Burundi: Pascal's story, one of dignity and hope for the future
20 March 2012

With support and training, refugees raise goats and tend crops at JRS food security projects in Rutana and Muyinga provinces, Burundi. (Danilo Giannese/JRS)
Even though JRS will close its projects later this year, the other project participants and I are ready to continue by ourselves. We've learned all we need to know.
Bujumbura, 20 March 2012 – At the end of 2012, JRS will close its projects in Burundi. After 17 years of providing education and building livelihoods, former refugees assisted by the organisation are now in a position to lead independent and dignified lives with hope for a better future. The family of Pascal Ntirujimana is one of those stories of hope and relative prosperity.

The war ended in 2005 and relative stability returned to Burundi. In response JRS projects evolved to meet the challenges and difficulties faced by displaced populations in this small landlocked African nation. JRS opened food security and education projects in Rutana, close to the border with Tanzania, and Muyinga provinces. Efforts concentrated on helping 13,000 Burundian returnee families from Tanzania reintegrate into their local communities.

Pascal is a 35 year-old former refugee who benefited from one of two JRS large food security projects in Rutana province, close to the border with Tanzania. The other project is in Muyinga province. Pascal lives with his wife and four children on the hills of Mugano, a few kilometres from the largest town, Giteranyi.

"I first heard about the JRS agricultural project in 2010 from some returnee refugees who told me how they were learning new techniques to boost their yield. Participating in the project was the best decision I ever made. From one kilo of beans I harvested 15 kilos. In the past my largest crop was 5 kilos.

After I was selected to participate in the JRS project I was given two goats to take care of, feed and treat in case of sickness; of course with the support of JRS veterinarians. In return I was required to build a proper goat house and produce fertiliser to farm the fields.

Attending the agriculture and husbandry classes has provided me with new ideas about growing crops and breeding animals. It has helped me increase my yields, making it easier to earn a living for my wife and children. As well as beans, I also grow bananas, manioc and tomatoes. Since our crop yield exceeds the needs of our family, I sell part of my produce in the market and use the money to buy more goats and chickens.

Before meeting JRS staff, my life was very difficult. With the assassination of the first democratically elected president and the outbreak of civil war in Burundi in 1993, I was forced to flee to Tanzania. Living as a refugee was a miserable experience. I didn't feel at home, and we were not allowed to go more than four kilometres from the camp. It was like living in a prison.

Burundian refugees dreamed of coming home, but the war made it impossible. Most only came back after the war ended. They spent years in refugee camps. However, I decided to take the risk of returning to a war ravaged Burundi. I left the refugee camp in Tanzania in 2004. Despite my friends' efforts to convince me to change my mind, I wanted to come back.

When feeding the family was a tough task. Living conditions here were very hard. I was lucky because I had land, and could still farm; but I often had to flee fighting and hide in the forest. Even after the war, I was very poor. I didn't have any animals, I didn't produce enough to feed my family, and I often lost crops because I wasn't able to farm the land effectively.

Now, this can no longer happen. I was given the opportunity not only to rebuild my life from scratch, but to ensure a decorous future for my children. Even though JRS will close its projects later this year, the other project participants and I are ready to continue by ourselves. We've learned all we need to know".