Building a future with displaced children in Burundi
|Displaced children with the IRC's Children's Team. (Photo: IRC)|
Discovering a ten year old boy in search of homework may sound unusual, but when the International Rescue Committee conducted a survey in Bururi Province, Burundi to address the needs of displaced children, that is exactly what they found. When asked what they wanted most, one displaced child called Zebedi, replied: "Of course, we would like to play football and other games, but what we really want and need is to learn how to read and write".
Zebedi, from the Gasinde site for displaced people, sums up the position of children throughout Burundi who lack the opportunity to learn, as the schooling system is unable to support the number of children and adolescents requiring education. A report by the non-governmental agency, International Alert, confirmed that the education system is "in a state of crisis". This is due to the damage caused to school facilities during the civil war, insufficient numbers of teachers, and school fees that the majority of rural families cannot afford.
This situation has been intensified by the ongoing fighting around the country, leading to high levels of displacement, particularly in the Southern Provinces and the area surrounding the capital Bujumbura, where the rebels are most active. Since the crisis began in 1993, this unstable and violent environment has caused immeasurable damage to the physical, social, moral and emotional development of displaced children and adolescents. Most strikingly of all, many have forgotten the most basic level of childhood development - how to play. In August 2000, in response to the urgent needs of displaced children in Burundi, the IRC began a pilot project in three displacement sites in the Province of Bururi to increase access to formal and non-formal education for displaced children. The programme's primary objective is to reintegrate them into existing schools through the provision of essential materials, such as books and pencils. The programme also aims to address the psychosocial aspects of childhood development through recreation and cultural activities. The psychosocial programme works with children attending schools and with those who are not in formal education, due to family obligations, repercussions of trauma, or because they are too old to integrate into the first year of primary school.
As a result of IRC's programme, school enrollment in the three project sites has almost doubled in the past year. Schools have been able to reopen classrooms and seat more students, whilst children who cannot afford to pay school fees can now attend school with textbooks, pens, and adequate clothing provided by the IRC.
|Displaced children from the literary classes. (Photo: Sophie Allan for IRC)|
In addition, the IRC has established youth centres at each site to enable children to become involved in normal play, art, and literacy classes. These projects are run through trained national community volunteers. Josias Bizimana, the IRC Senior Field officer for Children's programmes in Bururi, identified the positive benefits that the literacy classes are having, "After only five months the children are writing in cursive and reading phrases from the textbooks. They can also identify numbers, as well as add and subtract."
Alongside their progress in literacy and numeracy classes, the recreational projects provide a positive environment in which the children can regain a sense of community that has been eroded through years of unrest. Nadine Niyokindi, the Children's Programme Field officer stressed the impact these activities are having on the children, "Before when we visited the camps, there was very little interaction between the children, but since the programme started, it is a whole different picture, the children are dancing, singing and playing, both on their own initiative and with the support and guidance of the volunteers".
As for Zebedi, he is currently attending the Ruhora Primary school and is reportedly top in his class, proving that there are some children who enjoy their homework!