The Batwa people face systemic injustice and discrimination. This can be seen in the most-obvious place – the justice system of Burundi. We are learning that often times the Batwa are subject to unfair treatment under the law of their land and left to languish without any advice, advocates or a way out. Our friends tell us of frequently being brought to court under false pretense and having no one to defend them. Batwa are wrongfully imprisoned on a regular basis, and there is no one to argue for their release. When the Batwa are the victims of violence or not paid for their work, they have little recourse as no one can speak for them in a legal venue. It is as if they are invisible in their own country and in their own courts.
Many of our Batwa students have seen this injustice touch their own families and communities. Each has a story (usually more than one) of people in their life who are in prison and have no way out. They know too well what it is to work hard and not be paid – and have nowhere to turn for help. So it is not surprising that many of our Batwa students want to be educated in law.
These students aspire to be advocates for their people. They want to possess knowledge of the law so that they can give sound advice, represent the Batwa in court and break the cycle of injustice that plagues the Batwa at this time. These students dream of defending the Batwa and restoring their names within the community.
Here are some of their comments as they consider a future in law…
Thierry Ndikumwenayo wants to be able to offer legal help to his people. He says often a Batwa will pay a lawyer to represent them in court, only to find the lawyer does not represent them fairly or at all. Sometimes the lawyer will not even show up to court to make a defense, allowing the Batwa person to be a victim, yet again. Thierry wants to be present for his people, to show up and provide a fair argument and work for justice.Pascal Nshimirimana dreams of helping the Batwa who currently have no representatives in court. He plans on getting his education in law so he can empower his community by giving them rights in the court system. He wants to work in the court system, but also out in the countryside villages to teach the Batwa about their rights and how the justice system works so they will no be vicitms any longer.Lyduine Ndayikengurukiye wants the Batwa to have someone who can help them and explain the law to them. She dreams of seeing Batwa in government leadership positions and of one day even having a Mutwa President!Dieudonne Ndayikeje has witnessed Batwa being taken to court all too often. He wants to get his law degree so he can someday offer relief to his community, those who have been so mistreated during his lifetime. He plans to provide them with a trust-worthy legal representative.These students aim to change the face of justice for the Batwa in Burundi. We are part of that hope as we pray for them and partner with them amid their education years.
Not long ago Evariste Ndinzemenshi was unsure of how he was going to manage to finish his final year of secondary school. His family, who struggles to allow three of their eight children to attend school, did not have enough money for all the necessary school fees. But this young man believed that God would make a way for him, and so he prayed. Then he heard about the Batwa Education Project by Community for Burundi and now rejoices, believing this to be the answer to his prayers.
In this new setting, Evariste enjoys the daily routine of attending school, coming home to a relaxing environment, getting to eat a nutritious dinner and then studying in the evening among fellow housemates. He also enjoys engaging in two of his favorite activities – reading and singing. He reports that he now sleeps soundly each night with the knowledge that his sole concern is doing well in school.
Evariste dreams of continuing onto university after he graduates next spring. He plans to major in economics so that he can teach his family and other Batwa how to use money. He believes that at this time the Batwa communities do not have a sound knowledge about how to use money well. He wants to help change that for future generations. He sees himself working in the banking system, and one day starting a development project to create new opportunities for Batwa to benefit from agriculture and other micro-enterprises.
He also hopes to be able to support himself someday, to be able to live in a big home that he owns. And he has a vision of a sign he will post over the door: “This is a Mutwa’s house.” He wants the pride of ownership, but also to signal to the wider community that the Batwa people can accomplish economic success, too.
Renovat Niyongabo is 22 years old and comes from Mwaro, a region up-country where 99% of the Burundian tea is grown. While his roots are rural, his aspirations could be considered cosmopolitan. Renovat sees the great need for the Batwa to know about technology and have access to current information so that they will have the knowledge necessary for advancement. This is the reason he is pursuing his studies in Information Technology at Gasenyi Municipal College in Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi.
Renovat dreams of establishing a school to educate other Batwa in technological skills. He wants all Batwa children to benefit from his own learning about the tools that are available now. In this way, he hopes to combat ignorance and pass along knowledge that will enable others to have a means of supporting themselves.
These dreams come from a deep place in Renovat’s heart. His own family lives an impoverished existence. He has, his entire life, lived in a temporary hut with his parents and three siblings. His father works hard, but still can only manage to bring food back to the family three times a week. As the oldest child, Renovat always looks for ways to assist his father and help provide for the family. He remained diligent in school, hoping this would be a way to work himself out of poverty and bring relief to his family and community.
This August, the chief of this small village was offered the opportunity to identify one student in his community to participate in the Batwa Education Project. The chief chose Renovat, which is an answer to his many prayers for a path to provide for his family. Renovat reports that he has never lived in such a nice home or been given the chance to learn in such a supportive environment. He is so excited to learn – and now he has food each day, a dry place to store his books, electricity for late night study sessions and a mattress to get a good nights sleep each night. He is so grateful and intends to make his family and village proud.
He does dream of owning his own plot of land, building a home for his family and contributing to the Batwa community. He is confident that being conversant in the IT world will allow him the opportunity to make a difference in his world.
The Batwa live, all too often, in dire conditions. They know what it is to be on the edge, to experience the soul-shredding of destitution. Yet, they demonstrate this deep truth that those who know how to mourn, know how to dance.
Christy Jones is a tenured teacher on sabbatical in Burundi. She lives in Bujumbura and has befriended the Batwa students in the Community For Burundi home. She spends a few days a week with them conducting English classes, at the request of the Batwa Committee who want their students to have every opportunity to advance in their education. So Christy, who knows no Kirundi and a scant bit of French, walks to their home to offer her language and teaching talents. She often takes a translator to assist in the communication necessary for learning, but she seems to always have compassion as her companion when she walks across the threshold of their home.
She shares of a recent visit to the Batwa students. She walked over to see the students in their new home and welcome them. While she was with them, they couldn’t help but ask about when their English lessons would begin. So an impromptu lesson emerged as they sat in the front room of the house. It was more a time for Christy to access their current understanding of English, but they were so excited to be trying their greetings and vocabulary out with their new teacher and friend. Apparently there was a good bit of confusion and laughing during that first session together.
When it was time for Christy to leave the house, she began to make her way to the door. But the this handful of students slowed her pace with an invitation – ‘can we sing for you?’ She wouldn’t dare resist such an offer… so they began to sing for her. Christy described the song as the most joyful sound she ever heard, such perfect harmony and full-bodied sound coming from these new friends. She shared how hard it was to contain the tears that such deep beauty provoked in her heart. All she did was share a bit of her language and time – but the students saw more. They felt her embrace and promise of friendship; they saw how she recognized their potential and her growing confidence in them. And they had to respond; they had to give a gift. So they sang a song that she could carry home in her heart, a song that she hummed on her walk down the dusty road home and ever since.
Apparently, those who have mourned and been despised also know how to sing.