Claude Nsimirineme is a 14 year old boy who started life on the streets when he became an orphan during the the civil war.
Claude’s parents were killed during the war when her was very young, far too young to have to fend for himself. He heard of friends in the same situation who were living on the streets in Bujumbara. "I followed them because I had no other way to survive. I was very young," he explained.
But there was nothing friendly about living on the streets - Claude felt extremely lonely, vulnerable and utterly without hope, with no family, no home, no bed, no warmth and worst of all no food.
I had to beg for food – sometimes I would manage to get some, but often not, so I would just have to go hungry.
But one day, when Claude was 8, his life changed forever when he was found in the street by Maggy – an amazing woman who, with the support of ActionAid, set up Maison Shalom - 'House of Peace', a network of houses which has saved thousands of orphans from the streets and the sex trade since its foundation in 1993.
Claude was very hungry when Maggy found him. She offered to take him somewhere safe wwith other children where he would be looked after and he readily agreed.
She just picked me up and brought me to Maison Shalom. I was so very happy.
When Claude arrived he was excited to meet other children he could talk to, and to be able to go school. Maison Shalom prioritises children developing as individuals, not as numbers, so they are not grouped together in large dormitories but are separated into different houses with siblings if possible and given their own bedrooms, developing a family atmosphere where the older ones learn to care for the younger ones.
Maggy explains the importance of this: “If they can’t have their own house, then they are nothing but numbers. The government doesn’t know they exist. But they are not numbers, they are human beings."
She continues “When you are registered you can marry, travel, get a job – you are always asked for your identity papers for these things. Without it, you are discriminated against your whole life. And people can do what they want to you.”
Having his own bedroom meant the world to Claude.
It made me feel hopeful for the first time. When I was on the streets I had to sleep without a blanket, without a mattress, I had nothing for a bed. But now I have my own.
Claude now has a strong sense of identity and purpose in life. "I now want to continue my studies so I can get a degree or be a teacher. If possible, I would also like to be my own man in my own house when I am older, so that I have a place of my own." He has transgressed from feelings of hopelessness to high aspirations for his future.
The amazing work of Maggy and the rest of Maison Shalom continues to help thousands of children like Claude.