Tell us about the community that you engage? eg. economic conditions, political structures, norms and values, demographic trends, history, and experience with engagement efforts.
Burundi, located in Central East Africa, is a nation that only recently emerged from a devastating 13-year civil war. The World Bank’s 2006 Annual Report named Burundi the world’s poorest country. Today, it continues to be ranked one of Africa’s 10 poorest nations. Burundi currently has a population of just under 10 million people and less than 200 doctors. Access to healthcare is virtually non-existent for rural Burundians.
Agriculture supports 90% of the workforce—most people earn their living as subsistence farmers. However, civil war and overpopulation have led to the reduction of the subsistence economy, making the country a net-food importer. According to a survey conducted by VHW (March 2009), 53% of households in the surrounding area live on an income of less than $20 per month, and this is shared amongst an average household size of seven family members. Farming is reported by at least 87% of the community as their main work activity, with only 4% reporting a steady salaried job. A full 65% of families in Kigutu reported that they spent between one half and all of their monthly income on trying to feed their families. VHW’s catchment area also has a disproportionately high population of returning refugees. Prolonged stays in refugee camps put this population at higher risk for communicable diseases like TB and HIV. Since opening its clinic’s doors in 2007, the Kigutu community has been overwhelmingly receptive of VHW and its mission. At our 2011 Kigutu Forum community members flooded our clinic to hear speakers from around the world and make their voices heard.
Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project
"We are not just building a clinic, we are building peace."–Deogratias Niyizonkiza
After the start of the Civil War in Burundi in 1993, third year medical student Deogratias “Deo” Niyizonkiza fled the terrible violence that overtook Burundi to New York City. He arrived penniless and without one word of English, but despite the hurdles– low-paying work, illness and homelessness— with help from new friends he eventually enrolled in Columbia University where he studied biochemistry and philosophy. Later, while attending Harvard University's School of Public Health, he met and worked with Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health. During his studies at Dartmouth Medical School, he took a hiatus to found Village Health Works. Since opening its clinic doors in December 2007, the clinic has seen more than 55,000 individual patients, the majority of whom are women and children. Deo is currently a finalist for the 2011 GQ Better Man Better World Award and the 2010 recipient of the Women Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Award, which recognizes individuals who have overcome immeasurable odds and give back to their communities. His story can be found in Strength in What Remains, the critically acclaimed book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder. The Food Security Program is a direct result of Deo’s desire to treat the root causes of illness, and has transformed from early ideas to the current full-fledged agricultural program through a dynamic interaction between the community, VHW, and international experts aimed at meeting the community’s most urgent needs.