Literacy & Learning: Tools of Transformation in Burundi

This blog post was written by Sasha Watterson after visiting a Five Talents programme in February 2019.

Beautiful mountains in Burundi.

Beautiful mountains in Burundi.

Since independence in 1962, Burundi has been plagued by ethnic and political conflict, and is still recovering from a devastating civil war that contributed to high illiteracy rates, poor health care and exacerbated gender disparity. Five Talents has been working in Burundi for over 10 years and recently I visited the programme with a group of supporters, where we got to visit some incredible members.

One of the many highlights of the trip was visiting a literacy class in Makamba. In Burundi only 5.2% of women and 9.2% of men have a secondary education, so with high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy, these classes are key to the Five Talents programme working effectively in many of the rural communities we work in.

Our local partner Claudette told us that members buy their own notebooks and supplies for the classes, as they are participants, not beneficiaries. The local team want to encourage members to take ownership of their group and learning; this encourages the members to take pride in the work they are doing. The class we visited was close to graduation, and will soon be starting a savings group.

Something that was immediately obvious, was the impressive way the facilitator kept everyone's attention. He knew how to keep everyone engaged in the material, changing up his teaching style and using different mediums to keep everyone interested.

Blackboard used during literacy and numeracy lesson.

Blackboard used during literacy and numeracy lesson.

His topic was ‘soil erosion’. The group shared wisdom on how too much tree-cutting can indirectly lead to poor harvests and food shortages. The group learnt about an issue, as well as practising all the vowel and syllable sounds in ‘soil erosion’ (in Kirundi of course). They also did some numeracy practice; how many trees do you have if you plant 10 in the morning and 10 in the afternoon, but 3 of them die?

He began with a review of the last lesson, which had focused on the theme of gender relations. Claudette noted that when she had previously visited the class men sat on one side, and the women on another.

That wasn’t the case when we visited; everyone was sitting mixed together.

We saw lots of examples of transformation like this. One woman from another Group had taken a loan to expand her cafe menu and with the increased profits, she was paying school fees for orphans and giving some enterprise skills training to local youth too. It was so inspiring to hear how she shared her learning and profits with others in need.

You can learn more about the Five Talents programme in Burundi by clicking here.