Burundi: youth network faces discrimination and stigma

The owners of a property in Bujumbura in Burundi refused to rent it to an organisation for young people living with HIV, because they did not want to be associated with them.

The owners of a property in Bujumbura in Burundi refused to rent it to an organisation for young people living with HIV, because they did not want to be associated with them.

The National Network of Young People Living with HIV in Burundi was looking for a property to rent in April, so they could set up an attractive youth centre for their members – the first of its kind in Bujumbura.

The centre was funded by an organisation called Burundian Alliance against HIV (ABS), through the Link Up project. Its purpose is to enable young people living with HIV, men who have sex with men and sex workers to make healthy decisions, get advice and information about their sexual and reproductive health and access services.

The Network found a house in the Rohero quarter of Bujumbura, and the landlady agreed to rent it to the organisation. She told Cedric Nininahazwe, the Network’s executive director, that she would prepare the house so it would be ready a week before the centre was due to open, at the beginning of May.

Discrimination is not over

However, when the day came to sign the contract and pay the rent, the owner changed her mind. Cedric said: “She told me to write an email to all her brothers and sisters who are abroad, convincing them why they should let us hire that house. The response to my email shocked me very deeply. The woman’s family said they cannot rent the house to our organisation.”

According to Cedric, the reason for this is because the Network’s members are living with HIV. Nearly all the members of the organisation are young people who were born with the virus.

One young person, who is a member of the Network, said: “Our daily life is a fight; we know that we are not accepted in our communities but we are not going to stop because of those people who don’t want to admit that people living with HIV have same rights as theirs.”

Such behaviour is very common in Burundi – and is evidence of a lack of information and awareness about HIV. Some parents don’t want their child to have friends who are HIV positive and some people don’t want to talk to people living with HIV, thinking that they are not like others.

Nadia, a young lady who is a member of the organisation, argues that this is a mistake people should remove from their mind. “People living with HIV should have the right to study, work and get married,” she said.

Hope for tomorrow

The day after the owners of the house refused to rent it to the Network, Cedric found another house with a big space, also in the Rohero quarter. On 1 May, the centre was officially launched by members of the Link Up project, including Georgina Caswell, regional advisor for Africa.

The young people from the Network are extremely happy with this achievement. One member said: “Finally there are people who don’t judge us but want to help us by building our capacity. Now we have a space, we shall not give it up for any reason.”

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