In Burundi, a one-stop shop for children living on the street

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Nelson, 15, formerly a child living on the street in Ngozi, Burundi, has benefited from the help of the NGO consortium. © UNICEF Burundi/2015/Luthi

By Eliane Luthi

Local organizations in one Burundian city are coming together to provide support and services for children desperately seeking to survive.

NGOZI, Burundi, 16 April 2015 – Located in the province with some of the country’s highest child malnutrition and child mortality rates, Ngozi, Burundi’s third largest city, also has a high number of children living on the street: more than 400 were recorded in 2010, and the current number is likely much higher.

“There are many underlying causes to this dire situation,” says Pedro Guerra, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Burundi. “High levels of poverty and demographic pressure are main drivers. Poor families often find themselves in situations where they can no longer feed all their children, and sometimes the children are sent to work or to beg on the streets, or they leave the home proactively.”

That was the case of Nelson, 15, who ran away from home at age 14 and began living on the street, transporting bags, cleaning cars and bussing tables. His daily earnings only amount to about FBu1500 – or US$1 a day.

“Children like Nelson need support in many areas,” Mr. Guerra says. “Firstly, they need psycho-social support and assistance for family and school reintegration. But they may also need medical care and legal assistance.”

In an effort to address the needs of children like Nelson, UNICEF and a consortium of NGOs, including Kiyo, Giriyuja, Action en faveur des enfants vulnérables (AFEV) and Observatoire Ineza des Droits de l'Enfant au Burundi (OIDEB), are joining forces to create Ngozi’s first drop-in centre for children living on the street.

Designed to provide a range of services and support, the centre will feature a social worker’s office, a psychologist’s office, an office for legal assistance, and a dispensary with a nurse, as well as a library, a sports field, a multipurpose room and latrines and showers. Construction of the building is well underway and is slated for completion by mid-2015.

"The idea is to create a centre that responds to all needs of children living on the street," Mr. Guerra says, surveying the construction site. "With a better coordination of services, referral will be improved, and we can be sure that children can truly access all the services they need to build a brighter future.”

Getting help

Legal assistance is an important part of the integrated services package. In a country with high population density and dependency on agriculture for survival, access to land and property is crucial. Orphans and vulnerable children, however, seldom inherit land, and frequently have difficulties accessing land to cultivate.

This was the situation Fulgence found himself in after his father passed away. His half-brothers from his mother's side kicked him out of their home, not wanting to share property with him, and by then his father's home had been destroyed.

"I began living in the street at age 12,” he says. “Life in the street was very difficult. I transported bags and stole to make money. I used to live on FBu1000 per day (65 US cents). It was hard to find enough to eat.”

A childhood acquaintance told him about the NGO consortium providing services to children living on the street in Ngozi. “I was referred to AFEV, who helped place me in a vocational training class. I followed a cooking and hospitality course that lasted seven months. I learned how to cook food and receive guests there. Meanwhile, another NGO, OIDEB, took up my legal case to make sure I could still access the land that I was entitled to.”

For the past year, Fulgence, now 18, has been working in a hotel restaurant. “I like to prepare meat and French fries and cakes,” he says. “I'm very happy with my life right now. I hope one day to own my own hotel or restaurant.”

It has been a big step forward for Fulgence, and it is just the kind of bright future the new centre is looking to help build.