Maison Shalom re-invents itself
The signing of the Arusha peace accords in 2000 and 2003 marked the official end of the war in Burundi. It also launched the country on the long road to reconstruction and healing. At the time, the political climate was full of hope and the future seemed bright. The priority was to rebuild a torn nation – a changed context that also affected Maison Shalom’s mission. Maison Shalom quickly adapted to the country’s new objectives.
This can be seen in Maison Shalom’s primary mission: support for children. Despite the needs and the pressure, Maison Shalom has always avoided making children dependent on the centre. In principle, as soon as it takes in a child, Maison Shalom starts trying to trace the family. Once the family has been found, the child has to be reintegrated into the existing social fabric, namely the family and community.
Maison Shalom knows that reception centres and orphanages are a last resort when it comes to protecting the rights of the child. The family is the basic unit of Burundian society. It is the natural environment best able to promote the development of well-balanced children.
Started on a small scale during the war, reintegration of children has today become one of Maison Shalom’s principal activities. Thanks to its unceasing tracing efforts, Maison Shalom has managed to pinpoint the place of residence of the families of practically all the children it supports.
Reintegration does not, however, stop there. It is essential to provide the family with support to make sure the process is successful. This aid, provided over time, is key to making the environment to which the child returns stable and stimulating. To heighten its chances of success, Maison Shalom also involves local community structures – parents’ associations, community councils, community school groups - in its reintegration programmes. Maison Shalom staff identifies local community leaders, who are then briefed so that they can act as local ambassadors for the rights of the child. This activity is supported and monitored by social workers and psychologists who visit the communities and work directly with the children and their families.
Towards a community approach
Maison Shalom works with community structures (parents’ associations, school associations, children raising other children) for many reasons:
- such structures are rooted in the community and as such provide a degree of stability
- they express real, more lasting needs
- if Maison Shalom withdraws, these structures will remain
- the social workers and psychologists go to the communities and work directly with the children and families
The result of this approach is a sustainable strategy that establishes a link between humanitarian work and development in an integrated mission. Maison Shalom supplies basic needs such as seeds for planting, school material and even, in an emergency, household goods, enabling families and communities to get back on their feet. The process goes hand-in-hand with targeted efforts to develop the community through income-generating activities such as the construction of homes, hospitals, farms or small shops.
It was in this spirit of integrated development that Maison Shalom officially became a not-for-profit association in 2002. Since then, its activities have grown considerably, in keeping with the needs of Burundi’s children in a post-conflict context.
In 2005, for example, Maison Shalom opened Amani House (Amani = peace in Swahili) in Bujumbura, providing the capital’s many street children with a place where they could talk with someone and find support. Another goal is to obtain a better understanding of the phenomenon of street children and help them reintegrate into society.
More recently, Maison Shalom launched the project, A Helping Hand for Children. The project is directed at another group of underprivileged children, and aims to obtain the release and reintegration of minors in conflict with the law.