Thursday, February 28, 2013

Deo, Dziwe, and Village Health Works

Deo and me.  It occurred to me that some reading this blog may not know the original reason we went to Burundi, and it all has to do with my good friend Deo!  He is from Burundi, and his amazing life story is told in Tracy Kidder's book _The Strength in What Remains_.  I won't tell you any more here - you have to read the book to learn more!  But he founded Village Health Works and is such an inspirational person. He also lives in New York, and I hope as many of you can meet him as possible. 

Deo and Dad - they had a great time together. 

Dad with Dziwe.  Dziwe and Deo met at Harvard, and Dziwe co-founded Village Health Works with Deo.  He is an amazing doctor and friend who works in emergency medicine in New York and Burundi.  I learned so much from talking to Dziwe and the accessible way he explains how the clinic works and the types of medical problems they see.  We all had a terrific time together! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book for Kigutu

I have been amazed at the response to this blog, and I am thrilled to be able to share Burundi and Village Health Works with others.  I received an email from a woman named Katherine Leppek who has organized a charity called Books for Kigutu. She has been collecting books to send over to the school in Kigutu, and the video on her website is wonderful and gives a much better sense of the school. 

Please take a look: 

This is just one example of many women who in their own ways are working to make the world a better place.  If we look throughout history, women are behind many of the most powerful social movements, and I see the seeds of women working for change around me every day between pick ups and drop offs, on playdates, at lunches, and in my many conversations about this work and other amazing projects people are working toward.  

Even though my trip is over, I will keep posting as we continue on our path to build the women's hospital for Village Health Works and as I learn more about Burundi.  For me, this is not just about this one place with so much need; it is also about illustrating how change can happen from the ground up. A hospital or a school are ways to institutionalize change - these are steps in the ripple effect of transforming communities.  

Bringing letters to Sacred Heart

What a treat it was to speak to Charlotte' class this morning.  I handed our these letters from Burundi, and the girls were so excited to see what they kids said to them.  I showed them photos of the school there, and they asked a lot of good questions, like:  do they have beds there, and if they do, do they have to make their beds?  And how do they carry things on their heads?  And if they have stores and restaurants there.  We talked about what they eat in Burundi, the weather, and how we might get jump ropes to the girls there:) 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Photos from the school - writing to the New Yorkers!

And another one

This letter from Evelyne reads:

I want to greet you.  Are you well?  We are doing well.

Thank you for writing me.  I drew this picture of flowers because I love you.

I want to ask for a notebook, pens - you would do something so good if you could give that to me.

What do you like to study?  I love French and Math.  I like everything.

(See around her flowers she writes over and over Love, love, love...!)

Another Burundian letter

This letter from Fainsi to Maggie reads:

Hello, thank you so much for writing this letter.  Are you well?

I love you Maggie.
I am well.

Please send me a uniform and notebooks.  I love you a lot.  I also need school supplies.

I love you.

I like French, Math, and Kirundi.

God bless you.
Thank you for writing me.

It was God who brought us together.  Everything you have done, God will bless you.
I wish you good luck.

Continue studying.  I am going to pass to the next grade with God's help. 

Letters from children in Burundi

This letter from Jisrene to Mason reads:

Thank you so much for writing this letter Mason.
Are you well?
Happy New Year.

I love doing jump rope.
Please send me a uniform and books and sports shoes if you can.
Thank you.
God Bless you.

(see the picture she drew of her doing jump rope below) 

Letters from children in New York

Letters from Sacred Heart that I brought over.  One little girl says that she loves to bike ride with her family, and the other loves swimming in the pool with her family.  Gabriella says "I love you" as so many children did in both New York and Burundi. 

A note on my visit to the local school in Kigutu

I am about to post photos from my visit to the local school in Kigutu.  My camera died while I was there- I thought I had charged it, but the electricity kept going out, so it did not charge as much as I wanted!  My dad took a lot of photos, and I now have hard copies of those.

As I mentioned before, I brought over notes from all of the children in my daughter Charlotte's kindergarten class and my son Oliver's first grade class.  Each of them drew a picture or wrote a note to the children in Burundi.  I also brought with me the class photos from each class, and when I gave the notes out to the children there, I pointed to the photo of the child who made the picture and explained in French that this child made the picture just for them.  You should have seen the Burundian children's eyes as I explained that these notes had come from so far away.  Turns out they did not know where New York was, and we were able to get a map over to the school after we left so that they could see better.

I am going to Oliver and Charlotte's classes tomorrow to talk to the children about their notes and to pass out the notes that the Burundian children wrote back.  I was so touched by the words the children wrote, and at the heart of it I keep coming back to the idea that in this forgotten place where they are not used to seeing tourists, the idea that they are not alone is so meaningful.  These children felt so special that someone from somewhere else, so far away, would think to write to them.  They wrote back notes that talked about how God had brought them such a blessing with these notes, and many drew pictures of themselves playing with the other child from New York.  The children also asked for things they needed: shoes, uniforms, notebooks (which we were able to buy), pens, and books.  Many expressed how hard they are studying, and encouraged the child here to study hard too.  They also expressed hope that they would be able to meet the child who wrote to them some day, and they hoped that they could continue writing.  And, as I said before, children on each side expressed love for each other.  This natural human instinct to love another is clear, and these children without prompting or inhibition wrote this in their letters.

Apparently the children here are excited to see these notes too.  I was at Buckley chaperoning a field trip last week, and the boys were asking how the trip was and when they could see their letters.  I can't wait to show them these notes from so far away.  Thankfully I convinced a few waiters at a local restaurant to help me translate - the letters are written in Kirundi!  I spoke to the children in French, and they seemed to understand, but most speak and write in the local language.  Pictures to follow in a minute....

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The public hospital

We went to see the public hospital near by to get a sense of health care in Burundi.  These hospitals are in terrible condition, and in addition people must pay for treatment.  If they can't pay, they are held there until they are able to pay for their treatment. 

This is the maternal ward.  There is no ventilation - it was hard to bring myself to enter. 

This is a delivery room.  

This is the other side of the delivery room.  Most women, when faced with the option of going to hospitals like this or going home to deliver, choose to go home.  The maternal mortality rate in Burundi is about 1 in 9 as a result of this substandard care.  VHW stands out in the beauty and quality of the facility, but they still do not have surgical rooms in which to safely perform c-sections.  

Women's Cooperatives, speaking to the people

Deo and me

Women carrying bricks

More women waiting at the clinic

Measuring a baby with a UNICEF scale donated to VHW

These musicians here with Deo played beautiful music for us.  They were performing in a concert last Saturday along with the American musicians for the president of Burundi.

Deo told us that the people at the clinic wanted to talk to us,  so he called a meeting and within minutes all of these people were gathered to talk to us.  My dad and I spoke to them, and then they got up to speak to us and to tell us their stories.  It was very sad and moving. 

Women's Cooperatives - this is how a road is made

Dziwe and Dad

These are women who come to VHW to work with the agronomist on staff to learn how to farm in healthy ways.  There is an entire teaching garden which is amazing.  The soil is very fertile, but there has been very little education about what to grow and how to grow it.  These women were taking an exam on what they had learned. 

Women gather at the clinic once a week to work together - weaving, gardening, and volunteering.  It is an important time to build community and friendships.  As Deo explained, this has become a very important part of the healing process for a people who have undergone such trauma and war. 

When we were there, community members were volunteering their time to build a road.  What an amazing scene this was.  The women carried the bricks on their heads, one group of men danced as they passed the bricks, and another group sang as they laid the bricks.  All the while the music from the music groups was emanating from the surrounding buildings.  It was a magical scene. 

A note on giving pajamas

I just have to reiterate again how meaningful it was to give out the pajamas.  Dziwe explained to me again how they encourage mothers to keep their babies close to themselves during the day - especially skin to skin contact, to create warmth and to regulate hear beats.  At night, although mothers sleep with their babies, that contact is often interrupted, and sick babies can be kept alive through the warmth generated in footed pajamas.  In addition to that, I saw a child later outside of the clinic wearing the pajamas with her little flip flops, and the softness and warmth of these pajamas is such a relief from the rags that children wear.  Even though the temperature is mild and even quite warm, the coverage and comfort of pajamas is huge - it serves many purposes at once.

When I finished handing out some pajamas and putting them on children, a mother from the back of the pediatric ward started speaking, and Deo translated.  She told me that God will bless me for bringing these, and how happy they all were to receive them.  She said "You have made us so happy."  And then she said, "You will always be in our hearts, and God will bless you."  This brought tears to my eyes, and I told her that they are all in my heart and always will be.  It was such a special moment, and such a gift to me to be able to help others in such a tangible way thanks to the generosity of all of the amazing women here who have shared their pajamas and their hearts with women and children so far away.  It means so much, and now that I have been there I have seen it with my own eyes.


What a special experience it was seeing these mothers and childrens' faces as I gave them the pajamas.  I was so happy to see that these pajamas really do make SUCH a difference for these children who are literally wearing rags.  These are all thanks to Sharon Jacob!  I wasn't able to get photos of all of the pajamas that were so generously given, but you can see how happy the children are. 

Thank you to all who gave pajamas!  They save lives, and they make these children and mothers so happy.  Many young babies die at night because they cannot regulate their own body temperatures, and footed pajamas literally save lives. 

This little boy did not want to get changed, but once he had the pajamas on, he was so happy.