WASHINGTON - March 3 - Would you put your life and the lives of your family at risk to save someone else's life? What if that person was thought to be your enemy?
Approximately 200 of these unknown "heroes" did just that during prolonged ethnic conflict in the central African country of Burundi during the last 30 years. They will be brought together April 16-18 in the capital city of Bujumbura by Studio Ijambo, which has been radio broadcasting their stories throughout Burundi for the past five years. Now, for the first time, they will meet and discuss their collective future.
Their stories, which represent countless untold others, have shown all Burundians that ordinary people can perform extraordinary acts - even during the most difficult and dangerous periods of Burundi's ethnic violence. They've inspired others to choose non-violent alternatives to transform conflict and shined a spotlight on the humanity that exists in Burundi.
Studio Ijambo ("Ijambo" means "wise words" in the local Kirundi language), operating in Burundi since 1995, is a project of Search for Common Ground, a Washington D.C. and Brussels, Belgium based nongovernmental organization working internationally to promote non-violent approaches to conflict.
The Heroes Summit will be an opportunity for Rebecca Hatungimana, a Tutsi woman who fended off armed men to save the lives of 41 Hutus, to meet Gordien Semapfa, a Hutu who snatched 26 Tutsis from the hands of a spear-wielding mob. "I did not protect them because I am a Tutsi or a Hutu, I did it because morality obliges me to act," says Rebecca. Gordien agrees: "I don't understand ethnicity. I feel only love in my heart for my people, and I'll continue to fight for my neighbor as he will do for me."
The stories of the other heroes are equally compelling: they hid them in a compost pit; they smuggled them to safety in the black of night; and, they pulled them from beneath corpses. They put their own lives in danger to save the lives of others, when all around them neighbors were turning on neighbors, succumbing to ethnic hatred and violence.
'This is a celebration of humanity and the future," explains Studio Ijambo Director Lena Slachmuijlder. Activities during the event will include discussion of topics related to the challenges facing Burundi - such as reconciliation, pardon, and leadership - and publication of a document detailing the Heroes' visions for the future of Burundi.
Search for Common Ground in Burundi receives generous support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USID), and has received additional support from the British and Swedish Foreign Ministries.
Date of Summit: April 16-18, 2004
Place: Bujumbura, Burundi
Lena Slachmuijlder, Director, Studio Ijambo,Search for Common Ground
Telephone: +257-219696 or +257-922412
Susan Koscis, Director of Communications
Telephone: (202) 777-2215 or
Planned Summit Activities:
· A ceremony of recognition
· Visits to local peace groups in Bujumbura and neighboring provinces
· Keynote address
· A cultural evening including a recognition ceremony
· Exchanges and roundtables on specific themes related to the current challenges facing Burundi (positive cohabitation, justice, truth, reconciliation, pardon, and leadership)
· The publication of a document detailing the Heroes' testimonies and their vision for a future Burundi