by Amy Rhoades and Emma Masabo
Once the conversation started, there was no stopping them. Hotline operators in Burundi and the Central African Republic (CAR) were eager to learn about each other’s experiences responding to the steady stream of daily calls. At the end of last month’s Hotline Exchange, everyone agreed to plan another in the coming months.
With both countries experiencing political unrest, call centers supported by humanitarian agencies are a quick and easy way for people to receive life-saving information. They also play an important role in dispelling rumors and misinformation in local communities.
Both hotlines are run by trained local staff, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are also widely utilized and valued as important sources for timely, accurate information.
Burundi`s ‘Hotline 109’ operators initiated the request to compare their experiences with another hotline and how they handled similar issues. Operating in CAR, staff at ‘Hotline 4040’ reciprocated this interest so in December 2017, the inaugural Hotline Exchange between the two countries was organized.
It was a ‘first of its kind’ webinar in which both hotlines asked questions and shared their experiences with topics ranging from outreach, to handling challenging calls, to referral pathways. “It was a great opportunity to learn and exchange ideas with another hotline... to know that we are not alone in the field,” said Hotline 4040 manager Fidélia.
In CAR, Hotline 4040 was established by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in August 2013. Launched in October 2015, Hotline 109 in Burundi is an interagency initiative of the Burundi Red Cross, International Organization for Migration (IOM), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), World Vision International (WVI) and Caritas.
“When we started, it was a long and paid number, but we realized that there are vulnerable people who did not have access to the hotline so we implemented a short code and made it toll-free” said Jacqueline, one of the Hotline 109 operators. Similarly, CAR uses a short code to ensure accessibility to the hotline to all. Both hotlines conduct outreach via SMS, radio, print media and community events in the local languages and French.
Hotline 4040 responds to up to 200 callers a day and logs their calls in a shared document which is used to generate monthly reports. Since its inception, Hotline 109 has responded to over 6,500 callers and logs their calls using an online platform Community Response Map Burundi.
While there are similarities and differences between the two hotlines, there was one thing that everyone agreed on: dedicated staff are key to the success of the hotline. Certainly, this hotline exchange was a clear demonstration of that dedication.