Ndikumana Patricia is from Ngomante village in the Rutana Province of Burundi. Like so many in her country, she has experienced incredible hardship. However, her challenges have been even more extreme, on account of being a woman, and a dwarf: 

Before I was afraid of going where other people are, I was afraid of meeting other people because of my condition of being a dwarf. I experienced many problems related to discrimination because my height is exceptional.” 

Ndikumana had an unhappy and difficult childhood. At school she was verbally and physically abused. Fellow pupils called her names and beat her. Instead of protecting her, teachers reinforced the prejudice:  

“When the teacher asked students to bring certain materials at school, he told me not to bring anything because of my height.” 

When she was slightly older Ndikumana was forced to leave her home. A political crisis caused violence and conflict to break out. Like hundreds of thousands of Burundians, Ndikumana fled to a neighbouring country. But rather than finding a safe refuge, her trauma continued: 

“As a refugee, I lived in Tanzania. Life was so difficult, and we experienced many problems such as hunger and homelessness. In addition, we had terrible hygiene and health problems.” 

The mistreatment she experienced as a foreigner was intensified due to her dwarfism. On one terrifying occasion, Ndikumana narrowly escaped from a group of people who had offered to help her. They pretended to provide a secure place to live. In reality, they were secretly planning to kill her. 

Her life didn’t improve when she got married. After giving birth to a still born child, her husband and his family completely deserted her. Ndikumana felt that she had no choice but to return to Burundi: 

“I wanted to return because the life I was living was becoming unbearable in the refugee camp.” 

Back in Burundi, the prejudice and mistreatment continued. Ndikumana lost all confidence. She feared leaving her house and meeting people. In addition to her mental health issues, her physical wellbeing deteriorated significantly. As she became increasingly ill, she was faced with even more disaster. This time it took the form of flooding which caused extensive damage to her home. The destruction meant that it was impossible to prepare food and so Ndikumana and her second husband went for periods without eating. This put even more pressure on their difficult relationship. 

It is difficult to imagine the pain and suffering that Ndikumana went through. Discrimination, fleeing conflict, living as a refugee, her life threatened, a still born child, being deserted by her husband, flooding, a second marriage filled with tension. The remarkable courage and tenacity of this woman is evident in the way she was able to simply keep going.  

Eventually, hope came in the form of Cord’s work. This work focuses on returning refugees and their communities. The aim is to reduce tension and build peace, to provide practical help as well as social and psychological support. There is a particular emphasis on the most marginalised – women, children and the disabled. 

Ndikumana saw the positive impact of the project in her community and wanted to be part of it. She knew that peaceful conflict resolution could help people feel integrated into their community. She also realised that it could help with the kind of domestic tension and marital difficulty that she was experiencing.  

Thanks to Cord’s project, things have dramatically changed for Ndikumana: 

“The best thing about being part of this scheme is that I now live in harmony with my husband. We are no longer in conflict.” 

And the way Ndikumana feels about herself could not be more different: 

“This project helped me to be self-confident, I am no longer afraid of others due to my dwarfism. It has changed my life in the way I now consider my self worth. Now the image I have about myself is different from the image I had before this project came. I trust myself and I see that I am a human being like anyone else, I have self-esteem; I see that I can contribute to my community’s development. Now, I am a leader of women in my village and this position helps me to feel more comfortable and act positively for myself and for others.” 

Make a donation to Cord's work to support people like Ndikumana in Burundi and southeast Asia here