Baruani Ndume’s Family Background
Baruani Ndume was born in 1993 in a small village in Congo. During that time, Congo was almost in a perpetual state of violence, with numerous tribes warring against each other for dominance and resources. Every month, thousands of families flee to refugee camps outside the country to escape the violence, and everyday someone is killed as a result of the crossfire between the warring tribes. And because of the constant wars in the country, poverty was very prevalent, and the militant groups took from the villagers whatever little resources they had, killing those who resisted.
This is the kind of life that Baruani had to grow up in. However, in spite of the poor and harsh situation that he had to endure while growing up, Baruani’s parents loved him and took care for him, giving him a sense of compassion and care that he would later on carry throughout the rest of his life.
When Baruani was around four or five years old, his father died due to sickness. Because of this, Baruani was left with his mother, who never failed to comfort and care for Baruani during these trying times. Through his mother’s love and guidance, Baruani was able to mature into someone that did not develop hatred towards others, unlike most of the fellow children he grew up with.
Life During the Congo Civil War
When Baruani was around seven years old, a great civil war broke out in Congo. Numerous people were being killed everywhere, and a lot more were fleeing the country just to escape the ongoing onslaught. In their village, Baruani and his mother tried to hide from the soldiers for a few weeks and escape before they were discovered afterwards.
The soldiers gathered Baruani and his mother into their house, and torched the building with the two still inside. As the flames engulfed the house, Baruani’s mother forced him to escape through a small door and told him to not look back. The young Baruani managed to escape the village, leaving the fate of his mother unknown.
While running away from the village, Baruani had a chance encounter with an old woman from the village who was also escaping from the soldiers. The two immediately set out to a local airport and flew to Tanzania to get away from the conflict and save their lives.
Brought to Tanzania by a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Officer
Upon their arrival, Baruani was met by a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Officer and was sent to the Nyarugusu refugee camp. In an interview made with Baruani many years later, he recalled the events that led him to the refugee camp:
“After the war emerged in the Congo, soldiers gathered my mother and I into our house and set it on fire while my mother and I were inside. I managed to escape through a door, leaving my mother alone and that's probably where she died—I don't know. As I ran, I was picked by one of the old women in the village called Mrs. Tchakubuta. I flew with her to Tanzania and we were received by a UNHCR official and were directly sent to one of the refugee camps.”
Baruani spent the next nine years living in the refugee camp, where he continued to experience hardships – this time not because of the war, but due to the severe lack of resources in the camp. Because there were so many people that were put into the camp, so much more than the camp could handle that the food often ran out without having a large portion of the refugees being fed. Baruani said during an interview:
“Life in the camp is not so easy—it's very difficult. It is a concentrated camp because the population of people living there is very big. It's crowded even within the houses. You can find more than 10 people living in one very small house. Sometimes children are denied schooling or food because there are so many people. The food is provided by UNHCR but sometimes the food that we are given for the whole month does not last the whole distribution cycle so sometimes we need to get food in other ways. Life in the house I first lived in was not good. I was mistreated by a woman who took me in. She beat me and I was also denied food. I was assigned many domestic chores that prevented me from going to school.”
Radio Kwizera Helps Baruani Start “Sisi kwa Sisi” (Children for Children)
In spite of all the struggles that Baruani faced in the camp, he did not allow these obstacles to get him to quit desiring for a better life. Even though he was often burnt out due to the numerous chores he had to do in the house, Baruani never gave up the chance to get education.
Through sheer determination and will, Baruani was able to study in the camps, where he learned that there were laws that were set up to protect the rights of children around the world.
He also realized the importance of education in the life of a child, and how children in refugee camps had a very small chance of getting education, thus preventing them from having the chance of living a good life. He said once during an interview:
“It's difficult to get a good education in the camps because the environment and the infrastructure for school is not good. Sometimes we are compelled to make our own desks and tables to sit on. There are children who find it too difficult to attend school because of chores or difficulties of living in the camps. School is too demanding for them.”
Determined to change the situation, Baruani set up a children’s parliament where he encouraged his fellow refugee children to voice out their problems and challenges, which greatly helped the children in expressing themselves.
Through these sessions, Baruani learned that his experience was not something isolated; almost every child in the refugee camps had the same story, and were looking to a bleak and dark future. And so, Baruani used the children’s parliament meetings as a means of giving comfort to his fellow refugee children and share with them all the things he learned.
Sometime during his stay in the refugee camps, Baruani, with the help of his friends, set up a radio show in the camp as a means of helping to get the voices of his fellow refugee children on the air. Through the radio show, which he entitled “Sisi kwa Sisi” (which means Children for Children), Baruani discussed the issues and challenges that the refugee children face on a day-to-day basis. He also gave advice to his fellow refugees, and spoke on the importance of educating the children to give them a hope for a bright future. When he was interviewed many years later, he related how the program went:
“We as a group of twenty children move around the camp collecting ideas from our fellow children. We normally ask them what are their concerns or problems with life in the camp - in education, in services, in food, in supplies, their protection or other abuses that are happening in the camps. We jot down what they say and then we go to the office and sit down and analyze all the problems that our fellow children talked about. Then we divide up things to cover. Then we sit down together and prepare a radio program.”
The radio show, however poor the equipment was, became successful, and soon garnered a large number of listeners. With the help of Radio Kwizera, a local radio station in Tanzania, Baruani was able to take his broadcast in the air and encourage many children.
From its inception, “Sisi kwa Sisi” has helped hundreds of refugee children, including orphaned refugees, find their families or families that are willing to take care of them. In an interview, Baruani stated:
“We already have radio programming in the refugee camp. The radio quality and the equipment is not good but we do try. We got the idea from one of the staff from a local radio station in Tanzania - Radio Kwizera - and an organization that works for children's rights. Radio Kwizera gave us power and encouraged us to be involved in children's broadcasting and radio programming. They helped collect children from the camp and we came together to discuss issues concerning children. We children now have our own radio program where we broadcast children's issues.”
International Children’s Peace Prize 2009 Awardee
Soon enough, Baruani’s fame spread throughout the people of Tanzania and opened a door for him to gain greater influence through the World Vision Tanzania organization. The organization, which fought for the welfare and rights of children in the country, nominated Baruani for the International Children’s Peace Prize, which he eventually won in 2009. When asked how he felt when he received the prize, Baruani answered:
“I'm so happy to receive this prize. I feel really privileged because a big prize like this to go to a refugee child I think is really wonderful. I know that there are so many people in the world who could have won the prize but it is amazing that a child from a refugee camp gets it.”
Currently, Baruani’s radio broadcast has spread not just in Tanzania, but also in its neighbouring countries such as Congo, Burundi and Rwanda, giving more refugee children the chance of being reunited with their families. Baruani himself currently lives in Holland, where he continues to work in promoting the rights of the children not just in Africa, but all over the world.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Kids Rights
- World Vision Tanzania
Awards and Achievements
- 2009: Won the International Children’s Peace Prize