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Off the Grid: A Dispatch from Burundi

Off the Grid: A Dispatch from Burundi
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By Jennifer Weiss, Health Advisor, Concern Worldwide US

I started my work in Burundi around a year ago. Before I visited the country, I remember my colleague describing Burundi to me. “It’s off the grid,” she said.

The comment struck me as odd. I assured her that I had lived in Africa before and was more than prepared for the work that lay ahead.  I couldn’t possibly understand what she meant by “off the grid.”

I quickly learned. Burundi, despite its geographic proximity to Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda, countries with growing economies and booming tourism industries, is heartbreakingly poor. In fact, Burundi is one of the world’s five poorest countries. I knew this statistic before departure. However, it wasn’t until I arrived in Burundi’s capital city of Bujumbura that I completely understood my colleague’s description. While in other capitals, there are new businesses and construction, in Bujumbura there are none to be seen. When I asked a friend of mine who had been in Burundi in the ‘80s to explain how the capital had changed since then, she frankly responded: “It hasn’t.”

Yet, despite the unaltered state of the urban landscape, I see great hope and change in Burundi. Perhaps too often overlooked is Burundi’s stunning beauty: the lush mountains, the blanketing greenery, the villages or colline perched atop the peaks of countless hills. These villages are commonly reached by winding footpaths, sometimes a two or three-hour walk from the main road. The people living in these communities are accustomed to the climb. Gathering water, a chore for children anywhere from three years old to teenagers, can involve a walk (or hike) of around an hour.

Since the journeys are long and arduous, most villagers do not immediately seek medical assistance at the first sign of illness. It is the children who are the most vulnerable. Malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition are the most prevalent health concerns within these communities, predominantly affecting children ages five and under. Although treatable, these diseases become fatal when not detected immediately.

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10:31AM PDT on Sep 12, 2012


11:10AM PDT on Aug 29, 2012

Thank you.

2:13AM PDT on Aug 28, 2012

Actually, the comment regarding "no new businesses or construction" is patently false. Burundi has been growing since 2010. New businesses include brand new hotels, restaurants and other shops. Burundi's coffee sector is growing, and the country just hosted the prestigious "cup of excellence."
Though Burundi is indeed the poorest of the five East African Community members, it also has strong growth potential that slowly but surely is starting to emerge. If you are interested in finding about Burundi's nascent entrepreneurial sector, I advise you to check out the Burundi Business Incubator (BBIN)

1:57AM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Thank you

8:47PM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

always love to learn about life in a different part of the world, would love to visit Burundi one day

9:24AM PDT on Aug 26, 2012


6:23AM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

Being off the grid means that the multinationals haven't destroyed the land or contaminated it so perhaps they will become the model of what development and infrastructure should be in arenas beyond health care, too.

6:17AM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

It's time for the Koch brothers to get into the resort and hotel business. Since I do not have adequate capital, and they do, I would suggest that they take this beautiful scenery and make it into a tourist paradise. Of course, they should have to pay a decent salary to native workers, and set up a food supply network, etc., but this would be a fine way for them to justify their existence. Thus far, I have seen no need for these two to exist, since they have not ethically nor morally proven their humanity.

4:58AM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

Thank you

4:37AM PDT on Aug 26, 2012

What a fantastic article. Please Keep up the excellent work.

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