold in the minds of the participants. “This year people requested a lot more trainings and less handouts like livestock, seeds, and other agricultural inputs than they did last year,” said Kabura.