Freddy's journey to leading a meaningful life

UNICEF in Burundi is working with the Ministry of Youth to implement a life skills development programme and promote social cohesion.

By Jean Sacha Barikumutima
Freddy working in the field
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Barikumutima
08 April 2020

"I used to go to bars with my friends to drink instead of going to school," recalls 18-year-old Freddy Ngezahayo who lives on Ndava Hill in Gisozi Commune, Mwaro Province. Like other teenagers, Freddy faces many economic and social challenges around him and had taken refuge in alcohol as a coping mechanism.

To Freddy, this is how adults cope with challenges based on examples of people around him. "Since the age of 10, I saw my father going to bars, my older brother drank a lot too," Freddy explains. With a father and two older brothers who were alcoholics, I too found solace in alcohol. My mother was ashamed of me.’ he adds.

Freddy had dropped out of school and became vulnerable to various distractions due to idleness. "When I found a day job that gave me some money, I spent it all on alcohol," he says.  Without guidance and support, without training and orientation, without a positive role model, his future was uncertain.

By coincidence, Freddy met some young people who inspired him to change. "One day, one of the young people on my village came to me and told me that what I was doing was wrong. They made me realize that if I persisted, I wouldn't get anywhere in my life. I was a loser," he adds, laughing at himself, "I was pathetic, unkempt and I didn't even have a change of clothes.”

Freddy with his parents
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Barikumutima

Today, Freddy's life has been completely transformed: "Since joining the solidarity group, I have learned a lot. I'm clean and proud, I'm saving, I already have chickens and goats, I have a potato field and a vegetable garden, and my parents are also very proud of me". Explains Freddy, "Today I know how to use my energy and my intelligence" he adds.

UNICEF in Burundi is working with the Ministry of Youth to implement a life skills development programme and promote social cohesion. Through partners such as the Burundi Girl Guides Association, Umunyinya and Provincial Anglican Church of Burundi, more than 19,500 adolescents and young people like Freddy, have formed 650 solidarity groups, which has greatly contributed to their personal development.

Freddy with his mother at the farm
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Barikumutima

Organized in solidarity groups, these adolescents and young people are supervised for 6 months by peer educators who lead a two-hour session with them every week on the development of self-confidence, conflict resolution, non-violent communication, citizenship and civic engagement.  These solidarity groups have become a model of unity across divides and a means through which adolescents can channel their energy towards constructive and peaceful purposes.

Freddy poses in the field
UNICEF Burundi/2020/Barikumutima