Finding safe shelter in Burundi

“I had never heard gunfire before,” says Benjamin, 12, from one of the communes that has witnessed many clashes since violence broke out in April.© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Luthi

“I had never heard gunfire before,” says Benjamin, 12, from one of the communes that has witnessed many clashes since violence broke out in April.© UNICEF Burundi/2015/Luthi

Burundi, 27 July 2015 – “We heard a lot of gunshots where we live, in Musaga,” says Brice, 7. “I was scared. I cried all the time.”

Brice is one of more than 80 children being sheltered by a faith-based organization in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital city. The children are from neighborhoods in Bujumbura that have seen the worst clashes between security forces and protestors since the beginning of the unrest that started in April.

The heightened insecurity has led some parents to send their children to find refuge – either in the countryside, where things are calmer, or in sheltered neighborhoods of the city. For many of these children, unlike their parents and older siblings who experienced the last lengthy civil conflict in Burundi, it is a terrifying first-time encounter with violence.

“I had never heard gunfire before,” says Benjamin, 12, his eyes tearing up as he remembers the sound. “From our house in Ngagara, we heard non-stop clashes and gunfire all the time. I was afraid.”

A peaceful place

“My family lives in Cibitoke,” says Florent, 6, playing soccer in the centre’s large courtyard with his older brother David, 10. “We were very scared. We couldn’t sleep at night.”

As families in Bujumbura anxiously wait for calm to return and for schools to finally reopen, these children – aged as young as four days all the way to 18 years – have found refuge in this quiet sanctuary.

UNICEF has provided the center with recreational kits containing games and balls, early childhood kits with drawing materials, buckets and jerry cans for safe storage of clean water, and meals with support from the World Food Programme.

“We’re so happy to finally be in this peaceful place,” adds David. “And we’re very happy to have received the games and drawing materials. It helps us forget what we’re going through.”

Back at the drawing table, Brice furrows his brow and leans over his drawing, carefully tracing the outlines of a car.