Tevel was drawn to work in Burundi first and foremost due to the dire need in the country. The third poorest nation in the world, Burundi has suffered deeply from violent inter-ethnic conflicts between Hutus and Tutsis, similar to its neighbor Rwanda. However unlike Rwanda, Burundi did not receive the same extent of international media attention and subsequent aid necessary to recover from the conflict. When the Tevel staff first visited Burundi in December 2012 as part of a fact-finding mission, it was clear that while the challenge was enormous, so was the potential to make an impact.
“After years of conflict and extreme violence, Burundi has now had almost a decade of peace. People see things getting better and believe that they can be better still. There is a tremendous amount of hope and motivation to create change. But the need is so great they can’t do it on their own, and very few aid organizations have made Burundi a priority.” said Micha Odenheimer, Tevel’s founding director. “We felt that despite the fact that we are a small organization, we will be able to make a huge difference in Burundi.”
Gera Tsahalin, an alumnus of Tevel’s program in both Nepal and Haiti was deployed to Burundi in January of 2014 to select the area of activity and local partners. In March he was joined by Noga Shafer-Raviv, Tevel’s Director of Community Development. After traveling extensively and meeting with both local and international organizations, Gera and Noga decided that Tevel’s first focus would be in the Makamba region, in the southern tip of the country that has seen an influx of returnees over the past years. The organization’s work will be focused in the rural Vugizo district, an area which suffers from a complete lack of infrastructure needed to advance development activity. Rural communities have no running water, minimal roads and are not connected to the electricity grid. Schools often lack basic physical infrastructure, teachers are poorly trained and there are few books or other educational resources available to the students. Likewise there is a severe shortage of occupational opportunities for youth and of venues to provide training to the adults of the community in critical fields such as agricultural techniques, family planning, literacy and numeracy, micro-savings and vocational training.
“Many countries in Africa have been flooded with international NGOs that often do more damage than good, disturbing local leadership structures and creating dependence. Burundi is virgin territory in that way. Working here is an opportunity to create a different dynamic between development organizations and communities, similar to what we have created in Nepal,” said Odenheimer.
Tevel’s Burundi staff, including Bijay Shresta, one of the organization’s key staff members from Nepal, are already in the field. The first group of international volunteers, from the Tevel Fellowship program, will be deployed to Burundi in September 2014. Follow Tevel’s activity in Burundi at #TevelBurundi on all of our social media channels.