My name is Elizabeth. I am a veteran from the CNDD-FDD rebel group. I was born in 1981 to a poor, landless family. I have never been married but I had three children. In 1994, I abandoned my studies because my parents were no longer able to pay for tuition and school supplies. Encouraged by other young people, I joined the rebel group in 1995.
I was recruited to the rank of sergeant and was taught to treat the sick and wounded. Three months later I was promoted to lieutenant and head of the health department. A year later, I was transferred to Bubanza where there were many casualties of war. Arriving there, I was forced to have sex with my supervisor. It was forbidden to say "no" to your boss because it violated the rebellion's principles. I became pregnant. To get rid of me and so his bosses would not know, he suggested I return to my family.
Back home, fearing being caught by the government, I hid until my child was born. Then the real ordeal began. It was difficult to return to the rebellion with a child, so I was forced to stay at home fearing everyone. I also had no way to provide for my child. I had to start selling sex to find food. Being an unmarried mother, "prostitute" and ex-combatant, I was stigmatised by the community and have lived a difficult life for several years.
Last year, CARE started working to strengthen the economic capacities of women ex-combatants. I entered into a solidarity group of women and girl ex-combatants. The group focuses on savings and credit. Shortly after joining, the project trained us how to produce rice.
Our solidarity group has just collected 4,302,000 francs, which is equivalent to USD$3,585. Can you imagine what it means for a solidarity group of women ex-combatants like us? At rice harvest, I can eat and sell, earning more money. What an honor, thanks to CARE!
In addition, I asked for a loan of 80,000 francs(about $70) from my group so that I can sell kitchen utensils (like pots, cups, bowls, and plates) and I am now earning about 40,000 francs ($35 per month), an amount I never had in my life. My group has also opened a restaurant and we're earning more than 15,000 francs a day ($10). I can now take care of my children's food, healthcare and school needs.
Instead of the label of "prostitute woman ex-combatant", I have a new identity as a businesswoman and community leader. My life has completely changed; I'm not afraid to meet people, and I go and I share my stories of my past life with other community members. I participate in community activities. I am really happy.
My dream is to see other Burundian women overcome socioeconomic barriers. I will work for the peace and education of my children but also for other women in my solidarity group to create a positive legal framework for children who were born outside of marriage. Viva CARE Burundi!