Drumming up pride among post-war Burundi’s street children

Drumming up pride among post-war Burundi’s street children

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Ajia
Thierry, 13, is a drummer at the Stamm Foundation, a UNICEF-supported NGO that provides orphaned children with housing, education and life skills while promoting Burundi’s drumming heritage.

By Olalekan Ajia

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 9 April 2007 – Thierry is known at the Stamm Foundation as the boy who shook hands with Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General. That was last year at the Fifth African Development Forum in Addis Ababa, when the young drummers of ‘Les Tambourinaires’ performed at a farewell reception for Mr. Annan.

Thierry, 13, counts himself lucky to be alive, lucky to be in school and very proud to beat the drums alongside his friends in the children’s troupe – all orphans of Burundi’s 12-year-long civil war.

He is proud because it is a great honour to beat the drums or to have them beaten for you in Burundi, where drums signify the pride, dignity and integrity of the nation. The drummers wear the national colours of white for peace, green for hope and red for love of country.

‘Listen with your heartbeat’

Africa is the continent of drums, but the drums of Burundi require extraordinary vigour, dexterity, agility and grace. Burundian drums sound like rolling thunderclaps.

“You don’t listen to these drums with your ears, you listen with your heartbeat,” said the Bureau Chief of the United Nations Information Centre in Burundi, Beatrice Nibogora.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Ndayishimiye
Thierry leads ‘Les Tambourinaires’, a children’s drumming and dancing troupe in Burundi.

The war in Burundi left behind 823,000 orphans, at least 20,000 of whom are currently living on the streets.  The Stamm Foundation, a national non-governmental organization supported by UNICEF, provides some of these children – including former child soldiers – with a home, education and life skills, while promoting Burundi’s proud cultural heritage.

When the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflicts, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was entertained by Thierry and his fellow Tambourinaires earlier this month, she was so delighted she promised to invite them to UN headquarters in New York.

Promoting teamwork

Well-known cartoonist and children’s author Trevor Romain, who was in the delegation that accompanied Ms. Coomaraswamy on her visit here, spent two days with Les Tambourinaires and was given the honorary title of Captain. Before leaving, he told the boys he would never forget how they honoured him by allowing him to beat the drums with them.

But they did more than that. In Mr. Romain’s discussions with the drummers on how to sustain peace in Burundi, they explained to him that children’s education was essential, that children must avoid the mistakes of their elders, that they must forgive one another and live and work together as a team – both in beating the drums and rebuilding their country.

UNICEF has been working with the Stamm Foundation to help young people achieve these goals since 2003. Besides caring for orphans and rehabilitating street children, the collaboration includes HIV/AIDS prevention and sensitization campaigns, girls’ education programmes and the provision of mobile schools and emergency medical kits for children in need.

Yves Habonimana, 25: “My legs were sore, my whole body swollen”

Yves Habonimana, 25: "My legs were sore, my whole body swollen"
March 2007 (IRIN)


Photo: Judith Basutama/IRIN
Yves Habonimana

BUJUMBURA, Yves Habonimana left home at six to live on the streets. Now 25, he is disabled after a severe beating by guards who accused him of theft.

"When my mother died, I was six. I had no one else to take care of me. My father was still alive then, but he just didn’t care. I decided to leave home. I followed other children on the streets. We would scavenge or beg for food and sleep on cartons at the independence square or in the stadium.

“Sometimes the police came and took everyone into custody for several days. They tell us not to spend the night on the streets, but when we are freed, we return there. We have nowhere else to go. We live on petty jobs but sometimes they hesitate to give you the job. Street children are believed to be thieves.

“Some days we have nothing to eat. Children are then forced to steal to avoid starvation. Just to forget the misery temporarily, I used to take drugs, alcohol or whatever stuff that would intoxicate me and make me sleep. I have now given that up.

“I will never forget one night in 2001. I was sleeping at the independence square when PSG agents [a private security agency] arrested me. They were on guard at a shop near our place. They said I had stolen a suit from the shop. I denied it, but nobody believed me. They tied my hands at the back and beat me. Look, even six years after the beating, I still have marks.

“My health problems started there. My legs were sore, my whole body was swollen.

“They dropped me like a bundle at the hospital. There was no one to take care of me, nobody to pay the bill. But a doctor took pity on me, talked to a company that agreed to pay for the treatment and my meals during the hospitalisation.

“When the doctor told me he had to cut off my limb, I was afraid. I could not believe I would be disabled the rest of my life. He gave me one week to think about it. Other patients told me to accept it because it was the only way to save the rest of my body.

“After treatment, I returned to the streets around the stadium. I am still there. But the conditions are even harder. My friends leave me every morning lying there, unable to move. If they were lucky, they brought food to cook in the evening.

“The other leg was also infected and very painful. A human rights organisation has offered to bring me back to hospital for further treatment. By chance, a priest bought me a wheelchair; I am now lucky enough to move.

“APRODH [a human right organisation] attempted to file a case for compensation but nothing came of it. Those who ruined my life are there, they don’t deny it, why should they not pay for it? If I was not a street boy, I am sure they would have paid for the damage.

“If I get compensated, I can get a house, start a business and live, in spite of my handicap. But now even if I leave hospital, I will go back on the streets, the conditions are still the same or even worse. I will live with the same guys, the same habits, I might even go back to drugs.”

Street Children

Street Children

Created: 15 April 1998

15-04-1998

In 1991, the Burundian authorities expressed concern for the first time about the growing number of street children in Burundi’s cities. Since the beginning of la crise in October 1993, the number of street children has only increased.

Many street children have lost either one or both parents. Widows, in particular, are having trouble providing for their children. They generally have little or no schooling or training and cannot find work. Other children were separated from their parents at some point during the past five years of fighting.

A street child in Bujumbura The United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, estimates that there are 2,300 street children in Burundi. Their number is growing rapidly.

Growing Poverty
Observers say street children face a growing risk of abuse. The ongoing civil war is making people more insensitive, leading to a decrease in the respect and protection of children’s rights. The economic embargo has led to growing poverty and ever larger numbers of children turning to the
streets of Burundi’s cities in search of a better life.