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?