Volunteers as shapers of the community and agents to build a healthier and responsible society: The Case of Village Health Action, a NGO in Burundi.

Overview: Volunteerism is defined by the practice of doing good work for good causes; without being paid for it [1]. Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community, and the benefits can be even greater for the volunteer. Volunteering and helping others can reduce stress, combat depression, offer mental stimulation, and provide a sense of purpose. While it’s true that the more one volunteers, the more benefits they will experience, volunteering need not involve a long-term commitment or take a large time-commitment. Giving in even simple ways can help those in need and improve one’s own health and happiness. Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. As reported in a study in social science and Medicine, when researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, Compared with people who never volunteer, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—an increase in happiness comparable to having an income of $20,000 versus $75,000–$100,000, say the researchers [2].

Burundi is the poorest country in the world with 60% youth of its population. The average income per capita is less than 20 USD.

In Burundi there is no a large culture of volunteering, and few studies have been done to ascertain the impact of volunteerism on building a more responsible society.

Objectives: Our goal is to evaluate the importance of volunteering in a specific community of Burundi by studying a youth-led organization named Village Health Action and its impact on building a responsible society. We aim to; identify the roots of lack inspiration to volunteer among young people; and study the characteristics of youth in Burundi.

Methodology: A qualitative exploratory and retrospective study was performed. A group of 20 volunteers were mobilized to build a healthier society. They worked from 2013 to 2017 to empower young people to overcome computer literacy and English skills as well as health education, such as medical campaigns in rural areas, advocacy for access to universal health coverage, raising awareness of drug users, and prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Results: 10 medical universities of which 4 000 were of English instruction; among them 54% are men and 46% are women; 83% are from rural areas and 17% from urban zones; 20% studied medicine and 80% were studying medical science.

Computer literacy were a large component, and high number of young people, 4,000, attended volunteer-facilitated trainings in Rosa Parks American corner facilitated by volunteers.

92% of our students has no basic in computer literacy; 57% were students at university and 77% were students from rural areas that are unable to afford training from a business a center and could not get money to buy their own laptop. The training duration was three months and was sufficient to build a foundation of computer literacy for those who wanted to continue develop their skills.

In general English; fifteen cohorts were organized and each cohort had a minimum of 50 students.

In medical English, eight cohorts were observed to follow the program. Each cohort held a graduation ceremony which was attended by university leaders, US embassy officials and other civil society organizations. It was a good opportunity to interact with young people who delivered powerful speeches in which concepts of entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and Sustainable Development Goals were developed.

The overall impact on youth empowerment was that people with limited ressources were able to obtain a full comprehensive, quality enrichment in these areas for free.35% of our students found employment based on the skills learnt or applied successfully for studies or fellowships in Anglophone countries. Volunteers created a medical journal and organized a first ever regional scientific conference in English.

Volunteerism has a big impact in the community as the country was ruined for decades by civil war and division. Fellows attending the training were both of ethnicities (hutu and tutsi) and discussed their differences during portions of the debate that were organized with the intention to empower them.

Volunteers were also involved in health education. The great majority of Burundians are in remote areas where many consulting witch doctors. The World Health Organization recommended standards of one doctor per 10,000 people is not met. The situation pushed volunteers to begin prevention programs among target groups like those living in rural areas, people living with HIV or living with non-communicable diseases and key populations such as people who use drugs.

The HIV prevalence in Burundi is 1.3% of the general population, 21.3% among sex workers and a 4.8% among MSM and 10, 2% among PWID. Burundi experiences extremely high adherence with survival rates among people with HIV on ART among the best in Africa: 91.2% at 12 months, 87.4% at 24 months and 83.9% at 36 months of treatment. There is a problem with new infection despite information. Volunteers performed a project to reduce HIV among drug users in which 600 drug users were recruited for screening followed by education. 18 were tested HIV positive immediately started the antiretroviral treatment. They were followed during 2 years at Jeunesse au Clair Medical drop-in center. Information, education and communication was organized once a week and an average of fifteen drug users attended. Participants were taught how to prevent transmission HIV and sexually transmitted diseases and after the session, a package of condoms, and NSP kit for injected drug users were distributed.

Volunteers went to rural areas to raise awareness of the burden of non-communicable diseases. Six medical campaigns were done in which 25,000 participated. The teachings were about the causes and consequences of the diseases and how to prevent from them. Young volunteers took part in “Our views, Our Voices Program”, an initiative of NCD Alliance to collect information that will be necessary for a UN high-level meeting on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Six youth consultations were held across the country to identify the needs of people living with NCDs; the results of which will be presented to decision makers in an effort to influence health policy.

The study is distinguished in that 5 of 20 volunteers were recognized at the international level and took part in various meetings and fellowships. It was a good opportunity and resource for them.


Volunteers have been playing a great role in helping people to build healthier and more responsible lifestyles. Young people empowered in vocational skills created their own jobs and adopted good behaviors, like tolerance, as they live in a society in which there are recurrent tensions between different groups.

They were open to job opportunities and now have skills to compete.

People living with diseases were taught how to live with them by avoiding aggravating factors that lead to severe complications. Others were taught how to prevent the diseases and to reduce risk factors. The teachings delivered by volunteers were recognized and appreciated at a high level so that in some situations; they were invited to share their expertise.

Overall the study shows that that volunteers involved in Village Health Action’s activities have played a great role to build a more responsible and healthier society in which all young people can have access to equal opportunities.


-The government should support volunteers in terms of training and education materials;

-Civil society organizations should work together to create synergy in order to be more effective.

-Volunteers should prioritize key sectors so that they can get more outcomes as they have limited resources.

Key words: volunteerism, responsible society, youth empowerment, Health education.


[1] https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/volunteerism

Cambridge Dictionnary

[2] https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm


Author: Dr.Haragirimana Egide