Centre Jeunes Kamenge

Awarded 2002


For their exemplary courage and compassion in overcoming ethnic divisions during civil war so that young people can live and build a peaceful future together.

Centre Jeunes Kamenge (CJK) is a youth centre and educational institution in Bujumbura, Burindi. In a country plagued by long-standing ethnic tensions and nine years of civil war, CJK offers a space where youth can learn to live together in friendship and mutual respect through shared activities. CJK has continued to prove that, despite everything that goes on outside, the young people of Burundi can live in peace and build a future together.

CJK was initiated by three Italian Xaverian missionaries: Marino Bettinsoli, Victor Ghirardi and Claudio Marano. It was founded in 1991, before the civil war, and by 1993 2,500 young people were members, attending meetings and religious events, playing sports, acting in plays, taking courses, studying various academic subjects and using the library’s over 10,000 books.

CJK offers training in a broad mix of subjects, including computing, typing, sewing, hairdressing and human rights. The centre has a literacy project reaching adults and adolescents, plus projects on AIDS and peace and reconciliation. CJK offers educational courses that cover topics such as mathematics, physics, biology, language classes.

The Centre's goal is to embrace everyone so they can discover that differences can become a richness for all in everyday lives.

Claudio Marano of 2002 Laureate Centre Jeunes Kamenge

Socio-political difficulties inherited from the past with long-standing ethnic tensions and nine years of civil war in Burundi have brought fear among people and many deaths. The impoverished northern neighbourhoods of the town of Bujumbura have experienced their share of these atrocities, plus other problems particularly common to youth in such towns: alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, AIDS, unemployment, criminality and general hopelessness.

CJK's activities supplemented during the war years by giving help to bury the dead, caring for the wounded, supporting displaced people, distributing food, clothing and blankets, and providing health assistance. Their 'Peace and Rehabilitation Project' organises inter-ethnic meetings, discussion groups and other events, and a summer camp for hundreds focuses on rehabilitation and community building.

The Centre has been attacked and looted, its management and workers threatened, and some of its members killed.

In 2001, CJK had 20,000 members, representing an increase of 10 per cent in each of the two previous years and a measure of the value attached to their programme by the young people of northern Bujumbura. Up to 40 activities were organised each day, with 1,000 to 2,000 youths participating in these activities and using the free library. The literacy project has placed four outreach workers in each of the six neighbourhoods where it is active, to work with young people who do not come to the Centre.

Together with two other NGOs, CJK was the principal coordinator of an Office for Community Associations of the Northern District. They had around 300 member groups, many of which were founded by CJK. The Office provides them with technical support, helps with projects and fundraising, financial and other assistance with micro-projects.

CJK works on various peace, reconciliation and reconstruction programmes with the local authorities, the churches, primary and secondary schools and national government departments. In 2001 CJK started to publish a monthly newsletter in the local language targeting local communities.

The principal funders of CJK have been Cooperation Italienne, Cooperation Belge, and the Conference Episcopal Italienne. Other important European donors have included Misereor (Germany), the Italian Caritas, the European Community, Austrian Cooperation, the local American Embassy, Manos Unidas (Spain), Développement et Paix (Canada), and Les Amis du CJK (Italy and France).

Culture and Education