By Linda Soutter
Many young women and girl children living in Burundi (and across the developing world) are forced into prostitution by their parents or guardians to provide income for their families or out of the extreme poverty they endure.
Bravo Ministries, run by Canadian Alli Blair, began in 2005 in Bujumbura seeking to save boys who had been child soldiers, and girls that were negotiated out of prison, by teaching them a trade: mechanics and sewing. Young people emerging from war need a skill and a safe place.
After 2010, the ministry focused on providing a sustainable income-generating opportunity for women and girls coming out of prostitution. A pilot program was started to help rehabilitate these young women and to give them a safe way to support themselves and their children. Since then, many young women, both those released from prison and others from forced prostitution, have learned to sew – a viable way to make a living in Burundi.
In this country, anyone who has the skill of needle craft can realistically set up a sewing machine by the side of the road and earn a living wage making and repairing clothes. While they learn at Bravo Ministries, the women and girls hand-make a diverse range of products out of material bought in the market in Bujumbura. Products include everything from clothes to curtains, table napkins and stuffed toys, and these are marketed and sold to locals, tourists, international agencies, embassies and even overseas customers.
The ministry divides the proceeds between the girls (60%) and reinvestment in the project. Around 10 women are involved in the workshop at any one time, and along with sewing skills, they are learning the Gospel and growing in faith. Each morning Alli and the women and girls have worship, a devotional and pray. We had the opportunity to pray with them and the air around the girls in the room was heavily Holy Spirit charged. You should hear them sing!
Approximately half the women have children and the workshop income provides them with regular income to get back on their feet. Once they are confident of being independent, they move on, usually to establish their own micro enterprise. Once they are on their own, women who have been helped themselves often reach out to others to refer their friends in need.
Bravo Ministries is a Christian organization that believes people need more than food and a job; they offer a place to grow spiritually as well as training, counseling and conflict resolution.
Thank you St. Michael’s for helping to support ministry in Burundi.
“…’Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ ” Matthew 25:40