What’s it like to be an elementary student in post-conflict Africa? In a country with high mortality, civil war, AIDS, or genocide? In most African nations, a staggering 50% of the population is under 15 years old. These children have the opportunity to climb up, and out from poverty. But, it’s only through education. While education is free in Burundi, East Africa, schools are not freely attended by all children. Parents must pay for uniforms and books with money that’s not always available. We can change the life of a child by training and empowering teachers.
Burundi, East Africa
Burundi is a post-conflict nation in East Africa which is in a definite period of development (2006-present). It’s a small country with a population of about 9 million people. It’s official languages are French and Kirundi, with only 10% of the population speaking English. To the west, Burundi’s border is with both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Lake Tanganyika. Its north border is with the nation of Rwanda, while Tanzania borders the southeast portions of Burundi’s land. The ethnic groups of Burundi consist of Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa people.
What people don’t know is that Burundi shares a history with Rwanda, which incorporates several genocides. In Burundi, ethnic violence began as early as 1962, and in 1993 erupted into a civil war which continued until 2006. That violence claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. In April 1994 the airplane carrying both the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were shot down over the Rwandan Capital of Kigali, killing both heads of state. This triggered the genocide we know of in Rwanda which killed over 800,000 people.
In 2008, a cease fire and peace accord were signed which remains today. Although the history of Burundi had been unstable, the climate has changed greatly. I witnessed myself, the many gains in education, economic development, and safety of persons and goods.
Stepping off the airplane, and breathing in the warm East African air, I found Burundi more beautiful than I had ever imagined! The people were friendlier, the landscape more developed, and the communities were clean, and well taken care of. Yes, there was some poverty, but I also saw many outstanding opportunities for development. The scenes were awe inspiring.
While there, I saw absolutely no evidence of civil war, conflict, or genocide. Not at any time did I feel that I was in danger. This substantiated what I had already been told by my colleague, John Mann of SHAPE International, and my country host, NIBIZI Jean-Marie of SHINE, a leading, and instrumental NGO in Burundi.
Readers Bank Literacy Coaches
My organization, Connecting All Parents with School (CAPS), hosted a training seminar during the trip to Burundi in order to equip literacy coaches. Our literacy training, the “Readers Bank”, designed by the graduates of the Parent Leadership Academy, sought to “Deposit a Love of Learning to Withdraw a Brighter Future”. This is accomplished by giving volunteers a simple method to coach and assess children who face additional learning challenges. In this case, difficulties that can be so severe, it impedes the normal cognitive process. Only through a “coach’s” love and encouragement, can a child having gone through such extraordinary circumstances, begin to learn again, and to hope for a bright future.
Anyone can be identified as a potential coach. Anybody can train literacy coaches. In fact, participants in the Readers Bank were trained to coach others in a language they did NOT speak. It was a fun, learning experience for everyone.
Business and Education Development
While in Bujumbura, the capital, we met with the businessmen (and women’s) trade union, hearing from business people who had lost their businesses in the recent, but devastating fire of January 2013, which destroyed Burundi’s main internal marketplace. Thousands of men and women lost their livelihoods. Through this meeting, several organizations began collaborating, putting ideas together for a vocational training center, entrepreneurship, and self sustainable programming for schools. Business training and investment opportunities include solar lamp sales, hair stylists, electricians, furniture making, market sales, entrepreneurial training, soap making, welding, and water purification services.
The needs are as awesome as the opportunities. But, this one is not passing us by. Why not invest what little we have? It means a whole lot over there. Proven already to be successful, businessmen and women are trying to recover, but need some help. The worst news is that some traders have died from the trauma, and women who lost husbands, or their own businesses have turned to desperate measures to support their families. We feel that this can’t continue on having little to no international support. How about considering this with us… “not on our watch.”
“Amahoro!” (Greeting in Kirundi). Children begin learning four languages in 2nd grade…Wow! The door is open, and great in-roads have been made. We’ve had a surprising amount of educators express interest in going since I’ve arrived back. With classrooms exceeding 100-200 students, teachers in this developing country have open doors and open hearts. In fact, one young teacher, named Pasteur, made a statement to me,
“Thank you very much for coming, we need this training. This helped me so much. I will be sharing this with my colleagues. They need this training, too.”
We will be returning to Burundi next year with hopes of fulfilling that wish.
What can you do? Attend a Presentation!
At 4:00PM, Saturday, October 19 at Longbranch Coffeehouse in Carbondale, we will be hosting an interactive presentation of the trip, and future opportunities. “Come and feel like your there!” Plan to arrive early and order dinner. Please email for questions, or for further information to Amy Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Sonja Yuill at email@example.com.