In early December, 2015 I traveled to Bujumbura, Burundi where I used to study before coming to Canada. I was able to stay on the campus of my former university – Hope Africa University and was happy to meet with many old friends during my time there. My 3 brothers who are living in Bujumbura as refugees met me at the airport, it was exciting to reunite with them and spend time together after many difficult years apart. Other family members crossed the border from Congo into Burundi and spent a number of days visiting with me during my first week. My very first visitor in Bujumbura can be seen below, we didn’t spend much time together but we still had fun.
During my time at Hope Africa University, I visited the radio station where I worked as a student and spent time touring around the university grounds that I used to call home.
I also had the chance to visit with a student that Baraka Victory Centre is sponsoring to attend university and met with a girl from Tanzania who is in need of sponsorship following the death of her father. I found her standing outside of a classroom and she explained that she hadn’t been able to pay her school fees because her father had passed away. It wasn’t a part of my original plan while I was there but I felt in my heart to try and help her so that she could take the exams and have a chance to continue with her studies. I did what I could and was able to pay for half of her tuition and she was able to write the exams. I was able to speak with many students and hear about the many challenges they are facing.
The tuition fees, though they are modest compared to Canadian universities, are difficult to cover in an area where unemployment and poverty are so rampant. School is a way for people to better their lives and escape from poverty, but poverty puts up a good fight to try and keep them trapped in the cycle. Poverty in Bujumbura corresponds to infrequent and inconsistent income, in Canada poverty can mean that you struggle to ‘make ends meet’ but most of the population generally has a safe place to stay and in the very least some food to eat. In Bujumbura poverty is more often people living on approximately $1-$2 per day, food is not affordable at this income level so you may be considered lucky if you are able to eat once per day, many others cannot afford to do even that.
The purpose of this post is not to get too far into the current political situation in Burundi, however, there were a number of occasions where I spent whole days trapped inside the house where I was staying. It had been a number of years since I had reason to fear for my life because of armed conflict happening around me. I spent days inside without food and without any idea of when the streets of Bujumbura would calm again, I experienced the daily terror that people are living through in Bujumbura. My family has been in Burundi for a number of years so I have been aware of the troubles, the political tension and armed conflict has be ongoing for the last year and this trip gave me an inside view on the challenges and the fear they face, daily. Simple tasks like buying food become almost impossible at times. When people go to work in the morning, they can’t be sure whether or not they will be able to return home later in the day. Some days seem quiet, but the situation can change quickly from ok to bad, and from bad to worse. There are barriers and obstacles for completing even the most simple tasks and aspects of life in Bujumbura.
My thoughts, my heart, and my prayers are with the people of Bujumbura and the neighbourhoods that are under attack. It is a beautiful country. People deserve the dignity and security that peace provides.
More stories to come…