Young men in central Africa unite to build homes in their war-stricken community.
Michael Shapiro | December 2008 issue
In 1994, just after the height of Burundi’s brutal civil war, Prosper Ndabishuriye, a spiritual leader in the central African nation of Burundi, asked a simple question of the 153 Hutu and Tutsi men he’d assembled to rebuild homes: Will you risk your lives for one another? A third said yes. So Ndabishuriye hired a bus to take the men from the capital to a devastated province. Soon they came to a Tutsi checkpoint, where armed militia ordered all the Hutus off the bus. “They told them to get out and lie on the ground,” Ndabishuriye recalls. “They were going to be killed.” But the young Tutsi men got off first, confounding the militiamen. “Before you kill them,” one Tutsi youth said, “you’ll have to kill us.” The head of the checkpoint put down his gun and waved the men on.
So began a homebuilding project called Youth in Reconstruction of a World in Destruction (YRWD), led by 51-year-old Ndabishuriye, a Christian evangelist. So far, YRWD has built 3,000 homes throughout Burundi using teams of Hutu and Tutsi youth. The goal isn’t simply to build houses; it’s to show young people they can overcome the animosities that have festered since the civil war, which killed 550,000 and destroyed almost half the country’s houses. “We’re not just building homes,” Ndabishuriye says. “We’re building unity and peace.” As a result, Hutus, Tutsis and a few Twa pygmies are living together.
The need in Burundi is overwhelming. War and AIDS have orphaned countless people, and hundreds of thousands live in displacement camps. But a little funding goes a long way. In Burundi’s Camara area, 643 of the 800 houses are done. YRWD is seeking funds to build the final 157, which cost $998 each and provide shelter for up to 10 people. The project is also building schools and latrines, providing mattresses and offering microcredit to a group of about 100 women to start a farming cooperative. “Africans love to live together in community,” Ndabishuriye says. “That’s where we see our strength.”