Refugee Stories: The drama of a young Burundian refugee serving as a teacher in Mulongwe refugee camp

The following interview was done by Olivier Lungwe Fataki, a member of the Young Peace Journalists. It is the latest entry in the Young Peace Journalists project featuring the stories and voices of refugees. 

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Interviewee Identity

Name: Ndayishimiye Frédéric Etienne
Age: 25 years old
Sex: M
Marital status: Single, Father of a child
Status: Burundian refugee from Mulongwe Camp

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Summary

This story is about Ndayishimiye Frédéric, a young Burundian refugee who lives nowadays in the Mulongwe camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to his diploma obtained with difficulty in the country of refuge, he teaches to this day at a secondary school which educates Burundian and Congolese children in the locality of the camp. He is the only Burundian teacher at this school, serving as a link between Congolese and Burundian children who don’t have the same culture. Unfortunately, his profession does not guarantee him the dignity of an educator whose noble mission is to sacrifice himself in service for the children’s education.

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Age 25, Ndayishimiye Frédéric is the eldest son of a large family whose survival depended on him because their father died when he was very young. In January 2015, his family received regular night visits by gunmen who had managed to take away all the goats they bred at home.

These undesirable visits had taken a deadly turn during the socio-political unrest linked to the challenge of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s regime. Armed men, generally suspected to be young people serving the regime, were carrying out assassinations and kidnappings at night, targeting anyone who does not share the political ideology of the ruling party.

To flee and continue his studies in DR Congo before transferring to the Mulongwe refugee camp…

While troubles persisted, “the political and social climate of the area no longer promised a better future because I still needed to continue my studies but there was no way here … that is why I had to look elsewhere,” confides Ndayishimiye Frédéric. In his struggle for intellectual fulfillment and physical security, Frédéric Ndayishimiye saw fit to migrate to DR Congo, leaving behind his young siblings and his mother. Once in the country of asylum, he fortunately found a host family in Sange, South Kivu province, where he had started plowing the residents’ fields and getting paid for the job.

“The fruits of this craft made it easier for me to enroll in the sixth year of secondary school, a final degree, in the general pedagogy section in the Congolese education system,” explains Frédéric, who obtained on that occasion his “State diploma”, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, allowing him to have access to the university.

With the support of a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) that promoted youth education through repayable loans, he was enrolled at the University in the Faculty of Peace Science, Conflict Management and Social Communication, but, according to him, “It was not easy at all because survival depended only on my own efforts. After the course, I had to manage how to eat, while in the meantime I also had to consider repaying the amount received on loan.” He finished this first year in these conditions.

Finally, Ndayishimiye Frédéric resolved to join his fellow Burundian citizens in the transit center to be transferred to the refugee camp. This is how he was admitted and transferred in November 2017 to the newly built Mulongwe refugee camp due to overcrowding of the Lusenda camp.

Until then, the Mulongwe camp was being set up, and everything was not yet organised. Some refugees did not have shelters yet, and others were waiting for enlistment to receive food. In the meantime, the need for education of the children pressed; the area has only one school institution including secondary school and primary school.

In service of the education of children in the camp and the locality of Mulongwe…

While many refugees cultivated and traded food inside the camp because they were allowed to practice the profession of their skills, Ndayishimiye Frédéric had preferred to serve as a teacher at the Kasaba II Institute, the only school in the area where he had applied.

A few weeks later, he was called back to join the teaching staff and was immediately granted the “English and Civic and Moral Education Courses” cause he had had his diploma in the Congolese educational system. Since January 2018, “I regularly practice the teaching profession at this school where I am the only Burundian in a body made up of about ten teachers,” explains Frédéric, who continues: “Every time I come to class, I have in front of me the Burundian children (refugees) and Congolese and also my colleague teachers with whom we cooperate and work in peace … I have never been personally attacked due to my identity.”

To explain the cohabitation at the school between Burundian refugee pupils and Congolese children, Ndayishimiye Frédéric recognises that not all students have the same mastery of French and Swahili, the two languages ​​used in school. This, in his view, handicaps the integration of refugee children who find it difficult to express themselves in a language other than “Kirundi”, the national language of Burundi. In their way of speaking, “Burundian children communicate with difficulty because of the tone of their mother tongue which makes it difficult for them to make heard the sound “l” which they pronounce “r”,” he explains stating that this way of speaking is really the object of laughter by Congolese children.

As an educator, Frédéric Ndayishimiye, who had first lived in the Congo before entering the camp, never stops calling Congolese children to tolerance because this linguistic interference can not immediately change because of the laughter, especially since it’s related to their mother tongue. At least he as a teacher, moreover, due to his Burundian nationality and his mastery of all the languages ​​used at school, knows how to approach all children and explain to them affectionately what it is to live together.

Difficult to live the honour and dignity expected…

Admittedly, “the status of teacher confers a certain esteem to its wearer, especially in school,” acknowledges Frédéric. However, it is sad to see that it is always difficult to find his account in this profession and live the honour and dignity expected. To explain himself, he confesses that he has not received a salary for four months because humanitarian organisations that are supposed to take charge of refugee children, the majority at the school, seem to be shirking their responsibility. This is what makes the teaching profession difficult. “We manage otherwise to live by other livelihoods … with all the risks of being confused as common mortals and then the respect suffers,” says a disappointed Frédéric Ndayishimiye.

* Photo credit: UN High Commission on Refugees, http://www.unhcr.org/thumb3/5acfcdd34.jpg

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