My visit to Burundi has been a whirlwind. It always is when I visit Burundi, but this trip has been especially active. I usually try to build in one rest day for every four workdays. This time around, that just hasn’t been possible.
Each time I visit, I travel “upcountry” to the far northern province (state) of Muyinga, where the Batwa villages of Gahararo and Ruganirwa are located. We have been helping Gahararo develop for the last ten years in cooperation with Harvest Initiatives, the Christian outreach organization founded by Onesphore and now directed by Donatien. Ruganirwa is another Batwa village just a couple of hundred yards down the road from Gahararo, but until last year, Ruganirwa had not received any developmental assistance.
When I visited Ruganirwa in February 2020, the people were in the same terrible condition that the people of Gahararo had been in when we started assisting them ten years ago. The first thing you would have noticed about the people of Ruganirwa was the horrible health of the children. I won’t mince words in saying that many of them were literally starving to death. At least half of the children were so hungry and had been hungry for so long that they had been pronounced to have kwashiorkor, the distended belly caused by prolonged severe hunger. Some of the kids were so sick that they would just lay on the ground all day, unable to move. This is what we had seen in Gahararo back in 2012; the village was losing three children a month to starvation. However, when we started our porridge program in Gahararo, this all changed. Since 2012, the village has only lost a TOTAL of 5 children to starvation.
I candidly don’t know how many children were dying of starvation in Ruganirwa when we came on the scene in 2020. But I can tell you that since the children of Ruganirwa began receiving porridge in 2020, starvation has become a thing of the past. Like the kids in Gahararo, the kids of Ruganirwa are healthy, happy, and thriving. They have also been receiving school uniforms, supplies, and fees since 2020, and now 100 percent of the kids in Ruganirwa attend school.
Back in 2020, all 50 families living in Ruganirwa were living in grass thatch huts. I have had meetings in many of these grass huts over the years. I can tell you what they are like. First of all, the huts are not waterproof. When it rains – which it does very often in the highlands of Burundi – the huts flood and soak everything and everyone. More than one Batwa family has told me that they would spend numerous nights sleeping in standing water (every rainy season). Second, critters can easily get into the huts through the thatch, and I do not mean cute and cuddly critters like puppies and kittens! I am talking about critters like black and green mambas, African cobras, scorpions, poisonous spiders, and disease-ridden rats. These vermin kill several people in the Batwa villages each year.
As many of you know, we raised money last year to pay for each family in Ruganirwa to have a small adobe home built. We did this for the 72 families living in Gahararo several years back. I wired the money to build the homes to Harvest at the beginning of the year. One of the purposes of this visit was to see if any progress had been made on the houses. I was frankly a little concerned because Donatien had not said much about the project and had not sent me pictures. So I was a little worried going into the village and was starting to think about ways to explain to my donors the delay in making progress on the house build project.
Praise God; my fears were baseless! In fact, Donatien and Etienne had intended to surprise me all along. Amazingly, 25 of the houses are already finished and ready for immediate occupancy. One of the most gratifying moments of the trip came when I was introduced to a Batwa couple in their mid-thirties. They have lived in Ruganirwa their whole lives and have six children, including a newborn not more than a week old. The family was among those to receive one of the first 25 houses. When I was introduced to them, they were standing outside their house waiting for me. After introductions, I said I was eager to see the inside of their new house. They shook their heads. The husband explained that they had not been in their house yet and that they would not go in until I gave them permission and blessed the house! I was taken aback and told them that it was not my place to give them permission to go in. That the house was theirs and they could go in whenever they wanted. However, they persisted, so I told them that they had my full permission to enter the house. We then prayed together to bless the house and proceeded to go in, but not before they had also prayed for me and laid hands on me.
This might not seem like a watershed moment to you and me, but please remember that this was the first time this couple had ever been in a structure made of something other than grass and twigs! They explained how life-changing having a house would be for them. The house will be secure, watertight, and have separate rooms for the parents and the children. It has a small stable and solar lights. It is spacious compared to the grass hut. And finally, the house has a door that can be locked. Being there for the house’s dedication was very moving and special to me.
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.
The Batwa of Ruganirwa greeting me with a dance of appreciation for their houses:
Ruganirwa dancers leading us we know not where!
Pascal and Jacqueline: