8 members from UNICEF’s Next Generation (an amazing group of motivated & hardworking individuals in their 20s and 30s dedicated to advancing UNICEF’s mission), travelled to support the Burundi Innovation Lab in April. Follow the blog this week and read how they are being forces for change and what happened during the trip! Also, learn how you can join us and get more involved in UNICEF’s work.

Burundian fisherman on Lake Tanganyika, Bujumbura at sunset. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014
Burundian fisherman on Lake Tanganyika, Bujumbura at sunset. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014

Burundi looks like an untouched paradise and in many ways it is. The UNICEF Next Gen team landed in Bujumbura as the first Next Gen group to collaborate with a UNICEF Innovations Lab. The hills and landscape were inspiring to the group who had previously only been speaking remotely with new colleagues in the Burundi office. While the inspiration opened up some challenges that hadn’t been imagined while working in the US, these challenges became intriguing problems to solve and a mission this week is to brainstorm and set up solutions.

UNICEF Burundi Staff and Next Gen Members inside the UNICEF Burundi Innovation Lab innovating for change. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014
UNICEF Burundi Staff and Next Gen Members inside the UNICEF Burundi Innovation Lab innovating for change. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014

As the Communications Team got together to brainstorm, we couldn’t help but speak about the lack of knowledge about Burundi. Back home in the U.S., family members, friends and colleagues had no idea where we would be physically located for the next week let alone the vast problems with malnutrition, lack of infrastructure and a country where only 3% of the population are connected to the electric grid. Burundi has no international media presence and the bits of press we do get do not paint such a positive picture.

Burundi is colourful, rich in musical tradition with an amazing community spirit where working together is the norm rather than the cause of any burden. In one incredible example of community spirit, we visited Village Health Works where the community pulled together to build a free health clinic and school on hilly terrain where roads had not existed and is now easily accessible to the community. Preschool children were singing in their classrooms as we observed the clinic in action while doctors and nurses made their rounds for the many patients they see each day. The clinic does not close until they see every patient. These aspects aren’t reported and are the last things people expect to see as I have noticed by many surprised comments from pictures on my own Facebook wall.

Chelsey Lepage, UNICEF Burundi, and Ben Hewitt , UNICEF Next Gen Steering Committee in Chicago, discussing the building of the new school at Village Health Works, a free health clinic, education and community center in Kigutu, Burundi. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014
Chelsey Lepage, UNICEF Burundi, and Ben Hewitt , UNICEF Next Gen Steering Committee in Chicago, discussing the building of the new school at Village Health Works, a free health clinic, education and community center in Kigutu, Burundi. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014

As the NextGen members experience the work in Burundi first-hand and speak with UNICEF staff and peers, it is incredible to see how deeply connected many issues are and how UNICEF works on every level to help put children first. The electricity problem, for example, affects children’s education as children must run home from school so they are not walking in the dark. Unless they had time to study while at school they cannot study at home where candle or kerosene light, if anything at all, is too faint.

Sunset over Lake Tanganikya, Bujumbura, Burundi. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014
Sunset over Lake Tanganikya, Bujumbura, Burundi. Credit: Brittany Ford 2014

The beauty of Burundi and its people are not lost on any of us innovating for change as we look over Lake Tanganyika. This visit has inspired all of us visiting to do more than perhaps we first thought as the challenges we began working on become face to face but all in hopeful and motivating ways. While solutions may have restrictions they also become limitless with many creative and stimulated minds tackling the issues.

Written by:

Brittany Ford, UNICEF’s Next Generation Los Angeles Steering Committee member
Casey Rotter, Founder, UNICEF’s Next Generation

If you are excited by what you read here AND you are a Star Wars fan, good news! Right now, you can support UNICEF’s Innovation Labs and programs – like the ones you will learn about in Burundi this week— through Star Wars: Force for Change, a brand new initiative from Disney and Lucasfilm in collaboration with Bad Robot, that allows fans to contribute at Omaze.com/StarWars for a chance to appear in Star Wars: Episode VII, while benefiting UNICEF.

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Related stories:

UNICEF Next Generation travel to support Burundi Innovation Lab

Next Generation offer expertise pro bono to support global UNICEF innovation work

Join Star Wars & UNICEF Innovation to be a “force for change”

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