During the times of forced displacement, UN Volunteers stand out as a beacon of hope and resilience. Meet Marie Paule Owimpundu and Alexandre Hakizimana, national UN Volunteers with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Burundi, who are providing protection and humanitarian assistance to those displaced from their homes. Through their efforts, the UN Volunteers have served 38,727 individuals in all the camps from January to May, with 368 resettled to third countries this year. They share their journey of compassion and transformation in the face of immense challenges.
Marie Paule Owimpundu, UN Volunteer Associate Resettlement Officer with UNHCR
Marie is part of UNHCR's Resettlement Unit, where she helps refugees in their journey to third countries that offer them permanent residence and the chance to become citizens. However, she faces a significant challenge – the high expectations of applicants who consider resettlement the only solution to their hardships. It's essential to understand that resettlement is a privilege rather than an entitlement, as determined by the criteria set by receiving countries every year.
As a Resettlement Officer, Marie explores durable solutions for applicants, such as resettlement and complementary pathways when local integration proves unfeasible. She manages the resettlement unit, conducting interviews, providing counseling and overseeing the work of her colleagues to ensure the most vulnerable and at-risk refugees receive the assistance they urgently need.
When Marie’s unit achieves its targets, she takes pride in knowing her host agency has excelled. This recognition reflects the value placed on her contributions and thrives her commitment to making a difference.
One significant challenge Marie faced was working in the field during her pregnancy. Despite the discomfort of enduring difficult rides on poorly maintained roads to reach the refugee camp, her dedication and professional ethics pushed her forward.
Marie finds fulfillment in the person she is becoming as her career progresses. Knowing that she plays a role in improving the lives of others, particularly children, fills her with a sense of pride and purpose.
Volunteering has been instrumental in shaping my personal growth. It provides a platform for me to express my thoughts, shine, and ultimately assume higher positions where I can make an even more profound and efficient impact on people's lives. --Marie Paule Owimpundu, Associate Resettlement Officer with UNHCR, Burundi
Marie believes in leaving the world a better place than she found it. Through her work with refugees, she advocates for respect and understanding that no one chooses to become a refugee, yet anyone can become one.
"Treating refugees with dignity, kindness and respect is not only a moral imperative, but also essential in fostering a more inclusive and compassionate society," she concludes.
Alexandre Hakizimana, UN Volunteer Associate Interpreter with UNHCR
Born in a world of uncertainty, Alexandre experienced the hardships of being a refugee as a child and promised himself that he would one day serve those in similar situations. With a background in law and an empathic nature, he dedicated himself to the mission of UNHCR.
Assigned to the Resettlement Unit in Ruyigi, Alexandre's responsibilities include interpreting during interviews, ensuring effective communication between refugees and those managing the resettlement process. He bridged language barriers in various settings, such as refugee camps like Bwagiriza, Kavumu and Nyankanda.
Beyond interpretation, my legal knowledge allowed me to support the protection team during counseling sessions, providing guidance. This resulted in successful interviews and, in due course, the resettlement of refugees to third countries, offering hope to those accustomed to displacement and uncertainty. --Alexandre Hakizimana, UN Volunteer Associate Interpreter with UNHCR, Burundi
Alexandre's ability to identify those in need and provide solutions has proven crucial in supporting refugees and resolving their challenges. He has participated in distribution of food and non-food items to the vulnerable. His contributions to mission planning has also enhanced efficiency in responding to critical situations on the field.
Alexandre’s journey as a volunteer reflects empathy, resilience and personal growth. From being a refugee himself to serving others in need, he exemplifies the transformative power of volunteering. Through active listening, humility and kindness, he is upholding his principles of peace and forgiveness.
"Remember," he says, "protecting and assisting refugees are not mere obligations, but fundamental rights."