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Breaking Barriers in Burundi: Women Who Make It Happen

Leocadie is a leader in so many ways. She’s a farmer, a wife, a mother to eight children and a grandmother of 20 — two of whom, she proudly says, are a set of twins who were born this past February.

For most of her life, though, Leocadie says women weren’t welcomed into leadership roles within the community nor were they empowered to be a part of making decisions for their families. But that began to change in 2010 when World Relief launched a savings program in her community and invited women, like her, to lead. 

“When our group was formed I was elected to lead them. I took it as a privilege,” she said. “I was inspired by the interventions that [World Relief] was conducting because I saw them as a way to help others in my community who were going through many issues within their families.” 

Over the next 11 years, Leocadie continued to grow as a leader. When World Relief launched agricultural programming in her community, she stepped up to lead in this area as well. And while the economic advancements she and her group have made by implementing new agricultural techniques and better financial management, the transformation her community has experienced in the area of gender equality is equally as remarkable.

Leocadie leads her group in saying, “All women are capable!” 

“In the past, women were supposed to stay home and take care of the family, with their time mostly spent in the kitchen,” she said. “Now we participate in all decisions, at the colline (community) level. We have female leaders, savings group female leaders. I am very happy to see how I am respected by women and men. They listen to me because they see the impact of what I am doing.”

Jeane Nizigiyeyo, savings and agriculture group member.

Leocadie’s leadership is rippling throughout her community. She’s created a sense of connectedness and support for women in her group like Jeane, the youngest member of the group, who says that learning from Leocadie has helped her grow as a mother and has improved her marriage.

“I am very happy to be part of this group,” Jeane said. “I am one of the youngest with two little children. I get an opportunity to be with wise women, grannies. Group members opened the door for me to learn from their marriages. As a result, I know how to be a better woman, and my husband and I discuss our feelings and make decisions together. ”

And it’s not just the women who are experiencing transformation. Pasteur Sinzumusi, the lone man in the group of 24 women, has increased his income, improved his marriage and totally shifted the way he views women thanks to Leocadie’s leadership.

Pasteur initially joined the group because he noticed the women were experiencing a better crop yield than he was.

“Before joining them, I had no savings at all,” he said. “I was farming in old fashion (outdated techniques), which did not have a good harvest. The reason I joined is because I saw their lives were different from mine. They had new skills and knowledge in farming, so I approached them.” 

Pasteur Sinzumusi, savings and agricultural group member.

Today, Pasteur says his plot of land looks amazing, his income has increased and he can now easily afford to buy necessities like soap and send his kids to school. He attributes much of his success to the leadership of Leocadie and the community of women he has learned alongside.

“I respect my leader. She is just amazing. She does her duties well. Through her leadership, my way of viewing women has changed. Before I thought they couldn’t lead, but now I can testify that women are capable of leading. And this made me respect my wife and let her step into exercising her gifts.”

Leocadie is grateful for all the ways she’s seen her community transform. Women are more involved in community associations; marriages are more egalitarian in their decision-making; women participate in household management and can contribute financially.

She is hopeful to see her group continue to improve their farming and embrace new skills.

As we celebrate the accomplishments of women and the barriers they are breaking down, we echo the words of Pasteur when he said: “Women can do things as men. I invite all men to come to see how our association is well organized and well managed by female leadership. They will learn that women are good and great leaders.”

Millions of women, just like Leocadie, are choosing to challenge the limits placed on them and break through the barriers around them. Their daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters will know a world where women are respected, valued and lead. Will you join them in building a better world by giving today?

Ezechiel Hatungimana born and raised in Burundi with a passion of seeing his country developed holistically. Prior to World Relief, Ezechiel has served in a local organization aiming to empower the lives of people holistically, working directly with churches. While he is still completing his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, He joined WR 2018 and he supervises a team of 20 people who equip 500 local churches. Ezechiel is married and blessed with two children. Ezechiel and his Family worship at PTI Church where he serves as a preacher. 

Author Rachel Clair

Rachel Clair serves as a Content Writer at World Relief. With a background in creative writing and children’s ministry, she is passionate about helping people of all ages think creatively and love God with their hearts, souls and minds.

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