Preventing Violence in Schools

If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children. Mahatma Gandhi.


David Zarembka shares: A major problem in this part of Africa is violence in schools. One aspect of this is caning/paddling of primary and secondary students by teachers. While this is outlawed in Kenya, some teachers frequently resort to this. Every once in a while the newspaper will report on a student who is injured by the caning or commits suicide as a result of the humiliation. One can easily imagine the learning environment in this kind of situation. In Kenya recently there has been a rash of secondary school dormitories which have been set on fire by the students. A frequent response is calls for the reinstatement of corporal punishment. In the other eastern African countries, as far as I know, caning is allowed, even encouraged.

One of the problems is that the teachers have no idea how to create a peaceful classroom and learning environment. As a result the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities (HROC) program in Burundi has begun a pilot project in three Quaker elementary schools. Since the teachers are likely to have been traumatized themselves by the violence in their country, they have participated in the basic HROC workshop. This is followed by discussions on how to work with their students who have been traumatized not only by the conflict but also by the poverty/violence of the home situation.


 Angeline Nshimirimana:

Before I got HROC skills, the stick was the solution to mistakes made by students. I learnt how to listen to students. I asked student to share and criticize my behavior and talk about the problems they are facing in their homes.

On May 12, Leandre Havvugiyaremye and Eraste Ndikumana conducted a follow up listening session with thirty two teachers from the Mutaho I Elementary Schoo in upcountry Burundi. There were three males and twenty-nine females in the session.

Description of participants:

Mutaho is one of the Communes of Gitega Province where the civil war begun in 1993 and had a high level of violence. Until today, consequences are observed; the presence of and IDP (internally displaced persons’) camp is an example. Since 2013, Mutaho Quaker Primary School was one of the three pilot project schools of HROC-in-Schools program. Participants were both teachers who lived in the Mutaho IDP Camp and from other communities from Mutaho. Both Hutu and Tutsi work together at Mutaho Primary School.

Brief description of need for workshop:

After the HROC Basic Workshop, teachers have to develop attitude and behavior changes in themselves, their students, colleagues and in their communities. They have to notice the symptoms of trauma from students in their school and more generally in the community. This follow-up workshop was to determine if the teachers have understood what is trauma and how to help students cope with trauma and thereby contribute together in rebuilding the school community.

 Agenda of workshop:

  • Review of the HROC basic workshop
  • Four questions for response (see below)
  • Teachers’ testimonies to help reinforce capacity.
  • Exchange of experiences for building a peaceful classroom

These are the questions:

  1. Do you understand what is trauma now? What have you applied while sharing with your students?
  1. Have you been able to identify students living with trauma by referring to the symptoms of trauma you learned?
  1. What changes have occurred in teachers and students since the HROC basic workshop?
  1. What have you made as solutions to the trauma issues in Mutaho Primary School in conflicts between teachers-students, students-students, teachers-teachers/headmaster in building peace in the school?

Facilitator comments on workshop:

Facilitators comments were focused on how teachers, having recovered from trauma, can influence their school and help students to grow with a culture of peace. In the relationship observed between teachers and their students, the teacher is the one who helps to revive the root of trust in the student’s daily life. This means that when this relationship is not going well, the consequences can be worst in the schools and the society in general. Teachers spend a long time with students. Leander Havugiyaremye underlined the consequences observed in the community in reference to a student or a child who grows up and doesn’t get the chance of education in peaceful ways.  Violence continues to haunt our community. As parents are very busy with the problems of  livelihood,  teachers have the privilege of sitting together with students, to listen to them, talk about peace, talk about healing the community,  talk about studies and so on. This helps students to reorient their minds and life in order to make good choices.

Sometimes teachers act without considering how students live at home. The students have a past; it is necessary to do a good investigation in order not break their hearts. It is a delicate case to study slowly because they are our future and hope of the nations. Their mothers struggle alone to satisfy their needs. One of the causes of conflict and trauma is unregistered child in front of the law [i.e., not knowing who the father is]. Teachers can organize dialogues with students and talk about the past in a constructive way.  Pastor Eraste Ndikumana said, The community has a necessity to be rebuilt. We need contributions from everyone. Imagine sharing the same classroom with other teachers and never talking to one another. These cause consequences for students and the school community in general. 


Mutaho School has benefited to be one of the three pilot schools since the project began in 2013. All teachers attended the HROC basic workshop last year, December 2015.  And the testimonies have shown how it was an emergency to intervene in schools as both teachers experienced trauma and somehow act in ignorance in front of students or children. The teachers are trained in rebuilding the school and working together with others to consolidate the school.

Testimonies of participants:

Eraste Ndikumana, Trainer

When I began my teaching job it was during the crisis of the civil war. I began teaching when a part of the people had fled, displaced from mountain to mountain because of the operations of soldiers with some youth living in internally displaced persons camps. The presence of rebels in the locality pushed people to run way because of fear of confrontation with regularly soldiers. I separated students in the following way: When I was a student, our teacher used to separate us into three rows: one for intelligent students, another for weak students, the third was for the weakest ones from the classroom. I copied this type of organizing in my classroom. I was brutal, aggressive. I don’t know if I was in trauma because of what was happening in the civil war. When the student made a mistake the answer was to beat him or her and I punished not only him or her but the entire classroom with the stick. I found that half of the students abandoned the school. I never did investigations to know how those students lived in their home. I ignored their conditions of living in the civil war. I was violent. Today I regret what I did to those students; I beat them as wild animals. Since I learnt HROC, I understand that I was mistaken and in ignorance my behavior was wrong for the students that I was supposed to be educating. I think with the social and political situation that our community traveled, our students need more skills about peace, about healing our community. If you want to gain the heart of your student, you become a friend to him.

Diane Kezimana:

We thank HROC for the opportunity and skills on how we can help ourselves and students.  In my class, a student shared, “Every time, I am studying, I find difficulties to learn because of the conditions in which we live on our home. I and my mother always pass a night out. Our father always beats my mother because my mother doesn’t give birth of a boy. When someone beats me I always lose my mind.” Because the skills we have got with HROC in schools, I called her mother and listened to her too. From now I am a friend of this mother and the child. The child talks freely to me.

Immaculee Ntakarutimana

I thank you on how you always follow teachers in their community. I am unhappy to see people upset. Sometimes we gave a punishment beyond the student’s capacity. One teacher gave a child a punishment of sweeping alone the classroom for a period of a month. The reason was that he was absent one day. This touched my heart. Now I take the opportunity to give advice to my friends-teachers because students are like our friends. In other way, teachers must develop a behavior of building the school community but not blaming teachers.  One day I found that in my class there was a child without school material. When I asked him, he cried and told me that his father doesn’t want him to study. He hides the copybooks of the students. I went to see his father and tell him that he must let the child study. Today the parent changed his behavior and sometimes comes to see his child at school. We developed a relationship with the parents, child, and the teachers. The child becomes as a bridge to reach the parents and contributes together in rebuilding the community.

Desiree Ntawe: 

In my school, I have 38 students. At the beginning, I found that these students were not intelligent enough. They misbehaved. After doing investigations I found that students lived in bad conditions in their homes. Finally, I took a time to be near them and listen to them. Today even those who were abandoning school have come back.

Rose Harererimana:

I was very violent, but after learnt HROC, I changed my behavior. I adopted to be near students and listen to them. Today they talk to me freely and send letters to me. In my class, I have a student who is Batwa [a discriminated minority group]. He was always absent. I became near to him and asked him what was happening. He changed. He shares with me the problems he meets at home.   When students were drawing, he asked why no one cares about students from the Batwa community.

Janviere Karikumutima (Head of Mutaho Elementary School)

I attest that since HROC was introduced, teachers have changed a lot in their behavior. Before I was always in conflict with them. They have become more responsible in front of students and in all schools activities.

Recommendations for way forward:

  • I had a great anger but now, I manage it in good ways. I do connection before correcting. HROC-in-Schools is needed in each school.
  • Teachers asked to have advanced training on how to manage trauma that children have.
  • It is good that parents be associated with HROC program and participate in HROC basic workshops.
  • There is a need to move forward into secondary schools.
  • We ask you to go ahead and do extension in other schools.
  • We need a follow up session every two months to reinforce our capacities in rebuilding the peace in the school.
  • Advanced training on helping the community so that teachers can produce more impacts in schools.
  • Testimonies show the seed of HROC-in-Schools, how it grows and how it is helping community schools. We appreciate AGLI support for this program of HROC-in-schools. We also appreciate the teachers’ devotion of helping in building the school and educating students in peace ways. Thank you to facilitators.


This post originally posted on Blog post #396