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Child Protection and Safeguarding Workshop for Jesuits and their Collaborators in Burundi

Felix Barutwanayo, SJ - Child Protection Coordinator (RWB)

Feb 5-7: Jesuits working at Lycee du Saint-Esprit and Saint Aloysius of Gonzaga Fundamental Schools in Bujumbura gathered with their collaborators for a workshop on Child Protection and Safeguarding in their respective schools. Eighty-three (83) persons participated in the workshop.

The last workshop had been held two years ago in May 2019 and it was crucial to remind each other about the importance of Child Protection and Safeguarding.

Moreover, a significant number of new teachers have joined our schools during the last two years, but no initial formation and sensitisation program had been carried out for them. The topics for discussion included the characteristics of Jesuit education, the apostolic preferences of the Society of Jesus in which journeying with young people is of paramount importance, non-violent communication in a school environment and in daily life as well as the presentation of the Child Protection and Safeguarding Policy in the Jesuit Rwanda-Burundi Region (RWB). This Policy constitutes a model from which the various schools and apostolic works will design their own Child Protection and Safeguarding Policies.

First day

The first talk was given by Professor Paul Ngarambe, a former Jesuit who worked at UNESCO and now is a professor at the University of Burundi. He used his wide experience in education and his sound knowledge of the Society of Jesus to explain the characteristics and values of Jesuit education. Drawing from the Spiritual Exercises which put the human person and his relationship with God and the world at the center, he illustrated why it is important to hold firmly on these Jesuit values and the characteristics of Jesuit education since they have proved to be efficient over the centuries. He also illustrated how the characteristics of Jesuit education are linked with the third apostolic preference of the Society of Jesus which invites us to accompany young people in creating a future full of hope. Child protection and safeguarding of minors comes within this third apostolic preference in helping young people to grow in an environment free of abuse and promoting a culture of protection and safeguarding for the most vulnerable in our societies.

The second talk was a presentation of the major parts of the Child Protection Policy for the Rwanda-Burundi Jesuit Region. Fr Felix Barutwanayo, SJ, who made the presentation, highlighted the fact that Child Protection and Safeguarding is imperative in all Jesuit apostolic works because the Society of Jesus has made a commitment to creating a culture of protection and safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults. All Jesuits and their collaborators must comply with all the requirements and standards in child protection and safeguarding as stated in the Policy. The presentation insisted on what constitutes cases of abuse, how they can be identified and reported, who should deal with reports, and what should be done throughout the various structures from the Child Protection Officer (CPO) in each apostolic work to the Major Superior. It also illustrated how Jesuit structures could collaborate with governmental and nongovernmental agencies depending on the nature or kind of abuse committed against minors and vulnerable adults as well as in sharing experiences.

The third presentation of the day dealt with the theme of nonviolent communication in a school setting or in any apostolic work. Professor Adolphe Sururu, a specialist in nonviolent communication and an experienced lecturer in Psychology from the University of Burundi led the participants through the tips and technics in nonviolent communication. With his incredible talent in communicating serious things with great humour, he captivated the attention of the participants for two hours with a deep and researched presentation of the technics in nonviolent communication and how they can be applied to daily life, especially in a school setup. Starting from the expectations expressed by the participants beforehand, he illustrated how good, appropriate, adequate, and timely communication could change lives and relationships and nurture a culture of protection and safeguarding of minors and vulnerable adults in our apostolic works and in society at large.

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Second day

The first presentation dealt with the basic principles in Child Protection and Safeguarding and the legal framework currently in place in Burundi. The talk was given by the General Director of the Department of the Family and Child Protection within the Ministry of Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender in the government of Burundi. He mainly explained how the government of Burundi understands Child Protection and Safeguarding, the available mechanisms and structures that ensure the Protection and Safeguarding of Minors and vulnerable adults. He also underscored the various challenges facing the domain of child protection and safeguarding the strategic responses as well adopted to address them.

The second presentation was about education and coaching young people so that they can be visionaries and know how to fulfil their visions. This topic was motivated by the demands of young people in our schools who constantly affirm that as educators, we ask them to accomplish many things without accompanying them and giving them the necessary tools for what is required from them. Moreover, even though all our teachers have degrees in the domains they teach, very few of them know how to educate and coach young people and mould their character for better results. The Jesuits and their collaborators received the opportunity to learn how they can accompany and coach young people in the pursuit of their visions and chosen objectives in life. The theme was developed by a Pastor who is also a University lecturer and a specialist in leadership and coaching. His presentation surprised and challenged many participants who thought they knew everything because they discovered that their role is not to dictate to young people what to do or become but rather to respect their dignity and aspirations, to help them to discover and nurture the visions and capabilities embedded in them.

The third session in the afternoon consisted of group discussions followed by reports from the various groups. The questions treated were about identifying and explaining appropriate and/or inappropriate kinds of relationships between students and teachers or educators. The discussions highlighted the roles and responsibilities of teachers on one hand and those of students or young people on the other hand. They also illustrated the right attitudes and the inappropriate attitudes or behaviours that should be always avoided by teachers and staff.

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Third day

The first session was a presentation of the Code of Conduct of Jesuits and their collaborators as stated in the Child Protection Policy of the Jesuit Rwanda-Burundi Region. It also explained the electronic-safety protocol and guidelines for internet use within the schools in Jesuit Rwanda-Burundi Region.

After the first session, the participants convened again for discussions in groups. The question proposed for the discussions inquired about “what should be taken into account in designing the Child Protection Policies in each apostolic work” taking into account the local culture and the particularities in the organisation of our apostolic works. The participants insisted on refashioning the way sanctions are given in our schools because culturally, Burundians believe that a child must be punished whenever she/he commits a mistake. A Burundian proverb suggests that a child who is never punished, even physically, cannot become a mature and responsible adult. However, the groups agreed that corporal punishments should be banished even though they are culturally acceptable. They also insisted on improving the knowledge of teachers, staff, parents, and young people themselves so that they know the various kinds of abuse and what should be done in case they happen. Schools are advised to include the school code of conduct given by the Ministry of Education into the Child Protection Policies and favouring dialogue between educators, parents, and students instead of punishments. Parents should receive special sensitization sessions because most of the abuse happens within the family setup where the child has no structure to appeal to.

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In conclusion, the three-day workshop transformed the way Jesuits, and their collaborators view their teaching mission and it challenged them to change their attitudes. Although educating young people remains challenging, they understood that protecting and safeguarding minors and vulnerable adults should be a guiding principle in all our endeavours, always putting the rights and interests of students first. The celebrations of the Eucharist each day helped the participants, despite their various religions, to see that love and service of God is our motivation in all we do. The evaluations conducted insisted on initiating new teachers and personnel before starting work as well as multiplying sessions for more enlightenment and exchanges because the time seemed to be too short.