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Sunday, November 28, 2021
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There’s a place in this world where nearly 1 in 4 women report experiencing sexual violence, where nearly 50 percent of its population is without reliable food, where 1,200 people were killed in 2015 and where 414,490 people were displaced from their homes. This place is Burundi. Never heard of it? Exactly.

As one of the smallest countries in Africa, roughly the size of Maryland, Burundi is often overlooked. Forgotten. Neglected. As a result, there is not nearly enough physical or financial support for the mass exodus of refugees fleeing for their lives. As a UF masters student, my goal is to have our community here at UF help.

What is happening in Burundi? The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that the “Political unrest in Burundi took a deadly turn in 2015...Street protests led to violent clashes, and hundreds of thousands fled to nearby countries in search of safety.” To put things in perspective, Gainesville’s population is about 132,000 people. If we triple that number, we can see roughly how many Burundian refugees have fled their homeland and are struggling to survive. While we were all celebrating New Year’s Eve, those refugee numbers were being calculated. To help these refugees in their host countries, namely Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Congo, UNHCR had requested $391 million in 2018. However, it was only granted one third of this amount; the organization is requesting $262 million for 2019.

UNHCR regional refugee coordinator and CRRF champion for the Burundi situation Catherine Wiesner, reports that “in 2018 the Burundi situation remained one of the least funded refugee crises in the world.” As a direct result of the lack of funds, the consequences were “acutely felt with food cuts, lack of medicines, inadequate shelters, and overcrowded classrooms in countries of asylum.”

How can we help? There are several things we can do to help, but I’m requesting the simplest method: donation. Monetary donations are greatly needed and even more appreciated. Any amount helps. For those involved in student organizations around campus, consider hosting a fundraiser to help raise awareness and donations.

People may have doubts about donating, asking questions like “Would my donation even really make a difference? How can donating just a few dollars help close such a massive gap? How can we ensure that our funds are being utilized appropriately?” These questions are valid. To provide some insight: If every student at UF alone raised or contributed $20 just once, together, we could donate more than $1 million, helping close the fiscal gap and provide the resources needed to tremendously improve the refugee conditions being experienced in their host countries.

These donations would not go unnoticed. As expressed by Catherine Wiesner, “We extend our utmost appreciation to the donors who have supported our collective assistance efforts. We have recently made strides to better reflect your contributions, including both earmarked and un-earmarked funding in our funds tracking and communication materials.”

Take action. I challenge you to this: This month, have your coffee on campus instead of going to Dunkin’. Dine out once less. Put that new shirt on hold. Try using those allocated funds for something different. Something that would positively impact those who are much less fortunate than we are. Something that would bring out the humanitarian in you. Something that would help save a person’s life. Donate to The UN’s Refugee Agency to help Burundians being forced out of their homes survive.

Want to be more involved? For those looking to take an even more active role in their support, volunteer opportunities are available all year round. Visit the International Rescue Committee website for more information.

Taylor DeMaio is a UF mass communications masters student.

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