After meeting many Burundian refugees in Sydney, I spent a month from 19 November to 14 December in East Africa visiting camps of Burundian refugees in Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya learning of their plight and trying to help with the situation.

There was a huge conflict resulting in hundreds of thousands of people escaping the violence. In 1994 there was large conflict in Rwanda between the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s resulting in a huge genocide. Once again it is the same battlefield.

The Genocide Museum in Kigali depicts that catastrophe as well as others that have happened in the past, like Pol Pot in Cambodia and the Holocaust in Germany.

As always, lots of music instruments were taken for the refugees. We also brought computers, solar lights and thousands of pencils for the kids. Being refugees, there is very little schooling happening for their children.

Having been to Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre hundreds of times before, I feel qualified enough to recognise how much tougher the Burundian refugees have it.

They sleep 5/6 people to a room. No prepared food like in Villawood. No toilet or kitchen – all amenities are far away and shared. There are no lawns or roads other than sand tracks. But the worst thing is lack of water. The people have to walk large distances and then carry it back. And it is very rough terrain. I am contacting some Israeli companies who specialise in water supplies for assistance.

Medard and Philip sporting the new Burundi T-shirts with flag.

On the medical side there is only one doctor per 40,000 people. Furthermore many of the medical equipment and supplies are old. They desperately need help in this area.

My mission at the start was to get people involved with music. But as my journey continued I realised that my function would grow. And it did, with both positives and negatives. I was introduced to a couple of amazing bands. And coming from Africa, I knew the amazing music that Africans can make. (I had to leave South Africa in 1972 when Apartheid was happening) After seeing these great bands playing live, I made contact with a radio station in Australia who is now playing their music.

One of the medical centres in a camp had an unusual way of showing people where the footpath was: It was lined with Heineken beer bottles to direct people to the medical centre.

Gorilla statue and Heineken beer.

Two points here:
1) I intend to congratulate Heineken on allowing their bottles to show the way; and
2) I will suggest to them that they can be of real value if they pay for a floor inside the medical centre. Currently it is just loose sand.

Back in Australia I am now faced with the task of looking for educational books, medical supplies and other necessities including donated watering systems.

For a more detailed description of my journey, see the Facebook page of Music for Refugees Australia. Or see https://www.facebook.com/pages/Music-for-Refugees/1500789130197574