John Gee, a member of the Diocese of Edmonton, recently returned from Burundi, working in the Diocese of Buye for a three-month stint. We welcome this guest post to the blog.
In the Diocese of Buye, development is considered an integral part of Christian mission. Ministry here addresses the whole person; if people's bodily needs aren't being met, their spiritual life also suffers. It isn't primarily a matter of providing direct assistance to the poor, although that can be important, but of providing them with the tools to improve their lives. Rev. Jean Berchmans, the diocesan development coordinator, looks at his projects as signs of Christ's kingdom already in existence but not yet fully revealed.
The Mothers' Union (the equivalent of our Anglican Church Women) operates programs in adult literacy and savings and credit which are open to both men and women of all faith traditions. The literacy curriculum uses participatory learning methods, with content based on life issues including HIV, gender violence, poverty, equity, maternal health, and care for the environment. Graduates of the literacy program are encouraged to participate in savings and credit groups. These groups use a “lending circle” microfinance model that incorporates savings as well as loans. Each member makes a set weekly contribution to the fund, which then provides selected members with loans for microbusiness as well as emergency assistance with family issues. In addition to combating poverty, this method builds a sense of community and fellowship among group members. They also learn business skills including marketing, planning, financial management, and the legalities of forming an organization.
Another key aspect of development is food security. The diocese operates a program that supports farmers to grow sorghum, a nutritious and drought-resistant crop. It ensures that they can feed their families adequately and also provides a source of cash income: there is a ready market for sorghum for use in making beer. Another program distributes livestock (goats or cows) to community members as a source of dietary protein and, just as importantly, of fertilizer to maintain Burundi's excellent but overused soil. Dairy cows are distributed to pastors to supplement their very small stipends; the calves are in turn passed on to other pastors so that the program is self-sustaining.
A third key area is water and sanitation. Burundi is rich in ground water, but the natural springs are easily contaminated by livestock and poor sanitary practices. The result is a great deal of illness and death from water-borne infections, particularly for children. The diocese has perfected a method of improving the springs by installing a simple filtration system, plumbing, a concrete headworks, and protective fencing so that the water is kept clean and safe to drink. It also tastes good! The church also sets up a village committee to ensure the spring is maintained. An investment of around $1000 Canadian can provide a village with safe drinking water indefinitely.
You can also read about the experiences of previous delegations from the Diocese of Edmonton, who learned about development projects including literacy classes, and microfinance groups (here and here).