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Drumming up pride among post-war Burundi’s street children

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Ajia
Thierry, 13, is a drummer at the Stamm Foundation, a UNICEF-supported NGO that provides orphaned children with housing, education and life skills while promoting Burundi’s drumming heritage.

By Olalekan Ajia

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 9 April 2007 – Thierry is known at the Stamm Foundation as the boy who shook hands with Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General. That was last year at the Fifth African Development Forum in Addis Ababa, when the young drummers of ‘Les Tambourinaires’ performed at a farewell reception for Mr. Annan.

Thierry, 13, counts himself lucky to be alive, lucky to be in school and very proud to beat the drums alongside his friends in the children’s troupe – all orphans of Burundi’s 12-year-long civil war.

He is proud because it is a great honour to beat the drums or to have them beaten for you in Burundi, where drums signify the pride, dignity and integrity of the nation. The drummers wear the national colours of white for peace, green for hope and red for love of country.

‘Listen with your heartbeat’

Africa is the continent of drums, but the drums of Burundi require extraordinary vigour, dexterity, agility and grace. Burundian drums sound like rolling thunderclaps.

“You don’t listen to these drums with your ears, you listen with your heartbeat,” said the Bureau Chief of the United Nations Information Centre in Burundi, Beatrice Nibogora.

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Ndayishimiye
Thierry leads ‘Les Tambourinaires’, a children’s drumming and dancing troupe in Burundi.

The war in Burundi left behind 823,000 orphans, at least 20,000 of whom are currently living on the streets.  The Stamm Foundation, a national non-governmental organization supported by UNICEF, provides some of these children – including former child soldiers – with a home, education and life skills, while promoting Burundi’s proud cultural heritage.

When the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was entertained by Thierry and his fellow Tambourinaires earlier this month, she was so delighted she promised to invite them to UN headquarters in New York.

Promoting teamwork

Well-known cartoonist and children’s author Trevor Romain, who was in the delegation that accompanied Ms. Coomaraswamy on her visit here, spent two days with Les Tambourinaires and was given the honorary title of Captain. Before leaving, he told the boys he would never forget how they honoured him by allowing him to beat the drums with them.

But they did more than that. In Mr. Romain’s discussions with the drummers on how to sustain peace in Burundi, they explained to him that children’s education was essential, that children must avoid the mistakes of their elders, that they must forgive one another and live and work together as a team – both in beating the drums and rebuilding their country.

UNICEF has been working with the Stamm Foundation to help young people achieve these goals since 2003. Besides caring for orphans and rehabilitating street children, the collaboration includes HIV/AIDS prevention and sensitization campaigns, girls’ education programmes and the provision of mobile schools and emergency medical kits for children in need.




Hear the distinctive drumming of ‘Les Tambourinaires’ of Burundi.

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