June 9, 2011
Dear Friends of Kalamazoo,
It is from the bottom of my heart that I relay my thanks to Kalamazoo Public Library and the Kalamazoo Center for Social Justice for helping to coordinate Kalamazoo’s recent reading of “Strength in What Remains.” The invitation you sent us to hear about Village Health Works in Burundi and the warm welcome you offered us last month made us feel at home.
It is critical that communities around the world come together to support those that have been forgotten. This, I believe, is how we can measure world progress. From Kigutu to Kalamazoo, we all have a role to play in making the world a place of peace, health and hope. This is why we created Village Health Works. Our Village Health Works (VHW) project in rural Burundi is many years overdue and is in the perfect place for everyone who truly wants to make a difference in the world. When I think of the unspeakable misery in that country so badly forgotten and still off the map, I always wonder: what have the poor Burundians done wrong to deserve such kind of punishment? But that misery also can be looked at in another way: as a test of morality for those who sit idly by watching what happens and choosing to do nothing about it.
In the 21st century, letting some of our world citizens lag centuries behind is a serious challenge to social justice and a threat to human progress as well as global peace.
Although there is no shortage of woes in Burundi, there is no shortage of opportunities either. There is always a reason for keeping hope alive when I look at how VHW has brought so much joy and hope to the lives of our community members in such a short time and despite the meager resources and other challenges we have faced.
The mission of Village Health Works is to become a center of excellence for healing and teaching for our world so that existing conditions that have dehumanized Burundi for so long can shift into ones that favor life. There is no question in my head that this mission will be fully accomplished. All it takes is a community of compassionate people who, arms linked, get together to understand the world as it truly is.
When one does good after seeing with an open heart and mind what we eyewitness and deal with on a daily basis in Burundi, it is a humane act, more about what makes us all human than being generous.
You have dearly recognized that fact, and I trust that the event you organized in May 2011 to hear more about our work was the first step in an important collaboration between your Kalamazoo community and our growing organization. So, whatever you do, keep us in mind and let's make a difference together.
With many thanks,
Deogratias Niyizonkiza, Founder, Village Health Works.
P.S. Please continue to follow our work by visiting us at www.villagehealthworks.org.
PO Box 75 New York, NY 10013 | 917.546.9219 | villagehealthworks.org
Download Deo’s original letter PDF
Village Health Works
Reading Together (RT) 2011 ended on a powerful note this week. Deogratias (Deo) Niyizonkiza, the focus of Strength in What Remains, and Dziwe Ntaba, co-founder with Deo of Village Health Works, were in Kalamazoo, thanks to our RT partner, The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership at Kalamazoo College.
Deo described the poverty of Burundi, the health care conditions, and the founding of Village Health Works, intertwined with stories of his youth and family. He spoke for about 90 minutes without a note—he was telling his story, no notes needed. I sensed most of the audience had read Tracy Kidder’s book and had attended other RT programs this year. Although most knew Deo’s story, hearing it in his own voice was even more powerful, especially when combined with the photographs of building the road to the clinic, the homes and the people in the world’s poorest country.
The following morning at a small breakfast gathering, we heard how Deo and Dziwe met in the Boston area on 9/11 and discovered both had the dream of establishing clinics in Africa. They joined forces to establish Village Health Works based on the principle “that all people are entitled to high quality health care, regardless of ability to pay.” They have completed construction of an outpatient clinic and have begun to train community health workers. Not surprisingly, much of their time while in the US is spent on community visits such as the one here and on fundraising.
Before we said good-bye, talk turned to how we might keep in touch. From the library perspective, we offered to send them excess copies of Strength in What Remains for distribution to potential donors. Deo wondered if we could do children’s storytimes by Skype for the library he hopes to build—maybe so! He asked for our business cards and said he’d be in touch! I imagine our K College colleagues had a similar conversation and will also keep in touch. And, I’m betting some of the folks in the audience for the public program will send donations.
From the earliest days of our Reading Together program, we have tried to select a book that is more than a “good read.” We have tried to select a book to bring the community together in a meaningful conversation, perhaps even make a difference somewhere in the world. I’m proud that I think we accomplished that this year and we thank our partners at the Arcus Center for bringing Deo and Dziwe to town.
And now on to Reading Together 2012. Library staff have been exchanging suggestions for next year’s book. We’d welcome your suggestions too. What would you like our community to read and discuss next winter?
Although there is still one more Reading Together related event in 2011, I wanted to report out on the success of the program. Check out these numbers!
• Over 1,700 copies of the book and audiobook circulated
• Over 800 readers attended the Tracy Kidder program on March 10 at Chenery Auditorium
• 1,063 patrons attended one of the 13 events with an average of 82 at each event!
The above numbers show that over 3,500 individuals either read Strength in What Remains, attended an event or both. So if you average this number over the six weeks we celebrated Kidder’s novel, over 580 a week participated in Reading Together! This does not even include the many community book clubs and partnering libraries who hosted events.
I would like to thank the Steering Committee, Community Partners, and Sponsors for making it another great year.
Strength in What Remains