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Faith in Practice

Street talk

Hannah Kowszun

Born in Burundi, the youngest of eight children, Dieudonne Nahimana's father was killed in the genocide and he was forced to live on the streets in Bujumbura. He now runs New Generation, which works with street children to help them back into homes and society.


FiP.jpgMy father had been very active in politics but was retired by the time I was born. When the war broke out in 1993 he was killed along with other members of my family and our neighbours. Our house was destroyed. Normally we say that my tribe was Tutsi, but there is discussion in my family over whether we are Tutsi, Hutu or even Baganwa; my father was killed as a Tutsi. I still don't know where his body is.

At the time war broke out I was at school 200 kilometres away. I was far from home and I couldn't find my family - my brothers and sisters were outside the country and I couldn't find my mother - so I had to go to the capital, Bujumbura to stay there. I had no place to stay and it was very very hard for me because I grew up in a family with parents who took care of me. When you have to wake up on the street every morning and you don't have food or money, you have no hope.

I grew up a Christian, going to church every Sunday, but when the war started I couldn't understand why this God we prayed to every day was not able to protect my father. I decided there was no God, that perhaps he was just an idea white people had given to us.

While I was on the streets a friend of mine invited me to a conference where there was teaching. I went there only to have food. There was a man speaking, he was explaining many things: how we were separated from God by sin, how Jesus came and gave his life to save us. I realised many people would go to church but had not given their lives to Jesus, instead continuing to live the same lives and this gave new meaning to me for what had happened. I began to read the Bible and realised Jesus had taught something really concrete about love and forgiveness, which the churches were not preaching.

I decided to give my life to Jesus and follow the word of God. I discovered that I was not still an orphan but part of the family of God, with a Father who loves me. Even though I was in a difficult situation, I could see solutions to my problems and have hope for the future.

When I was 17, a friend from school who was studying at the university asked me to go stay with him on his floor. I stayed there with him for two years, when the university found out and asked him to move me out. Before that they thought I was a student there!

There was no plan for me to work with street children, no project. I remember one Christmas Day I was in a church translating from the local language to French for a lady visiting from Canada. After I finished she asked me what I would be doing for Christmas and I said I have nothing to do and nowhere to go, so she said she would give me some money for a soda or something. She gave me 5,000 Burundian francs which was a lot of money for me.

I went from the church to the town and from the bus I saw a group of around 50 street children, many of them 5 or 6 years old, playing together and I felt in my heart I had to see them. I got off the bus and sat with them, asked them what Christmas meant to them and we started to sing and play together. I used the francs to buy soda and bread for them and we had a party! Even though I was in a bad situation myself I was able to do something: give them hope, share my faith with them and give encouragement.

This was just the beginning. I went back and discovered many of them were hungry so I would go to bakeries and restaurants asking if they had food I could give to the children. I would go and sit with them and pray with them on the streets. A while later I discovered one of the children had died and many others were sick. I went to see a clinic and asked them if they could help me treat the sick children. They did but did not have enough places for the number of sick children. I asked if they could not give me money and they said no. So I asked if they could give me a job and they asked me to cut the grass, so I brought friends, we cut the grass and they gave us 6,000 francs with which we paid for a room for the children - just a bare room, but it was better for them to be inside I think. After a month we had to move out and I moved the children into an abandoned building, without permission. After six months there the government came with police and moved us out.

Around this time a businessman from Sweden came to the country and a friend suggested I would be a good person to show him Bujumbura. I told him about the work I was doing with street children and he offered his house for us to stay in. Since then we have started New Generation and been able to work with around 200 street children, with 64 staying with us.

We are the voice of street children to the government and the media. I have three ambitions for New Generation. The first is to convince governments and NGOs to try and change the reasons for children coming to the street and to help those who can return to their homes.  The second is to grow our safety centre, where children come to shower, have food, play and have security. Our dream is to have this centre able to have many many children but it is difficult to provide their food and needs every day. We train them to change their minds from the streets, ready to be back in the community. The third, main ambition is our own village. Many street children don't have a family who can take care of them. I want us to have our own village where they can stay and learn before they are ready to take care of themselves.

Our dream is that in a few years many of the people who run our country will be children from the streets. Children who grew up victims of what politics did do not continue to do the same.

Dieudonne Nahimana was talking to Hannah Kowszun.

To read more about New Generation and how to support them here.