Burundi: In Honor of Agnès

On Monday, December 31st, 2007, a car belonging to the international humanitarian organization Action Against Hunger / Action Contre La Faim (ACF) was targeted by gunmen on a street in Ruyigi, eastern Burundi. Two of the passengers were critically wounded: Agnès, a psychologist working in ACF’s Burundi programs since July 2007, and Aude, a Nurse/Nutritionist. They were transported to Ruyigi Hospital and then to a larger hospital in the city of Gitega.

Sadly, Agnès succumbed to her injuries and passed away upon arriving in Gitega.

Aude was transferred yet again—to a hospital in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura—from where she was flown overnight to Johannesburg, South Africa accompanied by an ACF doctor. She underwent surgery on January 2nd and her status is now considered stable and her vitals good.

The Burundi Police Department has initiated an investigation into this inexplicable and incomprehensible crime. ACF’s remaining international staff have since been called back to Bujumbura where trauma counseling and psychological support are being provided.

Action Against Hunger’s teams are stunned and shocked by this senseless tragedy—both in Burundi and around the world. In response, ACF would like to honor Agnès by reminding the world of her devotion to humanitarian action and commitment to the communities she served.

Agnès was 31 years old and hailed from Saône et Loire, France. Although Burundi was her first experience in international humanitarian work, her sense of engagement and solidarity had always been part of who she was. As her father recalls: “Helping others, that was her thing. This is, actually, a family trait.” And her academic studies and work experiences in Europe were emblematic of this pursuit.

Agnès was particularly concerned with HIV/AIDS issues in Africa. She worked for several years in programs that partnered with African communities in Europe affected by HIV/AIDS (Toulouse, Birmingham), and in pursuing a doctorate in “Intercultural Psychology” her thesis focused on the prevention of AIDS in cross-cultural environments. She had applied to go to “the field” in 2005 with various organizations but had not had enough humanitarian experience at the time. She then pursued humanitarian training from the specialized programs at the Bioforce Institute in Lyon, France, prior to leaving for Burundi with ACF.

While in Burundi Agnès set up “HIV-Nutrition” programs in the area around Ruyigi. These programs provide psychological support to HIV-positive women at risk of transmitting HIV/AIDS to their children during birth. She followed up the young women enrolled in the program all throughout their pregnancies and the infants up until they were fully weaned—a period of roughly two years—as breast-feeding is a high risk factor when it comes to virus transmission. She was working with families on HIV acceptance in their communities and in their households, and on the hardships of being pregnant and potentially transmitting the virus to their children. Having been with Action Against Hunger in Burundi since July of 2007, she was a well-integrated member of the team.

Action Against Hunger’s teams, at work in some 40 countries around the world, send their most heartfelt condolences to Agnès’ family and friends.