Humanitarian diplomacy in action: free radio airtime increasing Red Cross visibility in Burundi

Published: 17 October 2012 11:33 CET

By Nancy Okwengu

Ariane Ngoti, communications assistant in charge of radio broadcasting at Burundi Red Cross says Red Cross visibility has increased dramatically since 2009, when volunteers started broadcasting their experiences through radio stations all over the country. The number of volunteers has also increased to 350,000.

Ariane, travels from province to province meeting various volunteers. "The volunteers are always eager to share their stories and experiences," she says.

Ariane records these into a one-hour radio programme and distributes it to five nationalwide radio stations. The name of the radio programme is Agir pour Sauver (meaning, “act to bring salvation” as loosely translated into English).

The content of this programme has impressed five commercial radio stations who now offer free airtime to the National Society allowing them to reach audiences all across the country.

The programme is broadcasted in French and Kirundi each week on Rema FM, Africa Republic Radio, National Radio and Television for Burundi.

Through the programme, volunteers are able to explain how they respond to different emergencies and this creates awareness among the listeners. "We recently aired a malaria campaign funded by Belgiun Red Cross," Ariane says. "Volunteers advised the listeners on malaria prevention. The campaign was successful and in subsequent programmes the volunteers reported that families in the community now use mosquito nets, while pregnant women access medical care when they suspect that they have malaria."

Arian, not only interviews the Red Cross volunteers, but she also talks to local administration and partner organizations in order to get a wider view of the various topics discussed in the programme.

"Volunteers also share the various income generating initiatives that they are involved in and how they are assisting vulnerable people within their communities. Other topical issues discussed are how to protect the environment, and how to administer first aid," she says.

Such initiatives reflect successful humanitarian diplomacy in action. Staff and volunteers from the Burundi Red Cross have demonstrated that they can carry out quiet diplomacy, mobilize resources locally, and assist the most vulnerable people in the community through sharing information on a weekly basis.

It is through 'behind the scenes' negotiations that they have been able to access various resources that encourage volunteer development. Airtime that would ordinarily break the organization’s budget can now be accessed free of charge.

Humanitarian diplomacy has become a pillar of support for Burundi Red Cross and their stories are worth telling repeatedly. The National Society is now on the road to standing on its own and becoming a model of empowerment and change in their communities, and for Africa more broadly.