Burundi: Helping children affected by natural disasters continue their schooling
October 04, 2022 by GPE Secretariat |
4 minutes read

Read how GPE is working with the government of Burundi and UNICEF to make sure children’s learning isn’t interrupted by natural disasters caused by climate change.

Cynthia Tumukunde
"The school supplies I received helped me a great deal. Without them, I wouldn't have been able to continue to take notes in class. I would also like to have more classrooms at school, especially for the children returning from the refugee camps."
Cynthia Tumukunde
Student at Kibonde Basic School

Burundi has experienced a series of crises whose consequences are still evident in various sectors, including education. According to a UNICEF report, the Burundian population is affected by natural disasters (related in particular to climate change), which were recently compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The country is also grappling with other recurring, endemic diseases such as cholera and malaria. This situation significantly hampers school attendance.

Several towns have reported many new arrivals in recent months: families that fled floods in their areas of residence or are returning from exile as a result of frequent social and political crises in the country.

To support the country’s efforts in ensuring learning continuity during emergencies, building back better, and enhancing children's integration in the education system, GPE has provided US$9.38 million in accelerated funding to Burundi. The grant supports the PACASU-TUBARAMIRE program, implemented in partnership with UNICEF, which serves as the grant agent.

Boosting the resilience of the education system

The sector faces a host of challenges, including substandard school infrastructure, limited access to education, and subpar quality of education during emergencies.

School infrastructure needs are enormous: during the 2021-2022 school year alone, more than 1,500 classrooms were destroyed by bad weather. According to a Ministry of Education and Scientific Research (MENRS) official, "to attain a ratio of 50 students per teacher in each classroom, the country needs at least an additional 32,000 new classrooms."

Population growth in host communities exerts pressure on school infrastructure and heightens the need for new facilities. Ferdinand Muheto Wintare, principal of the Bumwe Basic School in Buterere (near Bujumbura, the capital) notes that "this area is often hit by floods that sometimes compel children in neighboring communities to leave their school and join ours. Sometimes even we are so badly affected by flooding that we have to discontinue classes."

Hence the relevance of programs such as PACASU-TUBARAMIRE, aimed at enabling all children to continue to exercise their right to education in the face of emergencies. However, while building schools is great, creating child-friendly learning environments, to make children feel truly comfortable, safe and secure, is even better.

Improving the learning environment and ensuring uninterrupted school attendance during emergencies

Activities financed by the program include classroom construction and rehabilitation, installation of handwashing facilities, and connection of the schools to water supply systems in the communes.

Since the start of the program on February 1, 2021, 103 classrooms have been built (plus separate toilets for boys and girls in each school); and 750 classrooms damaged by flooding and other weather events are being rehabilitated.

A new school built with GPE funds. Kigobe Reference Center for Inclusive Education in Bujumbura, Burundi.
A new school built with GPE funds. Kigobe Reference Center for Inclusive Education in Bujumbura, Burundi.
Ferdinand Muheto Wintare
"These new classrooms are really useful. In addition to being helpful during floods, these schools will make it possible to reduce the number of children in each class, which until now was 100."
Ferdinand Muheto Wintare
Director, Bumwe Basic School

Most schools are open to all students, including those with disabilities. Access ramps will be provided in the schools under construction.

In order to ensure learning continuity during crises, 137,000 children have received school supplies, 2,000 teachers have received teaching materials, and more than 10,000 students have attended remedial classes.

A total of 34,500 children have received school meals daily; 1,850 focal points have been trained and assigned to schools to provide psychosocial care for students and teachers; and close to 300,000 students and teachers have benefited from action to raise awareness of mental health and psychosocial well-being.

Adapting program implementation to local conditions

In some cases, existing schools or schools being rehabilitated face water supply problems. For instance, in some localities, water rationing regulations prevent optimal use of such infrastructure as handwashing facilities. At the Busoro Basic School, water is available only three days a week.

In addition, the integration of displaced students in their new environment can be problematic. In border areas such as Busoni in the north of the country (on the border with Rwanda), there are, as indicated by Léandre Nkunzimana, provincial Director of Education, "numerous repatriates and many returnee children who do not have a sound understanding of Kirundi because many of them have started learning English. That makes learning difficult both for them and for the teachers."

Special measures have been adopted to meet such challenges. In Mutimbuzi, for instance, where the newly built school is not connected to the municipal water supply network, a roof rainwater harvesting system has been put in place. A 2,500-liter tank will supply the water thus collected to handwashing facilities and latrines.

Remedial classes organized in certain schools enable repatriated children to catch up.

The results achieved so far are attributable to the partnership-based approach adopted by GPE, UNICEF, and the various local and national implementing partners. The involvement of the ministry of education, local authorities and community participation help ensure ownership of the program and prevention of issues that could have arisen during its implementation.

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