It is rain season and the daily rain shower has just fallen in Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi. The heat has been washed from the air. I arrived 2 weeks ago and already becoming pretty settled here. I am posted with HealthNet TPO in Burundi by the Achmea ‘silver pool’ (Achmea is a large Dutch insurance company).
HealthNet TPO has been a partner of Achmea since a long time, and both parties wish to further strengthen the cooperation. Together with the CSR department of Achmea, we’re looking into the possibilities of developing micro-finance projects. This is the third time I am in Burundi for a longer period. First I was there from 1979 to 1981 in a UN project, and then from 1984 to 1987 for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So now I’m back after a period of 25 years. During that intervening period I have been here regularly as a volunteer. I came here to manage the HealthNet TPO Burundi office, comprising of 70 people, of which half is based in the inlands where projects are actually implemented.
Many problems in Burundi are similar to those in Rwanda. Although it’s less known, in Burundi were many casualties too between 1995 and 2005. In addition, many people fled the country and came back after the peace agreement was signed; the land that they once owned is now being cultivated by others. For African standards, Burundi is a densely populated country: almost 9 million people at a surface smaller than the Netherlands. And almost all are farmers. Burundi thence is one of the poorest countries of Africa: two-third of the population lives on less than 1 euro a day, and the average life expectancy is 50.4 years.
In Burundi HealthNet TPO carries out projects in the field of health systems strengthening (through “performance based financing” - and hopefully soon health insurance), community systems strengthening, and mental health care (for children and returnees). Former refugees face many problems: a poor relationship with current residents, land conflicts, mutual accusations of witchcraft, stigmatization by current residents, a lack of land, a lack of trust in government bodies, education problems for children, stigmatization at schools, and a lack of housing, etc. Through - among others – socio therapy we can solve these problems, and have been quite successful in doing so. In one of the villages there were two clearly (ethnically) separated neighborhoods. Through our approach the land conflicts are largely resolved. Residents have provided land – and in some cases even seeds - to returnees, new friendships have been established and they helped each other to build new houses. In the field of sexual violence, consequences of AIDS, family planning, school-leavers and psychiatric care our approach has shown results too.
The past 2 weeks I talked to all staff members in Bujumbura. In the coming 2 weeks I will visit the offices in the inland. I’ll report on that next time!
Wim Overbeeke – Country Director Burundi at HealthNet TPO
Background – Wim studied International Relations and Economics (Free University) and before he came to HealthNet TPO he worked at Achmea (large Dutch insurance company), UWV, DGIS (in Burundi), ILO (in Burundi and Benin) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently Wim has been posted by Achmea at our office in Bujumbura to manage the local office, to develop new (insurance) projects, to manage the DCR programme and to represent HealthNet TPO in the DCR steering committee.