48 days ago, PeaceGeeks launched its inaugural #GiveItUp4Peace campaign. The idea was to give up something that you can't live without for the campaign in solidarity with those who have been forced to give up everything due to conflict and disaster.
When I decided to give up sugar, I most definitely had not thought through how many things I was going to end up giving up in practice. Among other things, that has included sugar in coffee, cookies, pastries, cake, my favorite soup, my favorite chili, most curries, cough drops, any drink at the theatre (apart from water), most juices, ginger beer, and energy bars / drinks when going on long bike rides, to name a few. And yet, as the clock wound down on our campaign, I was starkly reminded how very flimsy my 'sacrifice' has been.
I was supposed to spend most of the final day writing emails to our donors and motivating our community to donate, but it proved to be an exceptionally difficult task to do on that particular day. Starting in the morning, I began corresponding with one of our Burundian partners, a friend who has been sending me photos and videos of what is happening in her country as we speak. She herself became a refugee this past summer along with her Executive Director, for their organization's work calling on the President Nkurunziza to honour the country's two-term constitutional limits and step down.
For those who do not know, he refused to honour his country's constitution and "won" a third term in July. The election was both preceded and followed by a significant rise in politically motivated violence, including by Nkurunziza's youth wing, the Imbonakure. Since then, the leaders of all of the organizations that were involved in protesting against the government and advocating for democrary have been targeted by various forms of political violence. Many have become refugees, along with more than 200,000 other Burundians who have fled to neighbouring Rwanda and Tanzania. In the last three weeks, our partner's non-profit organization has been shut down, along with many others. Their leaders have been charged with various trumped up violations. Their organizational and personal assets have been seized by the government. Their families have become refugees in other countries, unable to see one another and with no idea when they will see them again. Their colleagues who remained behind in Burundi are now under threat and there are increasing random and targeted attacks every day.
It now seems clear that the country has begun the slide back to civil war. Burundi's last civil war lasted 12 years, from 1993 to 2005, and claimed the lives of some 300,000 Burundians.
I know there is nothing I can do to stop what is happening in Burundi, and I know that we did all we could reasonably do under the circumstances to document political violence and amplify these issues to policy makers. But I felt compelled to ask her if there was anything I could do for her. She replied 'Be courageous.'
I am not sure what that means in this context, especially having some sense for what being courageous has meant for her. But I guess it means to keep going. To continue documenting atrocities that are taking place. To remind our policy makers that their job is not done and that their 'declarations' and 'grave concerns' and in most cases, inaction, are witness to bringing Burundi back to the brink of war. To do what we can so that when we say "never again" that these are not just empty words. To honor the civil society leaders who risk life and limb to bring peace and justice to their countries. And to not lose hope. Because at the end of this campaign today, I will still be safe and sound in Vancouver. And all I will have given up is sugar.
I owe it to all our partners to not give up on anything else.
- Written by Renee Black, Executive Director of PeaceGeeks