This article was originally posted on January 27th, 2009 during AFJN’s trip to Burundi and Uganda. It appeared on the blog Reposted on April 14th, 2009.
The Kamenge Center sits in the middle of the northern neighborhoods (quarters) of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. During the war in the 1990’s, it became one of the only places where youth from different neighborhoods and tribes could come together as brothers and sisters.
Today, it serves over 31,000 young men and women and provides opportunities for learning, sports, and arts. Classes in fields such as English, Mathematics, and Computer Science draw those looking to enhance their knowledge base; a soccer field, basketball court, and weight room encourages the youth to exercise and play sport with one another; and classes in theatre, hip hop, and competitions in dance, singing, and poetry promote the importance of the arts in society. In so many developing countries, the resources for community programs are lacking – so the Center provides a much-needed gathering space and opportunities for youth to engage in productive activities.
In our interviews thus far, it has become clear that the ethnic and political tensions that were so prevalent a decade ago have largely faded. Nevertheless, the Kamenge Center continues to play an important role in peace and community reconciliation. During the war, there was a time when passing through a neighborhood to which you did not belong could result in your death. Fr. Claudio, the Xaverian Missionary who runs the Center, would open doors on different sides of the property, allowing youth to come into the Center without passing through a hostile neighborhood. Once there, they learned that there was no reason for the violence between tribes and that they could live together peacefully.
When asked, nearly everyone tells us that the Hutu/Tutsi distinctions are no longer relevant to life in Burundi. Some dislike discussing it because it shouldn’t matter, others make a point to discuss it to prove that there are no ethnic barriers. One of the theatre teachers at the Center often includes comical dialogue about Hutus and Tutsis in his plays, reinforcing the notion that tribal distinctions should be seen in a positive light.
It certainly seems that the Kamenge Center is doing a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of community support and reconciliation. As we continue to talk with community members and authorities in Burundi, we will make futher notes about the Center’s work.
Posted by Beth Tuckey