Making A Difference

Armel Nibasumba was but a year old when he and his family fled from their home in Burundi before it was burnt down by a mob.  Most of the world’s attention was focused on the 1994 mass killings in Rwanda of ethnic Tutsis by the majority Hutus, but the same tensions were also at play in Burundi in late 1993, and an estimated 300,000 people died.  Nibasumba grew up in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, in the shadow of these events and has committed his life to ending the ethnic tensions that caused the deaths of over a million people.

“The problem is that the opposing ethnicities cohabitate, but they don’t talk about what created the conflict,” says Nibasumba. This amazing 22-year- old young man, a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, has a vision for the future of his country.  “We (his generation) are the future of Burundi. If we don’t start now building our future, we will repeat the same mistakes our forefathers made.”

Two years ago,  with a grant from Middlebury College Center for Social Responsibility, Nibasumba started a peace camp in Bujumbura where ethnic Hutus and Tutsis in their late teens and early 20s could break down ethnic barriers by communicating, getting to know  and understand one another and learning the value of using for-profit businesses to produce social change. Last summer, Twese for Peace (using the word for “everyone” in Burundi’s predominant language of Kirundi), hosted 35 young people during a 12-day camp. Nibasumba hopes to increase that number to 100 people for the next camp. The goal is to build leaders for the future, which is why the camp combines conflict management with social entrepreneurship.

“You can’t have sustainable peace without a sustainable economy because, if people don’t have enough to eat, they will fight to get it,” says Nibasumba, who is now attending a management training course in Rwanda conducted by Middlebury’s Monterey Institute for International Studies.

Few of us are equipped to venture into danger areas to bring aid to refugees and other victims of conflicts, or to physically lend a helping hand during natural or man-made disasters.  Wherever we live, however, there are many ways we can support efforts towards peace and a world that meets the needs of everyone.

But perhaps our most important contribution (even obligation) is on the spiritual level: to send blessings and thoughts of love and light to all the trouble spots on this earth – daily, persistently, with confidence.  As John Donahue states in his book To Bless the Space between Us:  “The beauty of blessing is that it recognizes no barriers and no distances.”

Pierre Pradervand

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