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Masala Boly’s story: Life as a United Nations Volunteer with UNICEF Burundi

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Leclercq
Masala Boly in the field in Gitega city (centre of Burundi), chatting with two brothers whose mother just gave birth to a baby boy in a nearby health centre.

By Masala Boly

GITEGA, Burundi, 2 December 2011 - It was during my experience as a volunteer in a Mexican orphanage that I realised something: I want to work with UNICEF. Now here I am, a few years later, with a university degree under my belt and lots of motivation for sale - I am a UN volunteer for UNICEF in Burundi and proud of it!

An enormous task

Since February 2011, I’ve been in charge of child protection and the promotion of child rights in Gitega, a small provincial town in the centre Burundi. After a short period of training at the UNICEF office located in the Burundian capital Bujumbura, I found myself immersed in the heart of the country.

I was a little apprehensive at the beginning because of my professional inexperience, the importance of the responsibilities which were entrusted to me from the very start and the sheer enormity of the task at hand - in Burundi violations of child rights are rife and 11 per cent  of the population are orphans or children considered as vulnerable - was overwhelming. However, I finally found myself adapting quite easily to the projects and issues on which UNICEF works with the government and the defence of child rights has since become my motto.

Before long, things started to move quickly.  I had barely settled down in Gitega, when I found myself with two of my protection colleagues among the rolling hills of Ngozi and Kayanza (two Northern provinces of Burundi) on a field mission in order to monitor the process of harmonisation of community-based Child Protection Committees (CPC). Born out of a local initiative and supported by NGOs, a CPC is a group of community members which aims to ensure the respect of the rights of the child at community level. In other words when a CPC registers a case of rights violations, it takes action to stop the abuse.

Devotion to child rights

In order to value and institutionalise the work of these community-based structures, this year the Burundian government decided to harmonise, legalise and support them as part of its National Policy for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. From now on, CPCs exist from the colline-level (the smallest administrative unit in Burundi) to the commune, then from the province to the national level, thus constituting a key building block in Burundi’s nascent child protection system.

It was in this context that I had the opportunity to witness the election of the CPC members at colline-level. Keeping in the background as a discreet bystander, with fascination and happiness I observed how women and men from the community discussed, argued and organised what is essentially the lynchpin of the child protection system being built in Burundi. Watching these women and men, mostly farmers, engaging in the meeting and welcoming the new CPC members with cries of joy, I could not help but applaud such devotion to the cause of child rights.

© UNICEF Burundi/2011/Leclercq
Masala Boly in the field in Gitega city (centre of Burundi), chatting with two brothers whose mother just gave birth to a baby boy in a nearby health centre.

Inspired after this moving experience, I returned to Getega and sat down to tackle the task of preparing the restructuration process of the existing CPCs in the province with the help of the Centre for Family Development’s (CFD), a decentralised structure of the Ministry of Solidarity at the provincial level. After identifying partners with the capacity to support us in restructuring the 227 CPCs of Gitega province, we developed a project proposal.

Looking forward

We went to every commune of Gitega province to sensitise the local authorities and communities to the upcoming changes. Our aim is to support the process of harmonisation of these community structures by organizing meetings at the commune level.
And what comes next? We leave it up to the community, which acts as the first guardian for children after their parents.

I strongly believe in the community’s duty of care, as it has already – with the support of various actors (local, national and international) - secured a protective environment for children at the local level and will continue to do so in the future, now with strengthened procedures and frameworks. Thus, a corner stone of Burundi’s fledgling child protection system has been laid and a further step towards an environment in which the violation of child rights is no longer tolerated has been made. Imana ibishatse! (God willing)




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