Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wow, another amazing day.  We started the day going back to the Village Health Works clinic.  Today was the day when the community comes to volunteer, and the women's cooperatives were working.  In addition to the clinic, as part of community development, VHW runs about 50 women's cooperatives - women are making baskets, sewing, landscaping, and as they work together in small groups they talk to one another, building community.  This is a big part of the healing process in this country that has experienced so much tragedy and violence.  I have been trying to really understand when the war began and ended, and it seems that it did not really end until 2007.  This means that a whole generation of children grew up in this conflict, and many who expatriated to Tanzania are now being forced back to Burundi with nothing.  The sense of devastation and grief experienced here is still very tangible, even amidst the beautiful smiles of the people and their friendly, gentle nature.

When we arrived at VHW this morning, it is hard to describe the scene - it was like out of a movie.  The men were working together building a brick walkway, singing and dancing as they worked.  One group of men were dancing as they handed bricks to those singing as they laid them in the ground.  At the same time groups of women were gathered in groups working, and one group was taking an agricultural exam, part of the education program.  The ground is very fertile in Burundi, but there has been a great deal of miseducation about what to plant, and malnutrition remains a big problem in part because of this.

Deo led my dad and me to see some Burundian musicians who were there also, participating in the music program with the Julliard musicians.  They played us beautiful songs on their traditional instruments which was amazing.  Then Deo told us that the community was asking to speak to us more - apparently the women especially love talking to other women, especially visitors.  Within minutes he had gathered hundreds of people (my dad thought 500) on the lawn, all dressed in their beautiful colorful clothes, to sit on the lawn.  We were invited to speak to them, and they in turn spoke to us.  They explained how grateful they were for our visit but also how hard things are, especially for women who are often left to care for many children.  They also spoke of the dangers of delivery in Burundi and how many friends had died in child birth.  This is an every day reality here.  It was moving and sad, and naturally I wished I could do more.  I was grateful to hear their voices and privileged to have such a special opportunity.

We then left VHW, and we went to meet with the US Ambassador to Burundi! What a special treat this was.  It was amazing to see the US embassy here, and the ambassador struck me as very smart, accomplished, and very experienced.  This is her 4th post in East Africa, and she has done a lot of work around AIDS in developing countries, so I think she will be a great friend to VHW.  It was a day I will never forget.

We ended the day back at the Hotel Club du Lac which is lovely, and we had drinks and reflected on the trip.  There is a lot of sadness here but also hope.  And perhaps most important, as Deo told me, "People used to ask what I could do for them, now they ask what they can do to help."  The people here, with very limited resources, are trying to do whatever they can to improve their conditions.  They need help and have a lot of work to do to secure safe health care and education, but they have the will which is really important.  Again, I will post photos when I am home, and I hope they can do more justice to all of this than my words can! We head back on our long journey to New York tomorrow, so more soon!

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