BURUNDI: Salesian Missionaries Continue Programs in Wake of Ongoing Political Tension and Humanitarian Crisis
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries are continuing programming in the wake of a political crisis in Burundi. According to the United Nations, the crisis started in mid-April when protests erupted after the country’s ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate for a third term.
The situation further escalated on May 13 following an attempted coup as President Nkurunziza left for the Summit of the East African Community which was intended to try to resolve the crisis. As a result, the country faces growing tension, and since April, close to 100,000 Burundians have fled the country seeking shelter and sparking a humanitarian crisis in the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At the same time, refugees along the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania are dealing with a cholera epidemic making a challenging situation all the more difficult.
Within Burundi, Salesian missionaries operate several schools and vocational training programs. A Salesian vocational training center in Buterere, a suburb of the capital Bujumbura, is no longer holding classes due to protests and ongoing chaos that has paralyzed normal daily activities. Many residents have left the capital in search of shelter with family and friends in other parts of the country and others have left for neighboring countries. While classes are suspended, youth are still welcome at the vocational school for afternoon activities and relief from the chaos and violence.
“The difficult situation in Burundi has been going on for a month,” reported Salesian missionaries on the ground in a recent Salesian ANS article. “At first it was just a political problem. Now, to everyone’s surprise, the situation is getting worse day-by-day. It is difficult to know what will happen tomorrow let alone the next day. The tensions will not be without consequences for the social and economic life of all the people.”
In northern areas of the country, classes continue to operate as usual in institutions like the Don Bosco School in Ngozi, a large Salesian boarding school. Also fully operational is the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center Gatenga, located in the city of Ruyigi in eastern Burundi, where students are learning the craft of wood making. The wood making program is part of local Salesian missionaries’ efforts to provide training in trade skills as well as valuable work experience in an effort to increase future employment opportunities for youth in the area.
Even students living and studying in Salesian programs far from the capital are struggling to concentrate on their studies for fear of the chaos and violence reaching them. Many families have had to take in relatives who fled from Bujumbura resulting in additional people straining accommodations, available food and supplies. Salesian missionaries are currently monitoring and assessing the situation day by day.
Burundi, located in the heart of the African Great Lakes region, has experienced more than a decade of violence and conflict which has contributed to widespread poverty, according to UNICEF. Burundi ranks 180 out 187 countries on the 2014 UN Human Development Index and close to 70 percent of its residents live below the poverty line.
Children are some of the most severely affected by the country’s rampant poverty. Fifty-three percent of children under the age of five suffer from growth stunting caused by inadequate food, low-quality diet, poor infant feeding practices, poor household management of childhood diseases and the general decline of the country’s health system.
UNICEF – Burundi