Giving Back in Burundi | Julianne Favron's Experience03.04.2014

In 2011, Julianne Favron decided to celebrate the end of tax season by setting out on an adventure to Africa with a friend. "I booked the month of May off. We climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, met up with another friend who was volunteering in Zambia and went on a safari through Botswana and South Africa," she says. When she returned to real life as a manager in tax services with Collins Barrow Ottawa LLP, she realized her adventure had turned into something more: a connection with a continent and a people she could not have anticipated.

"I had never met people more joyful than the people in Africa," she says. "I typically work with high-net-worth individuals in Canada and we always want a little bit more. In Africa, people are thankful for life. They appreciate everything. It was a stark contrast.

Favron immediately began looking for opportunities to go back and make a difference. "I didn't want busy work. I wanted to be able to apply my skills." A Google search led Favron to AfID and in September 2011, she completed an application outlining her professional background and interests and her motivation for volunteering abroad. She then had a phone interview with an AfID representative to discuss her options. "I knew I wanted to go to Tanzania and AfID matched me with an organization in Burundi. I didn't even know where Burundi was but they put me in touch with a volunteer who had been there. His passion for the country and the people was in line with how I felt, so I took a leap of faith and went."

She sold her house and all her possessions, took a one-year leave from her job, packed two bags and boarded a plane in December 2011. After a quick stop in England to visit her mother and to attend a one-day AfID workshop for volunteers, she left for Burundi and Village Health Works (VHW). The clinic, located in the mountain village of Kigutu, is staffed by local people, has four doctors and also runs training, education, economic development and food security programs in order to tackle the socioeconomic problems that lead to disease and illness. "The clinic treats about 150 patients a day," says Favron. "People will walk up to eight hours to get there because there are so few doctors in the area."

One of Favron’s key tasks was to develop operational strategies and establish financial accounting management policies, in addition to training the local accountant on a new online accounting software program. "The clinic is a two-hour drive from the capital city, Bujumbura, where the organization’s accountant was located. We needed procedures for the release of funds, separate accounts for different programs and improved financial reporting so they could get data into the system for donors."

In January 2013, Favron returned to her career in Ottawa but continued to help VHW via email. This January, she returned to Burundi for a one-month assignment. VHW recently secured funding from UNICEF to open and run a preschool. Favron showed the staff how to run donor-specific reports in the accounting software that clearly document where dollars are going. She also helped close out the 2013 fiscal year and produce financial reports, identified areas where efficiency could be improved and helped train new staff.

"Volunteering in this way has changed my life. I know I want to continue in some capacity," she says. "In many ways, here in Canada, it’s easy to lose sight of what really matters. In Burundi, people are part of a community. The nurses, educators, we all ate lunch and dinner together at one big table every day. I enjoyed meeting people and hearing their stories and seeing how happy they are. I did not get paid, but I got so much more from my time there."

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