Peace and Security for Us All
Nzitonda Elousa, Burundi
June 11, 2003
I am a woman; I have lived in a war zone; and I would like to share my experience with you. A war zone is an area of insecurity. It is full of tears, cries, hunger, illness, poverty, death, and fear. There is no development, and there is no infrastructure. For women, depression and psychosocial problems abound.
I lived in such a situation for a long time. In the end, I decided to escape, but many other women like me were in trouble and had no way of avoiding the suffering. All problems were directed against women; women were raped in front of their husbands and sons, and were killed by soldiers. Some had to watch while armed men stole their property and burned their houses. Some experienced horrible torture while their daughters were raped by army men. I saw pregnant women left alone to fight for themselves. I saw mothers with many children struggling to carry and feed the young ones.
Due to fear, I left my home and spent several nights away in the bush. I was afraid to die in a burning house or by the swords of the fighters. During the daytime, I tried to leave the war zone by climbing the mountain bordering the land. I was so tired and hungry, but I couldn't sleep even for a second due to fear. I climbed the mountain while suffering from malaria and pneumonia due to cold and fatigue; my children and I had many problems.
What grief, what sorrow I felt when my husband was killed! I felt discouraged and wished to die. The head of family was dead and everything of mine was burnt. Even the house and the gardens were destroyed.
My children and I fled to the neighbouring community where there seemed a bit of security. But due to the political situation, we were chased from this community and returned to the war zone by force. I spent many days and nights crying, wondering how to support my six children. Every day people in the community whispered rumours that we were going to be attacked the following day. Beating children and animals became habit; humanity disappeared and its existence was like a dream.
In November 1996, I decided to leave my country. I crossed the border into Tanzania for safety. It was a long journey; we traveled on foot for six days and nights. We had little food and no belongings. I cried to God asking him why I was born to suffer as much as this. I remember the first time I met a stranger in Tanzania; I was so terrified because he was a man and I thought he was going to rape me. Fortunately, he assisted us with food and cool water. Then he showed me the path to join other refugees on their way to camps in Tanzania. We were directed to Mtendeli camp.
Oh war! War! War! War causes many disasters. How horrible it is to watch your children die. Cries, grief and sorrow due to war! How horrible it is to bury your partner and your family. When a woman fails to feed her family! How horrible it is to get HIV/AIDS after being raped. Women are crying for the war to end so that they can return to their former lives. I call upon all armed forces to put down their weapons and start peace talks at the round table.
A woman is the pillar of the family and the centre of peace. I call upon women to stand in the front line and cry for peace. Women should bring peace to their homes by teaching their kids and husband to respect human rights.
I call upon women to protect their children from joining battles and to encourage them to attend school; children are the future of our country. Every woman in a war zone should speak aloud for peace and continue to educate one another, confront one another, and create peace clubs and women’s forums.
Women should involve themselves in peace talks wherever possible; they should give their full participation and contribution. I call upon all governments to work hard and reach an agreement to solve this problem.
Peace and security for us all.
The original essay was translated from Kirundi.
Nzitonda Elousa is a Burundian refugee who has lived in an International Rescue Committee Camp since 1996.