By Kate Bundra Roux
Today Olivier Haringanji, Burundi Red Cross volunteer and national youth coordinator, made a call to partipants at the 31st International Conference to recognise, protect and promote volunteers throughout the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. “In the most desperate of situations, there is always a ray of hope that encourages us to take action,” he said, testifying the tremendous work of volunteers around the world.
Haringanji said that over time, and especially following the war in Burundi, he had come to understand what it means to be a volunteer, and what volunteers could do for a community. Here, he said, it was the Fundamental Principle of humanity that amplified passions among the people and inspired them to become Red Cross volunteers. “It has been a catalyst for our solidarity,” he said. “As people have told me, there is no one better to help than my neighbour.”
In 2007, the Burundi Red Cross was a family of 2,000 volunteers, but today the National Society can call on over 350,000 people bought together by the principle of shared humanity. Most significantly, Haringanji said, is that the volunteers understand the people they're helping because they come from the same place. “They face the same economic and social problems,” he said.
Like many in Burundi, Haringanji witnessed the real tragedies of war but, amid the fighting, he also witnessed the engagement and sacrifice of volunteers in rural areas of the country. People who had the least, gave the most. “It really touched me, and I saw that volunteering is not a quesiton of money, competance or expertise," he said. "It is a question of belief, and a spirit of humanity."
Due to the power of volunteering, the Burundi Red Cross has changed - and saved - lives across the country, carrying out activities including first aid, building homes, and helping to establish small farms, as well as ensuring that the organization is prepared for future disasters. Together, Haringanji said, they have laid the foundation for a country that is more harmonious, proud, and better prepared to face future challenges.
“We have something, as volunteers," he said. "We do not have to be rich to give. The spirit of volunteering is in each one of us; it is contagious and it is a powerful force for social transformation.”
In his address to the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva, Haringanji urged the Movement and government participants to support and protect their volunteers, and provide them with access to the most vulnerable. He said it may appear to many to be a difficult task, but he was confident that real change was possible. “I am here because I believe."