women in Burundi

Strong Families Help Build Resilience

Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

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When the rain stops and the crops dry up, there are still many things that can help people survive: boreholes that bring water, new seeds that survive drought, different crops that preserve topsoil.

family outside home in Burundi

This family  participated in CRS’ Faithful House approach in Gasorwe Village, Burundi. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

But one of the most important elements of survival is often overlooked—a strong family.

A drought does not just stress crops, it does the same to families. That is certainly the case in Muyinga Province in Burundi. Catholic Relief Services, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, is helping families put in place a foundation on which their relationships can flourish, so they can build hope, resilience and a better future.

“If there is conflict in the home, it’s the children and their education that are affected,” says Niyonzima Amadee, a leader in the community. “In the community, there’s less production on the farms. But if couples work together and communicate, you will see inclusive development.”

Enter Faithful House, a CRS approach at work in 14 sub-Saharan countries. It promotes couple communication and financial planning, fidelity, respect and joint decision making. With the help of a facilitator, Faithful House encourages couples to discuss aspirations for the future and allows for critical reflection of existing gender norms that could hinder the achievement of family goals.

After the training, we learned the importance of setting priorities and being honest about money. That changed our life, things are better at home.

Take for example Emelyne and Girimana, who were in their early 20s when they married. They were poor, but their relationship flourished.

“I loved her very much,” says Girimana.

They had a child. A drought came. Their only source of income—farming—disappeared. Their relationship suffered under the stress.

Emelyne and Girimana should have been making critical decisions together, for their survival and that of their child, but instead they retreated from one another. Communication, trust and respect deteriorated.

faithful house couple in Burundi

Faithful House enhances communication among couples and encourages equitable household decision making. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Antoine Ndacayisaba counseled Emelyne and Girimana through Faithful House. “The couple explained the problems they were facing,” he says. “We had visual aids and shared advice. After 1 week, we came back together, and bit by bit, their relationship began to stabilize.”

Challenging social norms

In Burundi, men control the household income and expenditures. This dynamic created the need for a program that promotes better communication, a commitment to shared goals and empowering women to have a stronger voice in how family resources are used. Research shows that income controlled by women is more frequently spent on food, education and health care for the whole family, particularly children.

“We encourage couples to make economic decisions together," says Laura Groggel, CRS technical advisor for gender integration. 

Some couples have seen a decrease in destructive behaviors, like alcohol abuse or domestic violence, and others report improved family income.

holding hands in Burundi

“Development doesn’t mean money. It’s a mental and societal development. When you have peace in a household, and you can plan together, that is development. Without this, no amount of money will help,” says Alhassane Sakibou. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

“After the training, we learned the importance of setting priorities and being honest about money. Before the training, if I saw something on the street--clothes or anything else--I would buy it and my husband would do the same thing because we didn’t have a plan. Also, he didn’t know how I was using my salary. Now, we sit together and prepare a budget—money for food, school fees, and clothes if our children need clothes. That changed our life, things are better at home,” says a Faithful House participant in Burundi.

Equal partners

Emelyne and Girimana have since shared their experience with neighbors and family.

About 25,000 couples participate in Faithful House in Burundi, and in total the initiative has reached more than 100,000 people through community meetings that focus on topics like birth registration, breastfeeding, nutrition and joint decision making after harvests.

The Faithful House approach is part of a 5-year food assistance project in Burundi designed to provide a comprehensive package of food security and nutrition services.

"Faithful House is creating space for men and women to become supportive, equal partners,” says Groggel.