Francine had to fend for herself from the time she was orphaned at twelve years of age. With no one to take care of her, she had to leave her village in Bubanza, where she lived with her alcoholic brother who could no longer take care of her.
She settled for Bujumbura, where she thought she would find greener pastures. She tried to find a stable job without success. She survived for a while by washing people’s clothes and cleaning their houses, up until she got pregnant at the age of 15 by a man she barely knew. She agreed to move in with him since she did not have anywhere else to go.
After four years of living with her partner, he abandoned her with two little children. “I was on the street again, with two children and nowhere to go or anyone to turn to,” Francine recalls.
She went back into washing people’s clothes as a means to fend for herself and her children. She could barely afford to pay the rent of a small room.
Things took a turn for the worst when she was falsely accused of theft and jailed. “I remember that day very vividly.” Tears run down Francine’s face as she recalls the day of her arrest.
“I had knocked on a gate, and I asked the householders if I could wash their clothes. They let me in and gave me a big pile of clothes that took me hours to wash. They had promised to pay me 2000 Fbu ($1). After I had washed the clothes, they accused me of stealing some shirts. They called the police, and I ended up spending days in jail.”
Her breakthrough came when she had an opportunity to work as a houseworker in the Middle East in Oman. “I had heard of stories of women going to work in Arab countries and coming back rich,” said Francine.
Little did she know that there was a horrible reality waiting for her. Her employers would physically and verbally abuse her every day, but for two years, she endured the suffering for the sake of her children back home, who depended entirely on her and the money she sent home.
When she had enough money to buy a small parcel of land and build a home, she felt it was time to return to Burundi. But she was held up, against her will, by her employees. They refused to pay for the last eight months of work and accused her of not finishing her contract. “I was held for two days at the airport of Oman; I felt like I was reliving what I went through back home all over again,” she told us.
After a video of her at Oman Airport was shared on social media, Francine was released.
A Burundian lady named Violette who lives in France helped her return to Burundi by paying for her plane ticket. She returned home with nothing but the clothes she was wearing.
Francine had expected to live in the little house she had paid for when she returned to Burundi. Instead, she was dismayed to find that the person she had been sending money had stolen most of it. In addition, her house was unfinished. She was again back on the streets without any means of completing it.
With all the traumatic events she experienced,, she is currently going through counselling sessions and is under medication for stress relief.
Thanks to Ephraim, founder and director of Together For Development Birashoboka, Francine’s house is now complete. Francine, twenty-nine, is thankful to have moved into her new house with her two children, Saitadi, thirteen, and Halima, ten.
We first heard Francine’s story in our Saturday Zoom prayer meeting, if you’d like to join us to hear all that is happening in Burundi you can find out more about it here.