Burundi is a small, densely populated country in the heart of Africa. From 1993 until 2006 the country was shaken by a civil war. More than 300.000 people died and more than a million were displaced. Still today the population has to deal with an atmosphere of violence and insecurity. As a consequence of “la crise”, the Burundian term for the civil war, Burundi has become one of the poorest countries in the world and a large part of the population does not own enough land to feed their families.
The difficult situation within the country especially affects the weakest: Street children, who grew up under very poor conditions, left their families because of domestic violence, were chased away because of heritage conflicts, or lost contact with their families during the war. They are a part of the townscape of the capital Bujumbura; watching cars, and carrying groceries or trying to earn enough to survive with other small jobs. There are only a few initiatives taking care of these children who grow up on the streets and have lost all hope of a return to society.
One of these initiatives is the “Fondation Stamm” which gives shelter to these children and some former child soldiers, providing education and reestablishing contact with families. However the circumstances are difficult and the local NGO is facing big challenges to ensure that the basic needs of the children are satisfied.
But food and a place to sleep are not sufficient to help these children on their way back into Burundian society. Consequently, vivo international started to support the project in autumn 2010 in order to examine the psychological needs of the former street children and to restructure the home accommodating these children. From autumn 2010 until winter 2011 a psychologist from vivo international stayed on-site. In collaboration with the carers working at the home, daily structure and a caregiving system were established. Furthermore, regular activities were introduced such as days of hygiene, information days about vocational trainings and future job opportunities. A very important milestone for the return of the children into society was restructuring the family visits together with the carers. These visits allowed the carers to discuss with the family members plans to reunite them with the children and to assess possible major challenges. Last but not least, the carers took part in caregiving workshops.
Additionally, some children needed individual psychological assistance. They came from difficult family backgrounds and experienced unspeakable horrors – from maltreatment in families or on the streets, to witnessing how their parents were killed. Too often happy faces were hiding serious problems such as difficulties in school, concentration problems, social withdrawal and sometimes even aggressive behavior. Aiming to help them process their experiences, we offered therapy to 16 children. This was an expanded version of Narrative Exposure Therapy (FORNET). This version of Narrative Exposure Therapy treats aggressive behaviour in addition to traumatic stress.
It was a very special experience for the children that the therapist took time for each one of them and structured together with them their worst experiences. All in all, many children reported that it was helpful for them to process their past and that they can now concentrate much on their future. Also, their preparedness for aggressive behavior clearly declined. At the end of the therapy, each child received their life story as a book. For many of them it was something truly special to hold a book about their life in their hands.