Washington 4-H empowers African youth

Children arrive at school hungry, don’t receive any nourishment during their five-hour school days, and can’t afford to bring food from home, according to teachers and school staff in Burundi.

A student kicking a soccer ball.
A student in Burundi takes advantage of one of the soccer balls WSU Extension educators gave to their school in Busangana.

That was the overwhelming response to questions posed by Washington State University Extension faculty during an exploratory trip in 2013.

Mary Katherine Deen and Kevin Wright hope to start reversing that hunger issue during another trip to the East African country in 2015. They are developing a 4-H program where a team of Washington 4-H and Extension faculty and volunteers will travel to Burundi and work with staff and students to develop school gardens and in-school meal programs.

Currently, most schools in Burundi don’t provide any meals for students. Starting a school garden would teach students how to grow crops and provide food for the school.

Deen, an associate professor in the Department of Human Development and an Extension 4-H specialist, has a personal connection to Burundi since volunteering there in 2012. On that trip, she talked with people about youth programs like 4-H and heard interest in starting something similar.

During a 2013 trip to Burundi, Deen and Wright, director of WSU King County Extension, gave donated soccer balls to students and listened to educators explain what they needed to help their students.

In 2014, Charles Berahino, a program manager for Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS), a 4-H partner in Africa, visited Washington to see how 4-H works in different counties. he traveled all around the state, visiting Clark, Jefferson, Snohomish, King, Spokane, Grant, Adams, and Whitman counties. That included a trip to Pullman for the annual 4-H Teen Conference, which is mostly organized by the teens themselves.

Burundi shown on the African continent.

“Charles was so impressed that teens could rise to that level and have the confidence and ability to take on important leadership roles,” Deen said. “He wants kids in Burundi to feel empowered.”

“Burundi is very teacher-centric,” Wright added. “He’d never seen kids teaching other kids before.”

Wright also said they’re making sure to listen to the Burundian educators and asking them if certain things will work.

“We want to increase their capacity in ways that work for them,” Wright said. “It’s not just a sales pitch. It’s a true partnership, [and] we’re respectful of the cultural differences.”

While 4-H programs reach 7 million people in over 50 countries, this will be the first program in Burundi, a country where ninety percent of the population of 8.5 million works in agriculture and less than two percent have electricity in their homes.