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Free education can still be a struggle

In this post, guest blogger Kokoévi Sossouvi discusses some of Concern’s work with schools in Burundi, visiting Butahana Primary School in Cibitoke Province. This is the second post from Kokoévi.

The road to Cibitoke from Bujumbura, or Buja as we call it here, can send you traveling thousands of miles away from here. Once outside the city, the cotton fields transport my imagination to nineteenth century America. “Gone with the Wind” and the like.

Further away, the pastoralist herds remind me of a recent trip to Mali. The scattered stalks of cacti are reminiscent of cowboy movies in the desert of Mexico. We ride along this strip of used tarmac for some 50km with the great mountains of the Congo by our side.

I enjoy travelling in the field with the education team. Wherever we go is full of smiling children and I instantly find myself with lots of new friends!

A recent law passed by the government made primary education free. But this isn’t the good news you might think, as many families still struggle to feed and clothe their children. So, access to primary education is still not a given for many Burundian kids. Having said this, the demographics of the country are such that young people and children make up the majority of the population. Although school attendance is well below average, classes are still overcrowded. This is because facilities remain inadequate in relation to the numbers of pupils.

Much of Concern’s last education project centred on providing “catch–up” classes for children who had either never been to school or had dropped out. Butahana Primary School reintegrated 67 students as a result of these catch-up classes. Although 14 dropped out again, the remaining 53 are doing very well, says Onesime Nkunwanabake, the director of the school.

The 14 children that dropped out did so out of poverty, I’m told. One part of our new education project focuses on identifying vulnerable children in the community. Community support mechanisms are then provided to help them return to or stay in school. Parents and teachers have joined forces to lobby the local authorities to carry out small repairs and have collected donations within the families as well. The parents of the majority of the children here were themselves pupils in the school. Some parents try and participate in the life of the school by helping to produce some of the missing school material. The president of the parent-teacher committee drew a map of the world for his child’s class.

As we leave Buthana primary school, we catch sight of a gold-digging site. Yes, there is gold here, some 500m from the school. There is not much of course, but enough for some children to abandon their schooling.

We had arranged to have lunch further up the mountain in the little guesthouse run by a group of Italian nuns who have lived in Burundi for over 20 years. They’re called the Benedettine della Provvidenza. The table laid is beautiful and all the dishware is from Italy. It’s amazing to find this here in this remote uphill village.