The Sound Essence Projects initiative is to set up microlending with Hutu and Tutsi women in 4 villages in Burundi, as well as Congolese and Rwandan women outside of Bujambura, to Rebuild Hope, Dreams, and Family. The first projects are beaded bracelets and agriculture projects.
In 1993, one half million people were killed in an ethnic war between the Hutu and Tutsi's. 60% of the homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed. There was no effective international community intervention. This lead to over 300,000 people in refugee camps. Serious displacement of people, mass famine, AIDS, and the chronic poverty has left Burundi the third poorest country in the world.
Burundi is in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, next to Rwanda. There is a population of 8 million people and the country is similiar in size to Maryland in the United States.
Microlending is the extension of very small loans to the unemployed, to poor women living in poverty who are not considered "bankable". These individuals lack collateral, steady employment and verified credit history, which doesn't qualify them for credit from a bank. Microcredit has enabled extrememly impoverished people (mostly women) to engage in self-employment projects, that allow them to generate an income. We are very happy to be helping 128 women in Burundi to rebuild their dreams, hope, and life.
The group of women that are Congolese and Rwandan escaped the war and genocide in both countries. This is a quote from Arschette, a Congolese woman living in Rwanda and meeting us (three women from Bellingham) in Burundi to help the 28 women. "Inside the group of women we have widows and single women. Most of the children are orphans. They do not have work. They are struggling to find even food. They don't have houses and are living, some with relatives and friends. Even renting houses with no money to pay the rent. Some may have gone into prostitution to pay the bills. Our work and goal is to rent two hectares of land and help these women move from prostitution to farming." The agricultural project will include growing corn, beans and casava for the local people and local market
Circles and Circles of Women
"Do not be discouraged when things do not go as you had planned, because what is not possible today, will be possible tomorrow. But remember, Big Vision requires Big Dreams, Big Dreams require Big Actions, and Big Actions require Big Commitment." Prosper Ndabishuriye, Ambassador for Peace of Burundi, said one rainy day in November 2006, in Seattle, Washington.
This tall man from Burundi ignited a fire within me. I heard a call within my heart to help the widows and women of this small, densely populated African country.
Burundi is wedged bewteen Tanzania, The Democratic Repbulic of the Congo and Rwanda in east - central Africa. Ehtnically there ae 85% Hutu, 14% Tutsi and 1% Twa. In 1993-1994 an ethnic war erupted and one half million people were brutally killed. Sixty percent of the homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed. There was no effective international community intervention. This has lead to over 300,000 people in refugee camps. Serious displacement of people, mass famine, AIDS, and chronic poverty has left Burundi one of the poorest African countries.
One evening while meeting with two women friends, I proposed the idea of starting a microlending project for women in Burundi. Microlending is a financial innovation which originated in developing countries where it has successfully enabled extremely impoverished women and men to engage in self employment projects.
A format and structure was in place through The Sound Essence Project, a 501(c)3 I founded in early 2004. Our mission is "Sustaining Cultures, Changing Lives and creating an international network of resources and partnerships to achieve sustainable advances in promoting peace, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger worldwide, and attaining gender equality." We started a similiar project in Mongolia.
I have found that when women come together something wonderful happens, we ignite passions and possibilites, hope rises and our determination quickens. That night three women from America dedicated themselves to raising money and following their hearts to meet and work with their Burundian sisters.
I had heard of the extreme poverty in the Carama Community. This is the village that Prosper and his staff with JRMD are building homes for 800 families that lost everything in the ethnic wars. Words could not prepare us for the beauty and raw quality of this experience.
After crossing a bridge made from branches, and entering Carama Community, we were lead to a mud brick church where the voices of women singing, filled the air. At that moment I knew my heart was the guide.
While leading a workshop, I asked the group "What do you need?" and " What are your problems?" through Etoinette, our translator who is fluent is Kirundian, Swahili, French and English. This question brought a long pause and then many hands in the air, willing to help us understand the tremendous need. The answers were food, clean water, water availability closer to the village, and capital to start a business. These women were not asking for clothes, shoes, medical care or education, but food and water. This propelled me to dedicate myself to service in a capacity to collaborate with others to uplift this community from extreme poverty.
Real change can be small scale and still powerful. All it takes is an ability to see other possibilities and the willingness to help others see them. When women listen to each other's stories and share their own, growth happens and confidence grows.
A portion of the women in this community received microcredit loans from The Sound Essence Project, to start small businesses selling sugar, oil, bananas, and charcoal. Providing loans for women is a powerful means to create profound change in their lives. We emphasized the model of working together and helping each other. Women who work together take courage from each other, are motivated not only by the cause, but on a daily basis, keep the course because they do not want to let each other down. Microcredit loans is a grassroots women's empowerment movement that has the potential to build strong communities.
The following day we traveled 52 km outside of Bujumbura, Burundi's capital, to Ruhagarika, in Cibitoke Province. The country was beautiful and the road had pockets of rebel groups that pulled us over from time to time. The rebels are patrolling the road and will continue, until seats in the Parliament are awarded to them.
Upon arriving in Ruhagarika, we were greeted with songs, 84 women and lots of babies. The children gathered around us. I noticed a little girl, around 5 years old, holding a small tin can with the top lid displaying bent edges. She held this, as one would a precious doll. These are the women of the future of Cibitoke. How can we help them?
That day at Cibitoke Province, it was apparant that we are all women and mothers, therefore natural nurturers of life and natural keepers of peace. This was a day to rediscover hope together. We spoke aabout trustworthiness, honesty, responsibility and kindness as values to support each other as women. The women receiving micocredit loans were paving the way for other women to receive micocredit loans in the future.
Women formed several circles and a beading project was launched. Burundian women spent the afternoon making bracelets that will be sold in the United States with revenues returning to Burundi. Women held each others babies and supported each other, feeling the strength in community that day in Cibitoke Province.
I had been communicating via email for months with a Congolese woman living in Rwanda I had met at the United Nations. She asked me if I could help a group of women that escaped the genocide in Rwanda and the war in the D.R. Congo, and ended up in Burundi. Her quote is "Inside the group of women we have widows and single women. Most of the children are orphans. They do not have work. They are struggling to find food. They have no where to live. Some of the woman have gone to prostitution to feed their chidlren."
These women numbered 20 and had left everything for an unknown land. They had formed an association for support and strength. They could see the possibility in farming and used their imaginations to dream about the land. They found the land and negotiated a price , yet did not have the capital. By providing these women a group loan and buying tools and boots, they are able to have hope for a new life.
A circle of women is nurturing, sustaining and a resource that becomes a spiritual wellspring. Divine love is a quality of grace to be given freely from your soul, released like a dove from a cage. That day we started the farm, felt like dozens of doves were released.
The following day we arrived at Kanyosha in Bujumbura, to meet 50 women from surrounding villages. Our hearts cracked open a little further. We had the feeling that humanity is at a juncture, a turning point. We are all striving for peace and unity. We had entered a time to support one another, to affirm each other and step out. Any small act that can help another and provide a thread of hope is a way to connect us as sisters and brothers.
As the life stories poured out of these women on a hot humid day in Africa, I was struck by their dignity and strength. The ability to endure ethnic wars and to carry on with life in a courageous manner, took my breath away. One woman was on crutches as her leg was shot off in the war, yet she was making baskets to support her children. Another woman has 7 children and 10 orphans. Both widows, both moving forward with life.
The last report received from Justine, our manager in Burundi, a widow and mother says "for the first time in years my children do not go to bed crying because they are hungry. I am able to feed them due to the microcredit loan, and my new business."
We are grateful for the effort and organization Prosper and his staff put forth to make our time heartfelt, full and meaningfull. Prosper's efforts building homes for the people is to be commended.
Our desire is to implement water systems that provide clean water and shorter distances for women to travel to fill their jerricans for daily use. We will continue to raise funds to support the women of Burundi, to gather the women, uplift the community.
Let us travel on the thrust of each other towards collaborations. This time is liminal - a threshold. Let us open our hearts and minds and work together as women and men to actualize a vision of peace in the world by reducing economic disparity and eliminating violence. We must use our vision as Ambassadors for Peace and men and women of the world, for what is possible for us individually, as nations, and the planet.
Imagine if all women and men could develop to their full potential.
Imagine if the full power of women, men, and youth were harnessed for the good of the world.
Imagine a world where women actively participate in shaping the future of the countries.
Imagine if all women were given a fair chance.
Imaginge a world where girls and boys, women and men, enjoy equal opportunities.
Imagine a world that safeguards the human rights of all people.
Imagine a world prepared for tomorrow.