Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
For the young people held in the Mpimba Central Prison in Bujumbura (Burundi) (http://www.tdh.ch/fr/countries/burundi), Friday 14th March 2014 wasn’t a day like the others. For four months, more than 50 youngsters had been attending a literacy class organized by Terre des hommes (Tdh) in partnership with the Kamenge Youth Centre (http://www.cejeka.org/) and with the support of the European Union. Half the youngsters, a promising number in view of the initial conditions, passed their final exams with flying colours and received their certificates the same day.
Mylene X, in charge of Tdh’s psychosocial activities in Burundi, tells us about her day with these young prisoners:
“When we went back to the prison, the kids were all nicely dressed in new school uniforms. It was easy to feel their enthusiasm – they were running back and forth, faces glowing with excitement. As the guests gradually arrived, the kids didn’t stop scanning the audience as if they were looking for someone special. Sometimes you could see one of the youngsters lighten up, a huge smile on his face – or on the contrary, drop his eyes, disappointed. For that special day, Terre des hommes had invited the parents of all the youngsters who had joined the classes, to attend the award ceremony. When the families met the eyes of a son, a daughter, a brother or sister on arrival, there was a moment of shock. For some of them it was more than three years since they had seen one another. It’s hard to describe the succession of emotions – within a few seconds expressions of joy, incredulity and hesitation passed over the same face.
I shan’t forget the picture of the youngsters shaking the hand of the prison Governor’s representative when they received their certificates, their faces turned towards their relatives in the audience. For so many of them, this was the first time in their lives that they had been rewarded. One mother, tears in her eyes, stood up and said how happy she was to see her son smiling, beating a drum and now able to write a letter. It was not at all what she had expected in “this sort of place”.
For Jean de Dieu, who was leaving prison that same day, it was a chance to thank the other kids for the quality of the time he had spent with them learning about life. He also reminded all the parents how much they were missed, and how the youngsters needed to see them more often. At the end of this happy day for the kids, the parents left in a festive hubbub. You could hear their voices becoming more muffled as they approached the exit door. Then each youngster went back to the prison in a thoughtful silence, proud of his certificate and comforted by seeing his family for one day at least. “
Terre des hommes brings about a positive change in the daily lives of over two million children and their families every year. Learn more about our projects in Burundi (http://www.tdh.ch/en/countries/burundi).