Dear Friends of Akilah,
We have made the difficult decision to temporarily close the Akilah Institute campus in Burundi due to increasing insecurity.
It is not safe for our 150 students to travel to campus, and our staff and faculty will work from the Rwanda campus during this time. (Please read Carmen Nibigira’s letter below).
Protests and fighting are spreading throughout the capital of Bujumbura because the President decided to pursue a third term, a move opponents consider a violation of the Constitution.
There is gunfire in multiple neighborhoods, transportation remains limited, the National University, and most businesses and non-profit organizations are closed.
The police are responding to the protests with water cannons, tear gas, and bullets, and have injured and killed some protestors. Nearly 1,000 people were arrested while journalists and activists were attacked in the streets.
This weekend, grenade attacks killed police officers and civilians. The government has shut down radio stations and blocked social media and messaging platforms.
More than 25,000 refugees (60% of whom are children) have fled to neighboring Rwanda, fearing that a genocide could occur. The UNHCR expects the numbers to rise to 50,000 refugees in the coming weeks.
“The situation threatens to boil over, yet Burundi’s international partners have said very little. If the United Nations, Western donors and the African Union don’t act quickly, and prepare to intervene if necessary, the tension could explode into a full-scale civil war, threatening the stability of Africa’s entire Great Lakes region.” -The New York Times
Burundi is the world’s fifth poorest country. Many of our students lived through a civil war between the Tutsi-controlled army and Hutu rebels that only ended in 2005 and resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 Burundians. It is heartbreaking for those of us who live, work, and invest in the region to contemplate that history may repeat itself.
The Akilah Board of Directors planned for this scenario months ago, and we have taken all the necessary measures to ensure the safety of our faculty, staff, and students. It is unclear when we will reopen the campus, but we are eager for our students to return to the classroom as soon as it’s safe.
Until then, we will not waver in our commitment to the women of Burundi. In fact, this experience underscores the value we create every day as our students dedicate themselves to graduate, and launch higher-paying careers so they may invest in their children’s education and the peace and stability of their nation.
We believe that educating women prepares them to take increasingly responsible positions in the economy and will raise their wages; that high and rising wages foster tolerance, trust, civic engagement, and optimism about the future; and that these progressive human values strengthen any society.
Contributions to our Burundi Campus Fund are an investment in the Akilah students and ensure that we can reopen as soon as possible.
Classes on the Rwanda campus continue as usual and the third-year students are eagerly anticipating their graduation this summer. Rwanda continues to be very safe and we don’t foresee any disruption to our operations there.
Please keep our students and all of Burundi in your thoughts and prayers,
Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes & Dave Hughes
Akilah Institute for Women
A letter from Akilah Board Member Carmen Nibigira
When I was growing up in Burundi in the 1990s, the country was undergoing 15 years of violence and fighting. As young Burundians, our youth was stolen from us. Our hopes and dreams were taken away and the failing education system couldn’t prepare us for the future.
Twenty years later, I had the opportunity to change the trajectory of my young democratic nation as a Board Member of the Akilah Institute and the driving force behind our expansion to Burundi in 2013.
When I first suggested the idea of opening a Burundi campus, the Akilah team was skeptical. Our civil war only ended in 2005 and we are still the fifth poorest country in the world. And yet this is the reason why Burundi so desperately needed Akilah and a generation of young female leaders and businesswomen!
It has been 18 months since Akilah opened the doors of its Burundi campus.
The Akilah Burundi students come from all three ethnic groups (Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa) and from communities across the country. They arrive on campus every day full of optimism and hope for their futures, their families, and their country. They have a deep hunger for their education, as they know that it is their ticket out of poverty.
Violence, greed, and corruption are now robbing them of this opportunity.
The Akilah team and I have fought hard over the past few years to make this campus a reality. We will not give up on our Burundian students because we know that they are the key to future peace and prosperity in Burundi.
Please don’t give up on us.
I promise you that the brightest hope of Burundi is coming from the Akilah classrooms. Help us to catalyze change in this small and oft-forgotten country.
Akilah Institute Board of Directors
Former General Director of National Tourism Office, Burundi