Burundi: “We are continuing to provide help to the most vulnerable individuals”
The decision last April by the sitting president to run for a third term created a climate of instability and violence in Burundi. Tensions remain high. Handicap International has made changes to its operations in order to provide support to people affected by the crisis. Catherine Gillet, the director of Handicap International in Burundi, tells us more.
© Evrard Niyomwungere / Handicap International
What impact have these events had on Handicap International’s work?
We suspended all of our activities for three weeks before resuming them fairly rapidly in Gitega province. For security reasons, our inclusion work in schools in aid of children with disabilities in Bujumbura has been suspended and will only resume in September. However, we were anxious to continue providing specific support to people affected by this crisis.
How has Handicap International responded to this crisis?
Following the closure of schools in Bujumbura, many children were abandoned to their own devices, leaving them vulnerable to violence. To ensure they were better protected, Handicap International set up Child Friendly Spaces in conjunction with other partner organisations . The organisation trained educators so that reception facilities and teaching methods took into account the needs of children with disabilities.
Handicap also helped MSF refer injured people - including people with bullet wounds, who required special care (physiotherapy) or orthopaedic-fitting – to appropriate facilities.
Lastly, Handicap International, in conjunction with the NGO CONCERN, raised the awareness and trained members of non-governmental organisations to ensure the needs of people with disabilities were taken into account during emergency operations.
How are our teams coping with the situation?
The first weeks were particularly hard, with the constant tension, latent violence and fear. We adapted our working hours, and organised a system to transport people to the office. Once some colleagues got home they had to make sure their family was okay, then patrol their neighbourhood. It was a very challenging experience. But we wanted to continue our work and that’s what we did.
What are conditions currently like in Burundi?
The climate of violence - battles, grenade blasts, gunshots in the middle of the night – has improved in relative terms. But things remain tense and people are still afraid. And more than 170,000 Burundians fled the country and took refuge in Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
What is Handicap International’s priority today?
Continuing our work and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people during this crisis and in the future.