Building skills and a better future

The adolescents’ group in Burundi is growing faster than all the other age groups, with projections of reaching 3.4 million in 2030.

Etienne Niyongabo
Ariella in the middle of her crops field
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Etienne Niyongabo
23 July 2020

In May 2020, Ariella harvested 300 kilos of rice, after four months of hard work in the field. Her meager savings and borrowed money are all invested in this harvest.  “I will not sell my rice right away. We will collectively put it in a community storage space, and I will sell it in July, when prices will increase,” she says.

Ariella is the youngest child in her family.  “We live in the countryside. My mum is sick all the time, and here, no money means no access to health care. So, I have two goals: to help my mother and to invest in my own education, the one my mum has never been able to pay for. My dream is to save enough to pay for my studies in the capital, Bujumbura and become a doctor.”

Adolescents like Ariella represent a quarter of the total population in Burundi. This group is growing faster than all the other age groups, with projections of reaching 3.4 million in 2030.

Adolescent girls and boys - like Ariella and her peers - face greater challenges than others, including a high level of vulnerability, health risks and low levels of education and skills. For instance, only one in five adolescent girls (and one in four adolescent boys) complete basic education in Burundi. It is therefore urgent to act and give hope to the youth and new generation.

Based on a recently launched study we now have evidence that the country can gain more than ten times its investment, when investing in programs that enhance Ariella and her peers’ education and skills.

Ariella is one of the adolescents who has been enrolled in such a programme since 2018 along with 30,000 other adolescents. The skills development program implemented by UNICEF includes key aspects of self-awareness, self-confidence, problem solving, citizenship and civic engagement, in order to empower adolescents and promote their participation in their communities. One of the program's strategies has been organizing adolescents in solidarity groups and introducing financial literacy to increase adolescent’s economic resilience and income management capacity. Each solidarity group has a savings and credit union fueled by contributions from members. Each member can access funds to stimulate their small start-up business.

Ariella in her salon with a client
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Etienne Niyongabo

Ariella joined a solidarity group in June 2018, after her friends invited her. “The Bukeye hill community was chosen because of the high number of returnees from Tanzania, who had left Burundi after the election in 2015. “We started by training youth leaders, who in return organized adolescents into groups that meet regularly for skills development sessions,” Flory, a supervisor at the Anglican Provincial Church of Burundi (PEAB), explains. Like her peers, Ariella joined the group first for personal development reasons, - but she soon found out that it would help her increase profits in her new business.   “Our Life skills group leader asked us to identify our lifelong aspirations and identify a strategy to fulfil it…. I soon realized that for me it was to become a doctor.  But this goal comes with major challenges, so I quickly realized that in order to succeed, I had to have a plan to generate income for myself,” says Ariella.

The solidarity group Ariella belongs to consists of 30 people, 35% of them returnees from Tanzania. After three months of facilitating the skills curriculum, the group leader introduced the concept of Village Community Banking to the group and showed them how to set up a saving fund. “We meet every week. We start by discussing various topic like personal values and how to communicate effectively. We end each session by collecting each member’s contribution and register it into the savings fund ledger. Each person can contribute a minimum of 500 BIF (about $0.28 USD). We record each person’s contribution and disburse money for those who would like to take a loan,” Eric, the group leader, explains. 

And village community banking has proven to be a success. By March 2020, Eric’s group had accumulated 3.834.000 BIF (about 2,153 USD) this includes contributions and payments of interest rates from loans taken out by members.

An informal education program, such as the one implemented within the solidarity groups, accounts for a 15,3 return on investment. This scientific reasoning can be witnessed firsthand through Ariella’s story.

Ariella benefits from using the solar panel in her daily activities.
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Etienne Niyongabo


As a result of my initial success, I gained enough confidence to take out a bigger loan


Ariella NININAHAZWE, now 20 years old, Bukeye, Nyanza lac, Makamba


Ariella was quick to understand how this system was going to help her. “I borrowed 50,000 BIF (28 USD) in August to start a small vegetable business. I bought some eggplants, tomatoes and onions from local farmers and sold them in town. When I reimbursed my loan, I was encouraged by friends to reinvest the profit in another business. I took a second loan in December worth 100,000 BIF (56 USD) to start my second venture and grow rice. I used it to pay for seeds, fertilizer and hired three other members from my group to help me plow the land. At first, I was hesitant because planting rice is a long-term investment and you only reap benefits if you are consistent with hard work. Now it’s been four months, my rice field is beautiful, getting ready for the harvest… I worked so hard for it. I am so happy to see the result in front of my eyes!” she says. Other members of her group also took loans to grow rice. By coming together as small scale farmers, they collectively bargained on prices of fertilizer inputs and seeds.  This also facilitated their transportation to the rice field and most importantly, created other business opportunities throughout the value chain (supply of fertilizer, seeds) for other members of the solidarity group.

The 2019 Adolescent Investment Case study was led by the Government of Burundi with support from UNICEF in collaboration with UNFPA and other agencies and carried out by the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies. It is the first of its kind on the African continent and integrating non-formal education into the modeling. It emphasized that with strategic investment on adolescent skills development, education and health, adolescent girls and boys can contribute to the sustainable development of Burundi, and beyond. This study provides strong evidence that is needed to guide policies, programs and budgets, conducive to successfully tackling the numerous challenges adolescents like Ariella face in Burundi and provide an enabling environment for them to reach their full potential.

UNICEF will continue supporting the skills development program, to ensure adolescents and youth are provided a smooth transition to adulthood and financial independence coupled with adequate health interventions. It is through interventions like these that Ariella and her peers can be considered assets for the socio-economic development of Burundi.