For ordinary Burundians, like 13-year-old Jules, the uncertainty surrounding the future of their country is worrying. Jules, a beneficiary of our Family Strengthening Programme in Bujumbura, and his classmates were caught up in the violence when demonstrators, armed with stones, stormed their classroom as they were writing their end-of-year exams. Jules and his friends were ordered to leave the room and abandon their exam. “I still have fresh memories of that day,” says Jules. “Our teachers quickly got us out and we went to a school nearby which seemed safer. But once again, when we were ready to begin, the demonstrators started throwing stones and heckling. They ordered the examiners to stop immediately. I was so afraid.”
Jules’ teacher told all the children to run as fast as they could home before bravely pleading with the demonstrators to stop their destruction of the school building. “When I got home I was trembling with fear,” remembers Jules. “I was also so disappointed that I was not able to sit my exam.” He remains unsure what will happen next; the authorities of the Ministry of Education have promised that they will re-call all the students to sit the exam, but, more than four months later they are still awaiting the call. In the mean-time the children cannot progress to the next grade.
Jules’ whole life has been turned upside-down by the political unrest which has killed at least 70 people since April. “Before, my friends and I played together and enjoyed life. We had formed a small club of boys my age with whom we played street football – it was fun,” Jules says wistfully. “All my friends have now fled with their families. They have taken refuge in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.” According to Medecines Sans Frontiere’s most recent estimate, upwards of 2,000 people are fleeing across the border into Tanzania every day. The refugee camps they are flooding into are already full to capacity and is vastly overcrowded. There has already been an outbreak of cholera and the risk of further outbreaks is high.Before the violence erupted there were 120 children in Jules’ class. When they were called back to school during a period of relative calm, only nine pupils were present.
“I fear that one day someone will break into our house and kill us all”
The situation in Burundi shows no sign of abating in the coming weeks or months. If President Nkurunziza is re-elected the risk that the country will once again slide into a bloody civil war is very real.“I just want things to go back to how they were,” says Jules. “Now is the time we’d usually be visiting my aunts in other parts of the country, but this time I can’t because of the danger.” He is also waiting hopefully for a call from the Ministry of Education. Jules has been having bad dreams and finds night-time very scary, especially since gunfire and grenade explosions have returned to the streets this week. “I fear that one day someone will break into our house and kill us all.”
SOS Children in Burundi
SOS Children has been working in Burundi since 1977. We ran an emergency aid programme during the 12-year-long civil war, helping children affected by the conflict. We now have five Children’s Villages in the country, alongside Family Strengthening Programmes. Sadly we have been affected by the recent unrest when a grenade killed a young person who had grown up in our care.