Burundi, one of the world’s poorest nations, has struggled with ethnic conflict for 12 years. Since civil unrest broke in 2015 it’s estimated that more than a quarter of a million people – many of them unaccompanied children – have fled to Tanzania and neighbouring countries.
Some of the unaccompanied children making the journey were orphaned during the conflict, others were separated from their parents and relatives while fleeing to safety.
For these young people, now in refugee camps, finding a semblance of stability in a temporary home is both challenging and incredibly important. Plan International is working in three camps in Northwest Tanzania to find emergency foster families for unaccompanied and orphaned children. It’s designed to be a temporary solution, but many families feel they can’t return to their lives in Burundi without their adopted children. In the longer term, Plan International Tanzania aims to trace children’s parents and reunite families where they can.
Life in the camps brings a host of challenges. Children and young people are dealing with the trauma of fleeing their homes and losing their families. Some don’t have access to the resources they need. Young women and girls can be particularly vulnerable to the threat of gender-based violence and child marriage.
Here, young women and girls share their stories as they adjust to this temporary home and their dreams for a safe future.
“In Burundi the political unrest led to my parents and my brother being killed. That’s when I decided to flee to Tanzania with my sister. I was very sad when my parents and relatives were killed and I was scared. I was no longer safe in Burundi; it was a very painful time.
This is the third time that I have fled to Tanzania now and it makes me feel like I am actually homeless. Now that I am here, I feel safe, but when girls go outside the camp to collect firewood there can be a lot of issues of girls being attacked and raped.
I participate in the youth program run by Plan International and I feel like I am now building a new future for myself. My hope is that when I go back to Burundi I can use the skills I have learned through the vocational training and earn a living as a tailor.”
“There is a difference between here and Burundi. Here I am getting food and a place to sleep and I’m getting care from my foster parent. It helps me feel safer here. I want to finish my education. I am in school at the moment. If I am still living in the camp when I finish school I want to work for Plan International and help the other refugee children at the Child Friendly Spaces.”
“Right now I feel safer than I did when I was in Burundi. Before I would struggle to sleep at night because I didn’t feel safe, but here I can actually sleep for a whole night. I have a foster parent providing care for me and I go to school here too. It makes me very happy. I’m in secondary school now and I desperately want to finish my education. After that I hope to become employed. My big dream is to be a doctor.”
“At the moment I feel okay, but sometimes I still get scared. I feel better now I am with a foster parent who helps me and my child. I want to learn to be a tailor.”
“The life in Tanzania is good because here in Tanzania there is more security and we live in peace. I want to be a doctor if I finish my studies. I am now in class 7.”
“Being in the camp is not the best life because I have no one, but there is security and at least now I sleep with no fear. My future aspiration has been shaped by how I see people here suffering: so I will study hard to become someone who can help the other refugees.”
“I used to see people fighting in Burundi. Now here it is different, but I wish I could find things I need like essentials for women and girls. Because of the lack of necessities some of my friends go into marriage so they can have the support of a man.
If I finish school I will be a teacher. If I become a teacher I will work hard to make children have a good future. I wish to be in any place (country) in the world where I will find peace so I can pursue my dream.”
“Currently I can describe the situation as just ‘normal’ I get food ration, go to school…I need some things but do not have access to them like clothes for school and shoes. My future dream is to be a teacher so that can I teach other children because I see education is a positive key thing. I should take advantage of education in this camp.”
“I feel secure because I sleep well, I feel safe but teenagers need more food and the water is not available in some places. I want to be a lawyer because in Burundi people don’t get to realise their rights. In courts people deserve justice but they don’t get it. I am currently in form one at secondary school.”
“The life of teenage girls like me is not easy in the camp. I feel strongly that I would like to help other children after school by being a child protection person to see that all children are safe.”
“Now I am here in the camp I feel very secure because I am under the care of my foster parent. She treats me like her own child and helps provide anything I might need like school books. I am currently doing some training with Plan International and learning to make bread. I am hoping to set up my own bakery business in the future so I can earn my own money.
“In Burundi I was afraid of being killed. Now in the camps it is better because Plan International is providing support. Now I’m not so afraid. Now that I’m in the tailoring training project for young people I hope I will be able to earn a living and look after myself in the future with my new skills.”
“I am so relieved to be here and to feel secure finally. I have been fostered with help from Plan International who are not only looking after me but also my one-month-old baby. It’s my wish to become a successful businesswoman. I want to own my own duka (a small shop).”
17-year-old Audrey, has a good relationship with her foster mother – a married woman with four children. But she struggles to cope with the fact that it will come to an end one day. “We get on really well and there are no problems. She cooks for me so I have food after school and it makes life a lot better in the camp.”
*All names have been changed to protect identities