Back-to-school in Burundi, the first time for many

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As is the case in many parts of the world, the impoverished nation of Burundi is struggling to recover from 12 years of civil war that severely damaged its economy and infrastructure for delivering basic social services such as education, water, and health care. Concern began working in Burundi in 1994, just after the onset of the war, and has stayed on to restore and improve local skills and resources to rehabilitate communities devastated by conflict and poverty. Improving access to education is fundamental to Burundi’s human and economic development, and Concern has prioritized strengthening the education system and investing in Burundi’s greatest asset, its children. In the past year alone, our Concern has changed lives by improving access to education for more than 8,300 children in 208 schools throughout Cibitoke Province, one of the country’s most impoverished areas.

Education in Burundi: Opening the Doors to Opportunity

Two years ago, Concern renovated Rugendo Primary School in Cibitoke. Rugendo School now has new classrooms with desks, chairs, as well as learning resources, books and blackboards; separate latrines for boys and girls; and a source of clean, safe water. Now that the community has a safe, adequate learning facility for its children and teachers, we are working in partnership with families, school officials, and local partners to increase enrollment and retention rates among the poorest, most vulnerable children. These efforts have succeeded in getting more children into school: in our program areas in Citiboke in the past year, the number of students who successfully completed primary school has doubled.

Jean Kwizerimana, 15, is a sixth-grade student at Rugendo primary school. The Concern program in his community not only build new classrooms at his school, but also provided him with books and a uniform and provided teachers with training. Now he has a hunger for learning. Jean wants to finish school and go on to pursue a university degree. “My biggest wish is to become a Minister in the government so that I can help other poor students go to school,” he told Concern staff. “If you had not studied, you would not be working for Concern and coming here to help us.”

Repairing and rebuilding schools has contributed to the increase in students completing primary school and passing their exams. Jean agrees: “The new classrooms mean that there is no longer a need to share the classroom between two classes, [with one coming in the morning and one coming in the afternoon]. Now students can come to school for the whole day. Because of this there is more success.”

In the past year at Rugendo School, of the 65 students enrolled in the fifth grade, 45 passed their exams and moved on to sixth grade, despite extreme poverty and responsibilities to help their families run the household. This marks a vast improvement from the previous year, when only 20 students in that grade passed.

The learning resources and schools supplies provided by Concern allow the poorest families to ensure their children get the most from their education. “Before, my family could only afford three copy books that five children had to share,” Jean said. “With these new copy books Concern has given to our school, I don’t’ have to share and I will be able to complete all my classes for the year.” One of the key barriers to education among the absolute poorest in rural Burundi is the lack of awareness among parents of the value of education. As part of its effort to increase enrolment, Concern shares information with communities about the power of education to improve income and social opportunities, especially among girls.

Jean tells Concern that he has seen the benefits of this outreach, and that he would like to work with the students, teachers, parents and local leaders within each community. “I would like students and teachers to visit families together so that they can explain the importance of going to school.” Across Citiboke, Concern is improving access quality education for nearly 30,000 students, teachers and parents. In addition to school improvements and supply distributions, Concern also organized a two-week course for 807 teachers on new curricula and provided 207 head teachers training in school management, giving them new skills to educate the next generation of Burundi.