Burundi: Overcoming superstitions

“Last year Chantal could not go to school because she was seriously sick. Her disease was a direct consequence of her family situation,” says Damien, a social worker at AVSI Burundi, a local partner of the Fondation d’Harcourt. Damien has been taking care of Chantal since the first day she arrived at the MEO Center Lino Lava. Damien knows the pain Chantal suffered as she struggled to cope with her sickness.

“Coincidentally, Chantal’s mother is also psychologically unstable. She is convinced that she and her daughter have fallen victims to sorcery, attempts of poisoning and a curse,” he adds in his recently forwarded letter to the Fondation d’Harcourt.

Chantal probably had a psychosomatic reaction to her mother’s beliefs and to her father’s abandonment. In fact, Chantal developed a serious skin disorder and started getting sores all over her body. Malnutrition made the skin disorder chronic, from a psychological point of view, Chantal was disheartened and disoriented.

Doctors against prayers

“Last spring social workers at the MEO Center Lino Lava convinced Chantal’s mother to take her daughter to a doctor,” writes Damien and adds “Chantal was seen by a pediatrician who confirmed she had a skin disorder and needed medical care. She then started medical treatment and was getting better.”

At the beginning of August something bad happened though. Chantal’s mother left her home village. Nobody among the staff of the MEO Center knew where she was, nor could find her. Chantal was not at home anymore. After a few days Damien discovered that Chantal had been sent to her neighbor’s home. Damian realized Chantal’s mother did not want her daughter to receive medical treatment anymore because she believed the medicines were making Chantal’s disease worse.

By that time Chantal’s mother had sent her daughter to the leaders of a prayer group. “She was convinced that those people could treat her daughter,” Damien explains. “We managed to find Chantal. By the time we realized what was going on, she was extremely malnourished. She was very weak; to the point in which she could not even stand up. Since we were unable to convince Chantal’s mother to change her mind, we talked with the neighbors. Finally, these people decided we could take care of the girl.”

Sadly, this time Chantal was too late for treatment and, although medical care improved her health for some time, she did not make it.  During this time Damien and the other social workers managed to convince her mother to come back and help them take care of her daughter.

Improving self-awareness

Chantal’s recovery was not only about her. It was much more about her family, and about helping a community eliminate a stigma. For the staff of the MEO Center, taking care of Chantal meant helping a family find a solution to a problem. Through their work, Damien and the social staff are working hard to prevent these sad events from occurring again.


Taking care of a child means taking care of his or her entire family. Changing the prospects of one child can have a positive influence on the lives of innumerable others.