The Mariya Arafasha (‘Mary Helps’) Foundation was founded by the Schoenstatt Fathers Congregation in Burundi to support reconciliation, education and development. It offers three main programmes:
- Social, peace, education and development activities, based on reconciliation between communities;
- Youth education;
- Poverty alleviation.
They strive not only to respond to the basic needs of participants, but also to promote reconciliation among them as Burundians, by bringing together people from different social backgrounds and providing a solid foundation for peace.
Peace and Reconciliation Festivals
In 2008, the Mariya Arafasha Foundation planned and organised three Peace and Reconciliation Festivals. These gathered together people from various ethnic groups, calling on them to live and work together again in a spirit of reconciliation. The Festivals included dance, drama, and other competitions, all focused on peace.
The overall objective was to raise awareness about the peace process in Ruyigi and Bujumbura, and to encourage mutual respect across ethnic boundaries. The locations were chosen because Bujumbura is the capital, and Ruyigi was one of the provinces worst affected by the war, with a high number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Refugees who fled to Tanzania are still returning to Ruyigi, which can pose challenges post-conflict, so the Festival which took place there was very welcome among local communities and government authorities.
More than 20 groups comprising choirs, cultural and dance groups took part. Amateurs and professionals performed songs, stories, comedy sets and traditional drumming on themes of peace and community reconciliation. Large audiences attended the festivals. On the day of the Ruyigi festival, the capital had recently been attacked by rebels, yet more than 500 people crowded into the Maison Shalom conference centre for the Festival, demonstrating that many ordinary Burundians are still committed to peace.
Mariya Arafasha Soccer Tournament
This project gathered together young boys aged 14-20 and their supporters, from various communes, for both a tournament and a discussion of peace and reconciliation in a relaxed atmosphere. Sport was used as an entry point to promote non-violence among those of different ethnic groups and social backgrounds.
The young participants were divided into 12 teams, and played 32 matches between May and June 2008. Only five players were allowed onto the pitch at a time because it was so small! After each match, there were training sessions on dealing with difference, which encouraged the participants to act as role models for peace in their communities.
Sporting activities in themselves not enough to build peace. But they can be an excellent catalyst to encourage youth involvement in substantive issues affecting their lives. Through sport, young people can gradually learn and experiment with new skills for peacebuilding and development.