Home to the infamous Bujumbura rubbish dump, Buterere is an area located on the outskirts of Burundi’s capital, where extreme poverty compounded with other challenges has left many children out of school and unsafe. However, positive change has emerged in the form of a comprehensive program aimed at addressing the multiple issues faced by this ignored community. In partnership with our local partner Jeunesse au Service d’un Burundi Meilleur (JSBM), Street Child has undertaken a transformative program in Buterere. This blog delves into this program, exploring its origins, objectives and the impact it has had on the lives of those in Buterere.
Buterere is known as one of the poorest neighborhoods in Bujumbura and in a 2020 assessment UNICEF found it to be at highest risk of cholera and flooding, and to have highest numbers of street-connected children, of all urban areas in Burundi. Flooding has taken place every year since 2020 and as a result it is not uncommon to see school-aged children begging on the streets or digging through trash on the landfill, trying to find plastic to sell to recycling companies. These already incredibly vulnerable children are at higher risk of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking.
Recognizing the urgent need for intervention, Street Child and JSBM joined forces to develop a holistic program tailored to the unique challenges faced by Buterere. This collaboration aims not only to address the immediate needs of vulnerable children but also to uplift the entire community by tackling the root causes of its challenges. The program's three main pillars - school feeding, economic empowerment and psychosocial support - were strategically chosen to provide a comprehensive and sustainable solution.
Hunger is a significant barrier to education for children in Buterere; many children struggle to keep up with their studies because they have an empty stomach. The food at school initiative offers children regular, nutritious meals, ensuring a conducive environment for learning. 13-year-old Marie* came from a vulnerable family who could only afford one meal a day. Marie had problems following lessons because she went to school on an empty stomach every day and did not eat until the evening. Today Marie eats in the school cafeteria before class, and now loves attending class and spending time with friends after school.
The school cafeteria, which was constructed using recycled plastic bottles, not only serves as a source of nourishment but also supports child safety and success at school; this program also uses it for running study classes and supervision, reducing the likelihood of children wandering the streets and giving them a safe space to relax with their friends.
Street Child recognizes that household poverty directly impacts children's education and well-being. To break the cycle of poverty, this initiative focuses on providing income-generating activities (IGAs) that empower parents to provide for their families. There are three collective IGAs; the first provides rice, the second provides beans and vegetables and the third provides cooking equipment such as oil and firewood. With these items, families can grow or prepare and sell food in the marketplace. Income is saved collectively into a large pot of capital which then acts as a microfinance initiative - members of the collectives can borrow capital for their enterprises at preferrential rates.
These IGAs have begun to create opportunities for families to secure a better future like Ada’s*:
Ada was abandoned by her husband, leaving her with four children. She didn’t have enough money to feed them all, leading them to beg in the streets where they were at risk of exploitation and abuse. Today Ada is part of a collective IGA that provides food for the canteen and takes care of the kitchen. The profit she has made enables her two oldest children to go to school, and Ada can spend time with the youngest two children at the cafeteria, meaning they are safe and off the streets.
Many children in Buterere are subjected to a great deal of abuse on the streets, causing them to withdraw into themselves and preventing them from integrating with other children and attending school. Psychosocial support is integral to breaking this cycle, and the program provides children with tailored assistance including therapy to overcome their past experiences and integrate to society.
The program’s impact is already evident: children attending the program have shown improved performance and attendance in school, thanks to the combination of meals, academic support and therapy.
*Names changed for safeguarding reasons.