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Community savings and loan groups in Burundi provide hope in a very violent year

Youth involved in the Abunzubumwe project act out a sketch in which youth from different political parties clash over the elections

Youth involved in the Abunzubumwe project act out a sketch to promote cohesion across the political divide.

Since June 2014, AOAV and our local partners have implemented the Abunzubumwe (“Youth United”) project in two communes (districts) just outside of the Burundian capital, Bujumbura. This project, financed in 2015 by the German Federal Foreign Office via the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa), seeks to prevent youth involvement in violence through a holistic approach that addresses three primary causes of such activity: unemployment and poverty, intolerance of political difference, and psychological problems linked to trauma. AOAV works with the Centre d’Encadrement et de Developpement des Anciens Combattants (CEDAC), Association pour l’Encadrement des Orphelins et l’Education a la Paix (AEOEP) and Vivo International.

2015 has been a trying year for Burundi, a year in which this central African country descended into a violent crisis sparked by the controversial reelection campaign of President Pierre Nkurunziza. Violence has largely taken place along political lines, but youth across the political spectrum almost universally cite other factors in the unrest – poverty, unemployment, and a lack of hope is driving frustrated young Burundians to take up arms.

The Abunzubumwe project’s 500 youth beneficiaries are organized into groups of 25 based on the Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC) model. Group members, who include members of various political parties, ex-combatants, and other vulnerable youth, make weekly contributions to the group’s savings, and members can take out small loans from their groups to start, or contribute to existing, income-generating activities (IGAs) with the guidance of project staff. SILC groups are sustainable, require no external capital, and promote mutual trust and accountability between their members.

Jacqueline, a 28-year-old mother of four, is a member of the SILC group in Mutimbuzi commune not far from the Congolese border. She explains how she has benefitted from the SILC model:

“With the effects of the conflict, my husband lost his job, and myself I wasn’t doing anything because of the lack of capital. So we had a lot of trouble ensuring the survival of our family, especially paying for food and schooling for the children. We often had to beg. Now, thanks to the SILC group, I was able to access a loan of 80,000 BIF (35 GBP) which allowed me to open a restaurant. With the training and supervision to develop and manage micro-projects, my business is going well and I have been able to repay the loan and I now have my own capital.”

Estella is 18 years old and from Kanyosha:

“I spent the major part of my life in an atmosphere of violence and extreme poverty. This life put out of me all hope for a better life. So I lived with hatred and jealousy in my heart towards those who seem to succeed in life. The Abunzubumwe Project revealed to me a very important secret: that I must change my way of viewing things, to see the positive, get a vision, a goal, and that the mind changing is the beginning of a new life. Now I am an activist for peace, security and non-violence. I am able, through our SILC group, to start a small business and manage it well. I am very grateful for this project that gave me confidence for my life.”

Vianney is a young member of the ruling CNDD-FDD party from another village in Mutimbuzi commune. Having started raising and selling goats thanks to a SILC loan, he provides another example of the wide-ranging effects of economic empowerment. Thanks to his business, he says, “I’ve become an important part of my family and my community because I can take care of the needs of my family and participate in the development of my community.” He now plans to build a house, a traditional prerequisite to marriage and adulthood that is all but unattainable for unemployed youth.

Odette, a single mother also from Mutimbuzi, relates her experience:

“Before [the SILC group], I had a great deal of trouble raising my children alone, which made me even more vulnerable and exposed me to sexual violence. With the Abunzubumwe project, I’m becoming economically independent little by little and I no longer count on other people to feed my children. I took out a loan of 20,000 BIF (9 GBP) to grow eggplants. With the harvest, I hope to sell four bags for 80,000 BIF total. If we have access to credit, especially with the guidance we receive, we can move forward in life.”

As the project came to the end of its current phase last month, AOAV and our partners worked with the members of each SILC group to help them sustain their activities and continue driving their own economic empowerment while working together across political divides. The impact of this project, despite its small size, is a testament to the ability of Burundi’s youth to work together to overcome interconnected problems such as conflict and poverty.