On 14 February, Valentine’s Day, more than 50 young Burundians lined up to get condoms at a youth centre in the capital, Bujumbura.
On 14 February, Valentine’s Day, more than 50 young Burundians lined up to get condoms at a youth centre in the capital, Bujumbura. They came to the centre, run by the National Network of Young People Living with HIV (RNJ+), to protect themselves against unwanted pregnancies and HIV.
This event is unusual in Burundian society, where the culture hasn’t always allowed us to be open. Condoms have long been considered a taboo subject and have been unaffordable. Only in few places could we find shops that sold them.
But times are changing and we are seeing significant reforms. More people are now aware of how to protect themselves. Many people are very careful and prefer to protect themselves when they are young, rather than have regrets later.
“A condom is for me like an umbrella. When it’s raining, and I’m in the street, it is inevitable to put it on,” said one teenager.
Another young woman said she is not ashamed to get condoms because protection is for both boys and girls, and she doesn’t want to get pregnant.
Ashamed of condoms
Despite these advances, there are still cultural barriers to using condoms. One pastor told me that when someone sees a person with condoms, automatically they are taken as an adulterer.
“In Burundian culture, condoms are misinterpreted. They are associated with sins, but most people use them in secret,” said the pastor, who wanted to remain anonymous.
As a result, some people hide themselves, or send others to get condoms on their behalf, because they are ashamed about it.
“Burundian culture doesn’t facilitate prevention. Many people are ashamed of condoms because they fear being criticised or judged,” said Chantal, a peer educator at the youth centre.
New culture of protection
Knowing that young people and adolescents are still vulnerable, and that they are left with unanswered questions, the youth centre of RNJ + tries to find solutions, by addressing their daily needs.
“This is the first time I’ve seen young people lining up for condoms. This shows a significant step in fighting against HIV,” confided Nadia Ndayikeza, who works at the centre.
Valentine’s Day is an increasingly important day for young people in Burundi. It is encouraging that these young people know it is equally important to protect themselves. They were taught how to use male and female condoms correctly by peer educators at the youth centre, and more than 242 condoms were distributed on that day.
A member of the National Council Against AIDS, in charge of condom distribution, said that this year the stock has gone quickly, which is good because it shows how people are now taking steps to protect themselves.
Cedric Nininahazwe, the coordinator of the youth centre, said: “We went beyond our expectations. We need to extend our centre and include other many services for young people, because they deserve to be informed and served.”
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