We are delighted to announce that Odette Habonimana, BFI’s new Country Director and a champion for women’s rights and healthy families, has been selected as one of 10 finalists for the prestigious Women Building Peace Award from the U.S. Institute of Peace. USIP, a nonpartisan institute founded by Congress, is dedicated to the proposition that a world without violent conflict is possible, practical, and essential for U.S. and global security. The award honors the vital role of women who are working every day in fragile or conflict-affected countries or regions in the pursuit of peace.
Odette’s passion for peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and social justice arose during her childhood in Gitega, Burundi. She grew up in a family of 10 children; her mother is a farmer and her father is a construction worker. A 12-year ethnic civil war (1993–2005) was raging in Burundi. While politicians stoked divisions among the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in a scramble for power, Odette’s mother envisioned peaceful coexistence as the pathway to the country’s future. She sheltered over 100 women and children of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, exemplifying moral courage and leadership for Odette. This inspired Odette to dedicate her life to peacebuilding on behalf of women in Burundi.
After teaching primary school for two years to help support her family, Odette completed a B.A. in English Language and Literature at Burundi National University in Bujumbura. With the support of a BFI scholarship, she then earned a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership at International Leadership University, Burundi. Her dissertation explored the benefits of women’s savings groups on rural women. As part of this work, Odette developed Women’s Empowerment Clubs (WECs) comprised of intergenerational Hutu, Tutsi, and indigenous Batwa women from various political parties.
Achieving her educational dream was never an end-point for Odette. She has been making concerted efforts for years to reach the most marginalized and vulnerable throughout Burundi, especially women in rural areas, who experience overwhelming rates of socio-political and domestic violence and lack opportunities for upward economic mobility. Prior to becoming BFI’s country director, Odette worked as the Gender Program Associate for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Burundi, where she ran peacebuilding, solar energy and economic empowerment programs for women. In earlier work with the U.S. Embassy, she expanded training opportunities for Burundians in business, entrepreneurship, and information technology, and for girls and women in STEM.
Odette became BFI’s Country Director on July 1. She had previously served as a BFI volunteer and our In-Country Advisor, spearheading empowerment programs that foster entrepreneurship, family planning, hygiene, peacebuilding, and economic advancement among nearly 7,000 rural women in 15 provinces in Burundi. These 7,000 women, with Odette as its leader, became known as BFI’s Women’s Empowerment Club (WEC). Because Odette had hundreds of women already in WEC awaiting official training, over the past year, BFI found it easy to expand our WE Savings Program, which uses Project Concern International (PCI)’s successful methodology to help rural women build financial strength, to 1,056 women and youth.
USIP’s Women Building Peace Award will honor a woman peacebuilder whose substantial and practical contribution to peace is an inspiration and guiding light for future women peacebuilders. It should be no surprise that Odette was chosen as a finalist! In October, the awardee will receive $10,000 and be recognized at a ceremony at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C.
We send Odette our very best wishes for her success as one of 10 outstanding finalists, and continued recognition for her valuable peacebuilding work in Burundi. Every donation and volunteer minute for BFI has led to this achievement!
“Odette is my role model. She empowered me and inspired me to empower others.”
– Claudette Nshinirimana, Gitega WEC
Want to learn more about the U.S. Institute of Peace's Women Building Peace Award and the other finalists? Click here
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