Put Burundi on the Map: Meet Annie Irankunda, Burundian entrepreneur and community activist

Annie is an exceptional Burundian woman, she works with Burundian youth across the United States. She has been with the Burundian Drummers of Atlanta for over 10 years. Just last year, They were featured in the movie “Black Panther” with the Burundi drummers of Atlanta. She currently serves on the Executive Committee for the Burundian Diaspora organization as the Secretary in Charge of Projects and Partners and sits on the Board of Burundi Development Initiative. Regionweek interviewed her in a new series called “Put Burundi on the Map” created to tell stories of Burundian Young entrepreneurs in the Diaspora

Annie Irankunda

Tell us more about Reunion 257?

Reunion 257 Is an organization that began in 2015, as Burundian youth in the US, we were tired of waiting for people to host Burundian events in the US, we were asking, why can’t we host events here? And decide, what are we waiting for let’s do it our selves! What does it take? Does it take money? And we connected with other youth in other states and once we connected we had a reunion and called it 257 because it’s Burundi’s country code. We work hand in hand with another organization called TUVUGANE

What do you do in your events?

When we met in Kentucky we got about 450 youth to come which was an amazing experience, it was something that we had never seen. The way that we work, “we go to different states every year, we connect with different leaders, community associations and organization in those states, in that way we promote the partnership. Which is why we are in Burundi, to connect with the different organization and connect with different groups of people to continue building relations and putting Burundi on the map all over the diaspora.”

How can young people in the diaspora contribute to developing Burundi?

With reunion 257, we give young people in the diaspora specifically in the US, means to promote what they are doing for their communities and also for Burundi. What we want to see is more Burundian youth come here in Burundi and see the opportunities and different things that they can do in their homeland, it’s up to us. We shouldn’t wait for people to offer us jobs, we should come and create jobs. Our wish is to organize and to have a yearly group trip to showcase the countries beauty and ugliness, people need to see the ugliness so that we can know what to do as well.

What is your message for youth in the tech industry in Burundi especially women?

Don’t be afraid, don’t think it is impossible, don’t think that your idea is too small, you need to network, connect with other people, never give up, begin and never give up. There will be challenges but you can get over it. I think that the tech industry would go a lot faster with women but we need to continue inspiring them so that they can be able to be more involved in tech because they think that it’s a man’s world, or women don’t do things like that.

What is the story behind the participation in the  movie “Black Panther”

“A friend sent me a flyer telling me that they are looking for drummers, I asked the Burundian drummers of Atlanta and they said sure, we didn’t take it seriously because we were like it is a huge movie. So as we were drumming in auditions, the producers said stop, we need to get the director to hear this, the director came and they recorded a video and we got registered.

After several months they called us and said we want to hire you for the movie, they asked us for four drummers and I told them that its not possible because of we need to have a lot of drums to make sound correctly according to our culture. Finally they decided to have 6 people which they hand-picked in our group.

We shot for 4 weeks, 13 hour days from 5 am to 6 pm. We shot for 4 weeks, although we have 10 seconds in the film which is enough to put Burundi on the map, thanks to Marvel and Disney for letting us be on that film.

How can culture help Burundi to shine on a global scale?

There is no Burundi without culture and no culture without our Burundi. Its so beautiful and I think that we don’t promote it as much, and most people in the diaspora forget about the culture. What Reunion 257 is trying to do is to keep that culture, speaking our language, singing and drumming, and still eat our food. Our culture is beautiful and our parents did something great to instill that in us and that’s something that I will instill in my children and other people as well. That is my main goal in life.

Any particular message for Burundian and African Youth?

We are here to meet them, to support them, promote them and not let them feel like they are alone in the world, there is a lot of work to do, but we can do it together.

 

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