Ezra was a self-described ‘bad boy’. He stole money for cigarettes, he slept around, and he’d regularly be out drinking until the early hours. His sister, Elizabeth, was in despair for her brother:
“He used to hurt me, he was a thief, he stole my stuff and sold it, he was drinking and smoking a lot and so on. He did so many bad things to the point that I felt heartbroken.”
Ezra came across a rally run by GLO Partner Foundation Charles Nkazamyampi (FCN). A cornerstone of their work is teaching from and distributing ‘peace cards’ to young people. Peace is a vital cornerstone for unity between different ethnic groups, a historical issue in Burundi. The card represents a commitment from the holder to peaceful conflict resolution and motivates them to become leaders in their schools and communities. By signing the card, they are promising not to be manipulated, for example, in the build-up to elections when tension runs high.
The principles covered at the peace rally convicted Ezra of the issues in his life; “What I did was not honourable.” He longed to change his behaviour and find purpose. Others at the rally invited him to join an AJA Club (‘Association des Jeunes en Action’ – which translates as ‘Youth Association in Action’).
These clubs are an initiative born out of the work of FCN. In 2021, a group of young people who had received the cards felt inspired to take action and organised themselves to put what they learned from the FCN rally into practice. And so, the first AJA club was born and has been operating for over a year, run by recent graduates who are positive role models in their communities. They are willing to get their hands dirty as they serve their community through gardening, odd jobs and running activities for children. Members adhere to nine values of qualities such as peace, equality and integrity.
The AJA Club had a profound effect on Ezra, bringing great joy to Elizabeth. “After joining the club, I saw things changed. We even asked him, ‘why did you change?’ He told us it was thanks to this club.” Ezra longs for others to pursue the same transformation:
“Now I am a person of truth and I am even trying to change others. When I see anyone acting like I used to, I try to approach him and ask why he does so. After I testify to them who I was and how I became transformed. I tell them ‘I went to the [AJA] club and learn from the principles we rely on. You can come to see if there is one of these principles that can help you.’”
Several local friends have already been impacted by joining the AJA Club. But Ezra’s dreams search further afield:
“Not everybody listens to me, but most who I share my story with come and join us and are transformed as I was. I am asking FCN and the community to help me go to other provinces to teach, chat and testify how I was changed to other people who still behave badly so that they become changed and empower one another.”
There are two exciting stories here of young people impacted by the work of Foundation Charles Nkazamyampi. Firstly, those who have proactively made a positive difference in their community by founding the AJA Clubs. Secondly, the stories of young people like Ezra who have found new purpose, are making wiser choices and sharing their stories with others in trouble.
This kind of long-term, strategic work in the next generation is a part of our DNA, as we equip and empower the best local leaders in Burundi to inspire and initiate transformation!