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Meet Natalie, a Coach Building Peace in Burundi

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The Hope for Peace

Burundi has been wracked by waves of political violence since 1962, including decades of political clashes culminating in a 12-year civil war. The violence has created deep divisions in Burundian society and has left it one of the poorest countries on earth.

Coaches like Natalie, 26, believe that with a new generation comes new hope. Natalie works to bridge the divisions violence has created in Burundi and help children from different ethnic and political groups learn to coexist respectfully and peacefully with one another.

Twibanire: Play for Peaceful Coexistence in Burundi is a Right To Play project that uses games, sports, and community activities to break down barriers between children and families from different groups. The project is funded through Fondation Smartpeace.

We spoke with Natalie about her vision for her country, and the role of children and youth in shaping it.

Natalie started working with the Twibanire project in January 2021 to bring children from different ethnic and political groups together to promote social cohesion and peaceful coexistence.

What was your path to the work you do?

I grew up in a very large family experiencing extreme poverty. When I was in grade eight, I got pregnant, and it worsened my situation because I had to leave school. It made me feel hopeless, ashamed, and guilty and it affected my self-esteem. I could not see what my future would be. Luckily, after two years of being out of school I was able to go back and reintegrate. I graduated from school three years ago.

In January 2021, I was engaged as a community coach and attended some training sessions by Right To Play. The sessions covered topics like decision-making, self-esteem, nonviolent communication, cooperation, and conflict resolution. The training gave me a boost emotionally, and it was the start of a great life experience as a coach. The training and working as a coach helped me to see my own life in a positive way. I have learnt to enjoy life and stopped feeling held back by my last experience. Instead, I’ve decided to look ahead and think positively.

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Youth create and perform community dramas about the challenges they face. The performances encourage community members from different political and ethnic groups to bond through discussions about the shows.

Tell us about your work. How do you encourage change in your community?

I live in a semi-urban area where youth from different political affiliations frequently get into politically motivated conflicts. All sorts of misunderstandings and clashes were going on until the Twibanire project started.

I organize regular activities and community events where children and youth learn life skills through playing together. These activities build strong collaboration and cooperation and are at the heart of resolving conflicts. By playing together, their attitudes have changed, and they are moving away from violence. Instead, they’ve adopted mutual respect through playing together.

I also organize dialogues on peacebuilding topics and accompany them with activities that use play. Youth get opportunities to share their experiences with various kinds of conflicts they’re encountering. These play activities and the round tables are very fruitful, and we want to do more of them.

I am happy for the change that has gone on in my life and the life of the participants. We all celebrate our successes. When things go wrong now, we know how to resolve issues in a peaceful way with one another.

What have you learned about how to create peace?

I’ve learned to live in harmony with others and help my friends. If an issue arises in our community based on people's differences in terms of political party affiliation, ethnic groups, socio-economic status, I can help resolve it.

I make sure each child sees the others as not their enemy but as someone who is useful. I can demonstrate how we complement each other. A person cannot survive alone without the presence or the well-being of a person’s neighbour.

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Natalie and the other coaches organize community clean-up days with parents and children in the community. Working together builds a sense of shared purpose that promotes peace.

Why is peace important for Burundi?

The guarantee of peace is fundamental to everything. With it, I can generate an income, and in the long run, it will benefit my neighbours and support my siblings and my family. I can share my knowledge and think deeply on how to move forward in life.

In peace we are happy. We express our views, and no one condemns us.

This is everyone’s task in their communities. Economic development comes only if peace exists.

This is especially important for our developing country. Nothing will stop us from developing if there is cohesion.