Burundi: Christine Ntahe

They say: 'Stop! We are just like any other children and we did not choose to live on the streets.'”

— Christine Ntahe

Christine Ntahe was born in 1949 and is regarded as "mother” of street children in Burundi. For 30 years she worked as a journalist and manager with Radio Télévision Nationale de Burundi (RTNB). She became famous for her Saturday children’s program. During the crisis years, which begun in 1994, her program frequently addressed the themes of peace and coexistence between the Hutus and Tutsis. Today, she works for Search for Common Ground at the Women's Peace Center and for Studio Ijambo. In 2000 the youth of Bujumbura named her "Citizen of Peace" and "Best Mother of the Country".

Every Saturday for the last 30 years Christine Ntahe has given children a voice through her radio program "Tuganirizibibondo" (dialogue with children). In 1994 when the civil war was raging, the program attracted attention in neighboring Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. She spoke to children about peace and the reality of Tutsis and Hutus living together. Children took part by calling in, writing or by visiting the studio. At that time many war orphans lived on the streets where they were often victims of beating or discrimination. She began to involve street children in the programs, so that they could speak out. Although it took a long time before these children could trust Christine, she recalls that some did become involved and would say on the air, “Stop! We are just like other children and we did not choose to live on the streets." Today, she is their “mother" and her door is open to them every Sunday. She gives the children food, lets them have a bath and wash their clothes. She talks to the children about the importance of school, AIDS prevention, their rights, solidarity and mutual support. As she talks, Christine Ntahe holds 12-year-old Adam in her arms. Adam is an orphan, who begs on the streets of Bujumbura for food and clothes. Sometimes the little money he gets is only enough for some bread or an avocado and not clothes. So he wears a dirty, flea-ridden T-shirt and sleeps next to a petrol station. She has not yet been able to persuade Adam to live with a family and attend school. To date, Christine Ntahe has rescued a dozen children from the streets, paid for their school and healthcare costs and given them love. Sometimes she goes into debt providing for the children. She has no network to support her children’s program.

Search for Common Ground Burundi