I am on the road again, visiting Burundi for the first time since last July. I am here to check on our projects, especially our house build in the Batwa village of Ruganirwa, strengthen my relationships with our Burundian partners, and plan for a possible group trip in the fall.
Today, I would like to give you a partial update on Musama. It’s a “partial” update because although I have already visited there once since my arrival, I will be visiting there two more times before I leave. I am certain that I will have more to say about Musama after my visits this weekend and next week.
For those of you who do not know about our work in Musama, let me give you a little background. Musama is a slum in the capital city of Bujumbura. It is divided into four separate sub-areas. We are working in Musama III. Musama is a generally lawless place, with each quadrant being loosely governed by a member of the Imbonakure. The Imbonakure is the youth militia of the ruling party. Before we could start working in Musama III, I had to obtain the approval of Alfonse, the Imbonakure member with ostensible authority over that quadrant. I did this during a dinner meeting with Alfonse back in the summer of 2019.
Musama is a place with many social problems. Prostitution is rampant among women and girls, alcoholism and drug addiction are pervasive, and the unemployment rate is over 50%. Those who can find work earn no more than $1 to $2 per day. There are no governmental services to help the people escape their poverty or help them to overcome their social problems.
I was originally introduced to Musama by my driver, Victor Kwizera, in the spring of 2019. Victor is a dedicated man of God who has been working in Musama for several years. He would visit the community several times a week, helping the children with their homework, encouraging the women and girls to stop selling themselves for sex, and talking to the entire community about alcohol and drug abuse dangers. I decided that there was a role for GCA to play in Musama after visiting the place with Victor for the first time in 2019.
Musama is really a terrible place. It is a series of small houses connected by narrow dirt alleyways with an occasional small opening where people gather. There is no sewer system in Musama, so the place smells. There is no garbage pickup, not even any garbage cans, so the trash is all over the ground. There is no electricity in Musama, and most people are too poor to afford a flashlight. There is no police presence or neighborhood watch group. Without the very loose oversight of the Imbonakure, it really would be a lawless place.
The people are not at all used to seeing white people wandering the alleys of Musama, so catcalls of “muzungu” (white man) follow me everywhere I go. Although I have been assured that the word muzungu does not contain a pejorative connotation, I confess that I really don’t like being called that. I somehow feel vulnerable when I am being singled out based solely on the color of my skin, especially when I am truly alone as I am when walking in Musama or upcountry visiting the Batwa villages.
My visit to Musama yesterday was very short. Victor took me there yesterday to check out the changes he has made to the meeting room. There are now bookshelves and actual seating for the children. He tells me that the room is filled to overflowing with kids every day as kids show up for study hall and bible study. He also tells me that there has been a dramatic improvement in the grades and behavior of the kids that come to our facility. I will be returning to Musama on Saturday to watch Victor’s ministry in action and again next week to hear the testimonies of the parents.
Let me leave you with some thoughts I had during my visit to Musama. When you do the kind of work that I do, it is tempting to believe that you can make wholesale and titanic changes in the communities you are working with. However, every once in a while, I have to remind myself that we are not going for titanic shifts or monumental impacts. If that were our objective, we would quickly become discouraged and want to give up. When we look at the communities, we are working on such a macro level, and it is hard to see change. Whether it is Mexico, Burundi, Lebanon, or Nepal, the social and economic landscapes in which we work have not changed much. These places all remain poor and mired in social problems.
Change on a macro level is not what we are striving for. Indeed, our initiatives aim to show unconditional love to the people we serve, not to change them or the society in which they live. We do this because God showed unconditional love to us when He sent Jesus to live among us, die at our hands, and be raised from the dead. If a change happens on a macro level, so much the better, but our goal is to show challenged people like the people of Musama or the Batwa of Gahararo that they are as deserving of love as other people.
President, GLOBAL CARE ALLIANCE
“A Collective Commitment to Care”
At Global Care Alliance, we believe in serving humanity by meeting the needs of challenged people living in any place God leads us. We believe that sharing love and extraordinary compassion is the best way to give thanks for the many blessings God has given us.