I felt somehow bad.
During the week after arriving in Bujumbura following a mountainous cycle from the Kinamba Project in Kigali, I hadn’t achieved all that much.
In Bujumbura, we didn’t have any project(s) lined up. I thought I’d quickly find one, but I was otherwise side-tracked whilst relaxing and enjoying the “occasional” beer on the beach, enjoying Pizza at the Kiboko Grill.
I was about to leave; I had just finished a Skype with my parents, laptop lid was shut and the bike packed. Yet just as I paid my final bill, I met Mélance Bukera & Protais Nteziriba – a local businessman & senior officer from the Ministry of Higher Education here in Burundi.
I explained that I was about to leave, but felt somehow bad at not making any useful contacts with projects that help street and/or orphaned children here in Bujumbura. Sadly, according to the United Nations Human Development Report (2010) and statistics from other organisations, Burundi is the 4th poorest country in the world. How had I not found one?
“There are many projects” explained Protais; a fact backed up by Mélance and otherwise unsurprising given the above statistic. So before too long project names built up…and my plans to leave the next day were swiftly cancelled.
Mélance kindly guided me around a few potential projects; the first seemed fairly well funded by generous sponsors in Monaco. Our second project, an orphanage hidden behind a stone wall, was altogether very different.
As we pulled up outside the iron gate; the prominent sound of a bolt being thrust out of the ground greeted us and into the “Orphanage of Hearts” we drove. The project’s official name is ‘Orphelinat des Coeurs de Jesus et de Marie’ since Burundi is a predominantly French speaking country.
Run and directed by Albert Ntakimazi, this amazing, albeit grass roots project houses, mentors and feeds over 70 children, both boys & girls in roughly equal balance. From School funding to accommodation, they help with a cross-section of orphaned and/or street children up to the age of 18 in Bujumbura; the humid capital of Burundi that lies on the golden sand shores of Lake Tanganyika.
I was given a warm welcome by Valère (project manager) before being escorted into the main room like a visiting dignitary. Albert & Valère were only able to speak French or Kirundi (also known as Rundi – the native language of Burundi) but thankfully Mélance spoke excellent English, so he soon found himself as translator amongst many other helpful roles I had placed upon him.
Their main house comprises of three main rooms; one for infants, juniors and girls. The boys are stationed in an adjacent house, built by Albert to accommodate just some of street kids needing help in Bujumbura.
We talked. It was clear money was needed for rent & food, but that doesn’t quite fit the model Dan & I put in place for assistance in Africa. Sadly, direct financial assistance can so often find itself diverted down other channels, however well-meaning or desperate the project may seem.
I had no such suspicions for those here, of course, but being new in town and unfamiliar with the project, we had to ensure the children benefited.
Off to the Soko
I was grateful. Mélance had offered time outside his job to assist me through the local Market (Soko) in Bujumbura to buy supplies. Rather than giving money for food, we went to the market and started by procuring Rice & Beans, but soon moved on to Bedding & Blankets, Mosquito Nets, Text Books and Kitenge (a brightly coloured & pattered material common in East Africa) for the women & girls.
In total we made almost 10 trips to the market spending over £1,000 ($1,600), but we didn’t hesitate as this help was urgently needed. Bujumbura’s Market is must-see place for anyone visiting Bujumbura. This bulging, chaotic warehouse-style building is crammed full of everything you’d need. It’s a bustling though relatively safe place; cargo of over 100KG is often hoisted onto the heads of porters, though in amazement do keep your wallet in close check. Sticky fingers are ever-present.
Most vendors will try to “Muzugu price” you, which means to charge you more since you’re a foreigner. Thankfully with Mélance on hand I could ensure any such artificial inflation was overcome.
After a week passed, it soon came to light that the adjacent house for the boys was crumbling.
I was due to leave the next day, but with a relatively flexible itinerary ahead of me, I decided to stay on so that we could scour the merchant markets and purchase the materials needed to strengthen their building.
Again Mélance so kindly offered his vehicle and assistance, so with that we set about purchasing sand, gravel, cement and iron rods.
Whilst I left before this work was completed, I look forward to seeing the end result and photos of that will be made available later in this blog.
The website is very much still in construction and, unfortunately, during the writing of this blog here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I had my laptop stolen – so some of the content, videos & photos I was so keen to share have been lost.
But never mind; despite a skeleton website, the commitment remains; this amazing project is in desperate need of help. The children, staff and volunteers deserver so much more; anyone who is able to help whether through funding or volunteering will be welcome at a sanctuary of smiling faces.
Huge thanks must be given to Mélance who housed me for the majority of my time in Bujumbura. He was invaluable in his assistance bartering at the market and without the use of his car, achieving what we did would have been much harder.
Mélance owns and runs Burundi General Services, a business services firm assisting with anything from Intellectual Property for corporations to visa, employment law or real estate assistance for individuals. A great contact and genuinely nice guy if you’re ever in Bujumbura.
Grateful also to Protais Nteziriba for his support and most enjoyable Chinese meal on the evening before I left!
So from the team in Bujumbura and most importantly the wonderful children & staff from the Orphanage of Hearts (Orphelinat des Coeurs de Jesus et de Marie) – a huge thank you to all who support Better Life Cycle.