Kamenge Youth Center for Peace
The Kamenge Youth Center:
Coexistence in the heart of Africa's Great Lakes region.
The project "Kamenge Youth Center" answers to the specific problems of the periphery of Bujumbura, a region whose habitants include a majority of youth who have left the interior of the country - or neighboring countries-and who face each day the inter-ethnic hatred, poverty, lack of schooling, absence of job opportunities, drug trafficking, risks of AIDS of this city.
During September, 1991, we laid the foundation for the Center; in September, 1993, the majority of the Center's construction was completed. At that time there were already 2,500 youths registered at the Center, whose goal remains to guide youths in a better understanding and appreciation of work, of the social and health education, and of culture and sports.
A city as crowded as Bujumbura sees all the serious problems of major African cities. Taking these problems seriously becomes an absolute priority in the city's periphery which is most lacking in social services. The lack of meeting and public spaces for youth often leads to the organization of youth gangs who engage in ethnic massacres of one another. our objective is to offer a long-term training center for young adults between the ages of 14 and 30.
We encourage literacy programs, health and nutrition education, social and religious awareness programs, and the overall creation of groups in which youth learn to live together with one another.
We offer courses in typing, computer skills, secretarial skills, accounting, drawing, sewing, etc.
A Field for Peace:
With 40,000 residents, Kamenge is a troubled neighborhood with a long and violent history. Such a maligned neighborhood has remained isolated and abandoned: The only outsiders sent in are soldiers and missionaries.
Of Soldiers and Missionaries:
Soldiers did indeed arrive in Kamenge. Well before them, however, came the missionaries. It was Simon Ntamwana, the Bishop of Bujumbura, who proposed the creation of the Center. Simon asked the Xaverian Fathers to build a youth center in this neighborhood which was essentially abandoned. The development of this Center has welcomed girls and boys, and young men and women alike. Coming to the Center has become important. I have met young people who removed their picture from their identity cards in order to use it to register at the Center. "Yes," they say, "the Center's identity card is more important than my national identity card. It gives me a new identity, one which I thrive on and enjoy."
A Multi-Ethnic Space:
The Center is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural space: Hutus, Tutsis, Burundians, Zairians and Rwandans share its resources together. But it is also a multi-cultural space, and here the word "cultural" takes on a broader meaning. I have met people here who are well educated, and others who are barely literate and who read comic books. The pictures in these books help them to understand the words and phrases that they might not otherwise recognize. There are yet others who come to the Center to watch videos and then talk about them together.
I have also met soldiers at the Center. Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, the third President in democratic Burundi, wanted the soldiers to remain at the Center 24-hours a day, to live with the youth, to talk and play together with them, and to share the same emotions, fears and nostalgia of home. When I talk about the Center as a multi-cultural environment, I think not only about urban and rural cultures but also religious cultures. I have met young people from all different walks of religious life: Catholics, Protestants of a dozen denominations, and Moslems alike who are tormented by the separation between the Christian and Islamic worlds.
For weeks at a time, I worked with people who were completely confused with the Bible's words; youth who felt buffeted by the violence depicted in its pages and fascinated by this text which suggested creativity to conquer evil with good. I remember a meeting with a young Rwandan Tutsi. His father was dead. His mother lived in Zaire and she had been told to return to Rwanda. There, she would receive the house and lands of a Hutu. She, the mother, had asked her child's advice as the male son. For him, there was no easy answer: Is it possible to take over the house and home of someone who was forced to flee the horrors of war?
Happy are Those who Build Peace:
Merely through its existence, the Center is a path towards peace. It allows people to discover the positive value of their own differences and to regard this as an unexpected wealth. When these youth feel the urge to become conscious of their potential as promoters of peace and reconciliation, the Center becomes a path on which to build a history, difficult and full of surprises, but fascinating all-the-same. This is how the Center can encourage not only the individual, but through him and her, the country itself. It is a unique encouragement to the world's northern countries.
Activities at the Center
Library, Study Center, Advanced and Remedial Language Center, Video Hall, Music Studios, Conference Rooms, Theater Hall, Concert Hall
Referee School, Leadership Training Program, Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis, Table Tennis, Weight Lifting
We offer training programs for community leaders, social workers and health workers. For several months, the Center's activities were threatened by violence. The Center was forced to suspend its activities temporarily because of the Coup d'Etat of October 1993 and the ensuing war which ravaged the country. At that time, the Center became a war hospital for the neighborhood.
Today, even if the country continues to live through a period of great uncertainty, punctuated by violence, the Kamenge Youth Center is working hand in hand with the local administration for the reconstruction of the neighborhood. We are focused on Kamenge (which became a Hutu neighborhood during the war), and Cibitoke (which became a Tutsi neighborhood during the war). We watched as 2,000 houses around us were destroyed. We are slowly helping to supply corrugated iron for the reconstruction of roofs, and two doors and four windows for those families which want to rebuild. The cost is $460 per house.
We are also working to assist young people to complete their studies, and we are able to follow them closely in the nearby schools. For a young boy or girl in middle school (four years), the cost is $86 per year; for a student in high school (also four years), the cost is $152 per year; and for university students (five or six years), the cost is $460 per year [with this amount, we are able to provide for their room and board fees].
We are continually seeking to complete our original plans: Complete our construction work on the Center's secondary structures, publish a journal, create a neighborhood radio station....
Friends of the Kamenge Youth Center:
Diocese of Bujumbura
Manos Unidas, Spain
Dorothy Sisters of Cemmo
Episcopal Italian Conference
Belgian and French Embassies in Bujumbura
Burundian Ministry of Youth
Cooperation and Development Service of Lyon, France
Ticino Group for Burundi
Ceux de Melarolo Group
Missionary Centers of Milan, Trento, Vittorio Veneto, Brescia, Udine
Grafica e Arte Bergamo
Third World Group-Forest Douai High School
...and all of you...