Gahararo (Batwa) Porridge & School Uniforms 👕

When I was first introduced to the Batwa village of Gahararo in 2012 by my dear friend and original partner in Burundi, Onesphore Manirakiza, I found a place that was so poor that the life expectancy was under 30 years.  People in Burundi typically only live until their mid-50s to begin with, but the infant mortality rate in Gahararo was so high that average life expectancy was in the upper 20s.  Children in the village were, quite literally, starving to death.  When I say they were starving I mean they were not getting enough calories each day to sustain life.  When I first went to the village, every child had some degree of kwashiorkor (the distended bellies that we often imagine when we picture starving children) and more than a few looked like they were straight out of a concentration camp.  I learned that between 2002 and 2012, the village of 127 families lost an average of three children per month to the ravages of outright starvation and the opportunistic diseases that take advantage of the weakened immune systems of the chronically hungry.  I will never forget the first time I walked into the village center and saw six starving children lying in the dirt, too weak to walk, too weak to sit up, even too weak to eat the little bit of food we were able to offer at that time.  They were still living, but they were all hovering on the point of death and would in fact die soon.

That was late 2012.  The very first project we did in Burundi was a porridge program for the children of Gahararo.  That started in January of 2013.  Since then, the children have started each day with a bowl of hot porridge fortified with vitamins and nutrients.  (There is almost always enough leftover that hungry adults can have a bowl as well.). Since then, only seven children in total have died of starvation, and all but two of those have been muslim children whose families refuse to accept our help because we are Christians.  Don’t get me wrong, the infant mortality rate in Gahararo is still comparatively high due to endemic diseases such as cholera, malaria, and a multitude of diarrheal diseases, but out and out starvation has largely been stamped out.  The amazing thing is that we have accomplished this at a cost of only $60 per child per year.  Imagine that for only $60, you can ensure that a child has enough food to sustain life for an entire year.

In total, we feed just over 500 children per year, meaning that we need to raise just over $30,000 per year to keep the porridge program going.  God has been faithful in helping us to accomplish this goal year in and year out for the last 12 years and I have no doubt He will continue to do so until such time as the village has developed to the point that the villagers can afford to feed their children without our help.  Believe it or not, that day may not be too far off because of the success of the development projects we have implemented in the village.  (Water, housing, solar lighting, etc.)

Another program we implemented in Gahararo in 2013 is the school uniform and supplies program.  In Burundi, as in most countries in the developing world, children are not permitted to attend school unless their families buy them proper uniforms, shoes, and supplies (pencils, notebooks, school books, and the like.). The government of Burundi does not furnish these things for the children.  If the families cannot afford them, the children do not go to school.  It’s that simple.  The cost of these items is $70 per child per year.  Yet most families in Gahararo have a total household income of less than $100 PER YEAR.

When we arrived on the scene, only three of the hundreds of Batwa children were actually enrolled in school.  Since then, we have ensured that every child in the village has the required uniforms and supplies and almost all the children do in fact attend school.  Again, the exceptions tend to be the handful of muslim children whose families refuse to participate in the program, as well as the children whose families refuse to believe in the value of education and opt instead to send their kids to beg on the street or work in the Chinese owned strip mines near the village.  It is quite sad to see those children – some as young as five or six years old – trudging off to the mine each morning while the other children go off to school, but the government won’t help them and we can’t if the parents refuse.

The few Batwa children who attended school before 2013 were mercilessly ridiculed by their fellow Hutu and Tutsi classmates for being stupid and lazy.  Truth is, they could not perform well in school because they were coming to class without any food in their stomachs.  Even the healthier ones were nevertheless on the brink of starvation and could not concentrate on their studies.  That, in combination with the fact that the Batwa village had no electricity and no light for the kids to study by at night, kept the few Batwa school kids at the bottom of their class.  The hunger problem was solved by the introduction of the porridge program in 2013.  In 2019, we provided solar lighting systems for every family in the village, so that now the children can study and do their school work even after nightfall.

The uniforms and supplies project has been a smashing success.  School attendance is around 90 percent and, most impressively, many Batwa children have risen to the top of their classes, putting to shame their classmates who previously ridiculed and taunted them.  In 2018, a young Batwa man became the first villager to attend university and is now a teacher at the primary school near the village.  His name is Gervais and he has become an inspiration to the other Batwa children coming along behind him.

We need to raise $35,000 to continue the school uniform and supplies project for the 500 children in the village.  Again, God has been faithful to keep the program going for the last 12 years and I believe He will continue to do so until the families can afford to buy the necessary uniforms and supplies for their children.  I think you will agree that $70 per year is a very reasonable sum to keep a Batwa child in school.



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