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By Maryanne Seabra
5 December 2023

When we think about climate change, we often think about how it affects people's homes and farms, crops and water supplies. But in a country like Burundi, a small East African country bordering Rwanda, climate change is having an even more unexpected and devastating impact on the lives of young women.  

In Burundi, gender inequalities place a disproportionate burden on women who bear the primary responsibility for unpaid household tasks. The job of collecting firewood falls mainly on girls and young mothers and as wood becomes harder to find, they need to travel longer distances, exposing them to the threat of violence and sexual abuse

The Green Girls Project in Burundi

UNICEF Australia Ambassador Adam Liaw learning how to produce eco-friendly charcoal with the Green Girls.

Not far from Bujumbura, Burundi's largest city, an IDP (internally displaced people) camp is crowded with more than 6,000 people who were forced out of their homes by a series of catastrophic floods in recent years.  

UNICEF Australia Ambassador Adam Liaw recently visited the impactful Green Girls project, where teenage girls and young women produce an affordable and eco-friendly charcoal alternative. In partnership with local organisation SAD (Social Action for Development), this UNICEF initiative doesn't just prevent deforestation, it also drives equity and local business development.  

"We learned how to make ecological charcoal from waste that doesn't require deforestation because it's a project about protecting the environment and combating sexual violence."

23, Green Girls participant
Woman carrying eco-friendly charcoal
Plant waste is collected and dried, then burned with leftover charcoal and starch to create green charcoal.
© UNICEF Australia/2023/Seabra

The Green Girls project trains teenage girls and young women to source and manufacture a cheaper, more environmentally friendly type of charcoal made of plant materials and offers a multifaceted solution to a complex issue. By collecting waste from their surroundings, these young women not only avoid walking long distances in search of firewood but also create a sustainable source of income.  

By empowering young girls and women economically, environmentally, and socially, projects like these provide immediate support while paving the way for sustainable, resilient communities in the face of an ever-changing climate. 

Woman producing eco-friendly charcoal
Green Girl project participants and UNICEF Representative in Burundi, France Begin
© UNICEF Burundi/2023/Muco

"Today, things have changed. We used to have to beg, and sometimes men would take advantage of the situation and abuse us. Now that we are working, they're afraid to approach us because we are independent."

23, Green Girls participant

This incredible pilot project now reaches 100 teenage girls and young women in Burundi. "It's just ingenious when you see how this project tackles multi-dimensional problems in a really multi-dimensional way”, says UNICEF Australia Ambassador Adam Liaw.  

UNICEF is actively addressing the impacts of climate change in Burundi, focusing on improving living conditions for displaced families and communities. By integrating child protection measures within climate initiatives, we aim to support children and young people with the education and skills they will need to adapt and create a green transition and better world

 Because, every child, everywhere, deserves to live safe from violence and abuse. 

Students in Burundi working together as part of the Creatable program that teaches STEM to solve real-world problems.
© UNICEF/EVRA9999/Ngendakumana

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