This summer, on August 22, the Burundian NGO YouthGlobe organised a Youth Forum with the support of RET International in Bujumbura, Burundi. This event was of interest in its own right; it was successful and inspiring. But even more interesting, perhaps, is how it illustrated the fascinating paths education initiatives can take. The actors who came together this summer were linked through years of encounters, projects and hopes, which were all grounded in education. The story of this forum and its actors is therefore one worth telling.
As mentioned above, the Youth Forum was successful and inspiring. In addition, it was very well attended, with over 300 Burundian youth, government representatives, as well as several international organisations. Its theme «Education and Entrepreneurship: The Responsibility of Youth in Creating the Burundi that We Want» encouraged youth to think about their role in the future of their country and to take charge of their own lives. Following the Forum, YouthGlobe plans on supporting the young people who wish to start businesses by taking them into their Innovation Centres. Local and international media has also indicated that they would help create a space to continue the conversation.
Among the panellists facilitating these discussions, was Salathiel Ntakirutimana, co-founder and Senior Advisor of YouthGlobe. Salathiel is a young Burundian who met RET many years ago when he was not even 20 and after having lived as a refugee in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was, at the time, a student at Lycée Muyaga, in Cankuzo Province, Burundi. We supported him and his school, as part of our programme, and later proposed his candidature to a scholarship, which led him to Waterford Kamhlaba UWCSA, in Swaziland. Salathiel would then continue his educational adventure all the way to Harvard University for a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. Upon his graduation from Harvard University Salathiel moved back to Burundi to develop Santrad Power, an energy company he started to address the crippling energy problem in his country. His aim is now to make Santrad Power the premier distributed energy solutions provider across the African continent.
Today, he is, without a doubt, one of Burundi’s exemplary youth leaders, dedicated to opening the doors of success and self-reliance for other young Burundians. Throughout the years, we have kept close ties with Salathiel and we are therefore delighted to now be able to say that, following our collaboration in YouthGlobe’s forum, Salathiel has officially become a RET Youth Ambassador.
RET’s Youth Ambassador Programme aims at providing support and developing the skills of young people who have participated in RET’s programmes and who demonstrate strong leadership. RET Ambassadors are then offered opportunities to exchange and promote the cause of protecting vulnerable young people and young women through education. Salathiel’s vision for YouthGlobe is to get the youth involved, motivated and active in entrepreneurship initiatives for the future of Burundi. He is, therefore, a perfect fit for the RET Youth Ambassador Team.
Forums and organisations like the ones created by Salathiel and his colleagues are examples of how young people are actors of positive social change. Protecting them through education creates a virtuous cycle, which in turn inspires and offers opportunities to other young people.
One of the participants in the Forum, Alexander, is a student at the Université Lumière de Bujumbura on a tertiary education scholarship, funded by the German Government through the UNHCR and managed by RET International. As a participant he expressed how the Forum had been a revelation for him, as it answered questions he had on his opportunities after graduation. More specifically he indicated that: «The different interventions at the forum have allowed me to understand that I have all that is necessary to take my future into my own hands, but also that my knowledge and skills will not be useful, if I do not share them with others. This was very valuable to me, because now I intend to invest in the future of Burundi.»
Initiatives such as the RET Youth Ambassador Programme, tertiary education scholarships or youth forums and organisations such as YouthGlobe all stem from the same deep-rooted belief that young people are the future of their country. They are the ones who can lift their communities out of crises, towards stronger social cohesion, peace and prosperity.
From Salathiel’s early years of education in Lycée Muyaga to Alexander participating in last August’s forum, we see a complex, but undeniable link. This is the way education works and spreads; it is the magic it holds. All these actors, from Salathiel, his partners, the German DAFI scholarship programme, UNHCR and RET to the participants of the Forum, came together to create the virtuous cycle communities need to free themselves of violence, crisis and instability.
It is an illusion to think we can predict the exact direction education will take. The results, on the other hand, are reliable. Protecting young people through education leads communities out of crises. This is why we should never consider youth as beneficiaries; they are our partners in resolving crises and laying the foundations for future development policies to take hold. This is a key point to understand if we wish to, one day, bridge the gaps between humanitarian action and development aid.