My partner in quilt teaching, Carolann Palmer, had decided that she was done going to Africa. She felt a leading that she was released to hand that work on to another teacher. The workshop was already scheduled two months away. Who could I get to come with me to teach quilt making to traumatized women in Burundi on such short notice?
In one of those “duh” moments it occurred to me that Carolann and I had trained 16 women to teach quilt making at a workshop one year earlier. Why not hire two of those trained women to teach this upcoming workshop? They already live there, saving on transportation costs, and they already speak the language, saving on interpretation costs. Plus it would give a great deal of status and would provide a week’s income for some very poor women. So Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS) chose two of the best quilt makers from the first workshop to teach the second one.
The students were arriving at the THARS training center near Gitega from all over Burundi. As they met their teachers they were dismayed to find that the teachers were Batwa (Pygmies). In many places in Africa the Twa people are still very much discriminated against. Historically they have not been allowed to attend schools or serve in many jobs. They were sometimes not considered to be fully human.
These discriminations are changing, but attitudes take longer to change than laws. The arriving students spoke hurtful, hateful things against their Twa teachers. Rather than shake our fingers at them, or chide them in any way, we just set about teaching quilt making.
After several days, we were taking a break outside in the beautiful sunshine and having a class meeting to discuss how the students will pass on their newfound skills. The students started spontaneously apologizing to their teachers and said that though we all come from different backgrounds, different places, different ethnic groups we will leave this place as friends.
Quilt making is helping to heal the hatred between the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa ethnic groups of Burundi.
Contributed by Patty Federighi, North Seattle Friends