This is a guest blog by Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive of the British Red Cross, who recently visited the Burundi Red Cross.  

© Nicholas Young/ BRC

Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. But with a population only slightly bigger than Wales, many vulnerable communities are receiving support from the 300,000 Red Cross volunteers working across the country.

During my two day visit, I saw Red Cross volunteers distributing home-grown food to destitute neighbours, stockpiling food for emergencies, raising money from handmade charcoal briquettes, constructing a dam, planting seeds and promoting healthcare and first aid.

None of this is magic. It takes great leadership, a hard working team and a strong sense of commitment. The volunteers aren’t working for the Red Cross, they’re working for their neighbours through the Red Cross – and there is a difference.

A super team of staff and volunteers

The civil war which took place between 1993 and 2005 divided ethnic groups and had a devastating impact on the people of Burundi. People refer to the war constantly and blame it for the poverty they find themselves living in.

But actually, at least on the surface, the tensions have disappeared and the Burundi Red Cross and its volunteers have worked hard to create a sense of community cohesion, and ‘one Burundi’.

The National Society was a pillar of strength during the civil war but sadly, afterwards, it stopped receiving funding and almost collapsed. It wasn’t until 2006 and the arrival of Anselme Katiyunguruza, secretary general of the Burundi Red Cross, that recovery started. Confidence was restored and the incredible drive to create a community volunteer-based movement began.

© Nicholas Young/ BRC

Raising support to continue life-saving work

But support for this life-changing work is needed. The Burundi Red Cross is only able to cover ten per cent of its total costs – the rest comes from external partners, including half a dozen other National Societies.

This isn’t sustainable. The Burundi Red Cross must learn how to raise money for itself if it is to continue to support vulnerable communities. For Anselme it is a constant challenge to keep the country’s Red Cross society well-staffed and resourced – and to keep moving towards his dream of having a Red Cross volunteer in every family in the country.

And they must rise to the challenge – because for the people of Burundi, the Red Cross is a well-known and much-loved lifeline to the future.

Read more about the work of the Burundi Red Cross.