Weathering Challenges Together

Catholic Relief Services and USAID strengthen families by empowering them with skills to plan for the future

“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 us,” said Alhassane Sakibou. / Michael Stulman, Catholic Relief Services

When the rain stops and the crops dry up, any number of things can help people survive: boreholes that bring water, new seeds that survive drought, different crops that preserve topsoil.

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 the Muyinga province in Burundi. With support from USAID, Catholic Relief Services and our partners are helping families put in place a foundation on which their relationships can flourish so they can build hope, resilience and a future.

“If there is conflict in the home, it’s the children and their education that are affected. In the community, there’s less production on the farms.
But if couples work together and communicate, you will see inclusive development.” — Niyonzima Amadee, a leader in the community
A family that has participated in Catholic Relief Services’ Faithful House approach in Gasorwe village, Burundi. / Michael Stulman, Catholic Relief Services

Enter Faithful House, a Catholic Relief Services approach implemented in 14 sub-Saharan countries that 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.

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

“I loved her very much,” said 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.

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

Catholic Relief Services’ Faithful House approach enhances communication within couples and encourages equitable household decision-making. / Michael Stulman, Catholic Relief Services

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 empowers 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,” said Laura Groggel, technical advisor for gender integration at Catholic Relief Services.

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

One spouse in Burundi said: “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, we save for school fees, and clothes if our children need clothes. That changed our life, things are better at home.”

Women in Burima village in Burundi walk home after receiving food aid distributed by Catholic Relief Services. / Michael Stulman, Catholic Relief Services

The houses around us

After Emelyne and Girimana participated in Faithful House, they shared their experience with neighbors and family.

About 25,000 couples participate in Faithful House in Burundi, but 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 five-year development 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 and equal partners,” said Laura Groggel.

Deo Nzitunga and Leocadie Nibigira in Gasorwe village, Burundi. / Michael Stulman, Catholic Relief Services

About the Author

Michael Stulman is the Regional Information Officer for West and Central Africa for Catholic Relief Services, a USAID partner. Based in Senegal, he travels extensively in the region to report on the organization’s relief and development programs. Follow him @MichaelStulman.