"The Ones We Love Have Come" – Burundi Video

Below is a video with some footage and interviews from some of my friends on the trip. We produced this video to fit within a message at my church, so it’s focused on generosity, but it captures some of the times I’ve shared about in my blogs below. To really connect to the video, please read the 3 blogs below first to connect to the experience.

“We are Family” – Burundi Day One

“No One Has Died This Year” – Burundi Day Two
“Our Names Are Written Down” – Burundi Day Three

If you wanna watch it larger – click the 4 arrows next to the word vimeo at the bottom! For an even better experience, after you click the 4 arrows – click the HD (to turn it on) in the upper right corner after you hit play!

"Our Names Are Written Down" – Burundi Day 3

On this morning I was really excited about spending the day in Matara witnessing 10 Batwa weddings. One of the things the Batwa has lost over the many years of discrimination is “Official” marriages and Birth Certificates. They were so discriminated against that the government would not even recognize that they existed. No birth certificate would be issued to them, which meant no health care and no marriages, among many other things.

So this day was an amazing day! For the 10 couples to have an “Official” marriage meant they were acknowledged. They had been living together as a married couple for years, but were never able to make it official. I try to place myself in their shoes and imagine a presence that did not even warrant acknowledgment, and it’s impossible for me to even fathom it.

As we drove up to Matara, all the couples were dressed up in their wedding clothes; the men in a suit coat, tie, new shoes and the women in traditional African wedding attire. I wish you could picture it, the men stood TALL with their chests out and the women looked so pretty and I could see they were a little shy.

At the bottom of the hill was the place where we did the civil ceremony. There was a little tent set up there and we sat to observe. A government official had come to Matara to do the ceremony and have the papers “signed.” Claude interpreted to us, “by this man coming makes them feel very special.” And then I realized, WOW – not only has the government allowed the Batawa the privilege of an official marriage, but he personally made the journey to the actual village himself to do the paperwork! It was a powerful, significant moment in the lives of these 10 couples.

We watched as all 10 couples came down to the tent with their maid of honor and best man and stamped their fingerprint into the official book.

Wow, “official”…how many Batwa can say that! I remember watching as the best man and maid of honor placed their hands on the shoulders of the couples as they recited vows to each other, and then they all placed their stamp in the book and I was thinking to myself, I wonder if these particular couples two years ago would even be able to imagine the way they’ve changed their own lives this past year. Of course I cried for each one with tears of joy!

After the civil ceremony, we climbed THAT hill {lol} in our dresses to go to the top to have the religious ceremony. We sat and watched as the pastor did the ceremony and the sweet Batwa couples faced each other. You could see the women and their shy faces as they stared into their husbands eyes; so sweet and so powerful all at the same time.

Afterwards we went to shake the hands with each couple and congratulate them. Then we had lunch with them. We had Goat meat and Kasava {which is a root type of thing with not much taste}. Kelley reminded us how important it was to receive hospitality from our friends. Typically no one would ever eat with a Batwa. Etienne said once that he ate with a non-Batwa and they broke the plates afterwards. So us receiving a meal from them would be a powerful statement. So we ate.

After the ceremony there were a few speeches made. There were a few that were very significant. One of the local area zone leaders {Matara is part of a larger community that is divided up and is governed by Zone Leaders} actually attended the wedding. He is not Batwa. He mentioned in his speech that it was wonderful what the Batwa are doing here and he acknowledged them by saying that it used to be that there were Hutus, Tutsies and Batwa, but then he said, “We are all Burundian.” Wow, powerful statement. I was in tears.

Next the government official stood to speak. I thought it was a strong statement that he stayed for the religious ceremony. He talked about all that the Batwa were doing in Matara. He mentioned there were plans to put a road in soon that would be beneficial to the entire surrounding community. He said that the Batwa of Matara offered on their own, to help build the road. The official said, “We will build it together.” This was significant to me because it meant that they truly understand that this land is theirs and that they want to be a part of the community to help better it. Then the official addressed us and said, “Thank you for what is happening here, you are showing us our prejudices. We are ALL Burundian.” WOW, there are no words to describe this and how powerfully quick God is working here. The official went on to say that all the Batwa in Matara now has birth certificates, which means they are acknowledged as people by the government.

Included in the 10 couples that got married was Francois, the leader of Matara. I had been watching his sweet face throughout the process. He was sooo happy. I watched him in his suit and how he stood so tall and proud.

After everyone had spoken, he stood up to speak. He said, “I was so proud to be standing there like a man in my new suit, getting married officially. I am so happy. OUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN DOWN! You saw it {motioning to us}! If there is now any problem with Batwa, the government has to acknowledge it. You saw it, OUR NAMES ARE WRITTEN DOWN!” I can’t describe the joy on his face. To KNOW that for the first time ever, he is acknowledged as a man in the eyes of others. I just can’t even begin to imagine what this day felt like for him.

The bible says in Micah 6:8 – “…And what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?” We have been studying this passage with Kelley, and I am so proud to see justice happening here. She asked us to imagine justice flowing like a river and pouring like a waterfall – I’m seeing this in Matara and it’s a beautiful thing.

No One Has Died This Year – Burundi Day 2

Today we finally went to Matara. I’d been anxiously waiting for over a year to go. I have been praying for my friends and getting to know them and the work through our Communityfor Burundi Blog and from Kelley. So there was already love in my heart for the Batwa.

For those of you who do not know the work of Communityfor Burundi, I’ll explain a little of what has taken place. After Mark, Claude, Kelley, David and Sydneyann visited Bubanza that summer, their eyes were opened, they could not leave Burundi and not take some kind action after seeing what they saw. But their hearts was to do so with dignity and respect; Allowing the Batwa to better themselves, not to hand out charity.

Since then Communityfor has not only housed the 34 Batwa students allowing them to go to school (I talked about in my previous post), but they’ve also acquired land that is NOT government owned, and then loaned it to the Batwa. This is GOOD land – called Matara (which means Life). They formed a committee of Africans who chose 30 families from Bubanza and other Batwa villages and moved them onto Matara. At Matara they are to build their own permanent homes and grow crops to sell to make a living. This happened just a year ago. The land that was purchased had a good water source and the soil was fertile. The Batwa had never lived on land like this before.

Earlier this past year when Kelley posted on the blog about the land, I commented that I wondered if they actually understood or believed that this was now theirs. I tried to place myself in the Batwa’s shoes thinking how for generations they’ve been forced to live on dry, parched land, with unfertile soil, far away from anyone else…literally owning and having NOTHING. I wondered how hard it would be to convince them to work hard because this was actually THEIRS and would NOT be taken away from them. I know from my past work in other areas that after years and years and years of mistreatment and discrimination that it becomes a mind-set that’s hard to break, because once you lose hope, that’s a true poverty. Poverty of the mind I believe is the hardest to overcome.

Kelley talked to me about the ways they’ve gone about teaching them and helping them to break that mindset. That this wasn’t something given to them that was not truly theirs, but something that THEY had to work hard at and something that will be handed down for generations and generations to come.

The past year I’d heard about how hard they’ve been working and I was anticipating seeing it for myself. This day was dedicated to meeting the Batwa at Matara and seeing what they’ve accomplished in the short time they’ve been there.

So we drove out of the city through the beautiful hills. This country is gorgeous. I’ll have pics to post once I’m home. We took a left down a small road and across a bridge and saw them waiting there for us in anticipation. The women were all dressed in their beautiful colors and all standing gathered at the bottom of the hill to greet us. They were clapping and singing. As we got out of the trucks we greeted everyone with a handshake and an “Amahoro,” which means “Peace.” Their smiles were so big and an interpreter told me that the song they were singing was “The ones we love have come.” This was precious to me knowing that they already love us just as we love them.

It wasn’t very long until the dancing started. Dancing is a HUGE part of Batwa culture, and they dance a lot! :) So we watched them dance, but it wasn’t long until we were dancing and celebrating with them. I danced with tears in my eyes overwhelmed with such joy to be here with more of my family.

After this we were introduced to “little Claude.” Little Claude is an agricultural engineer. He has been working with “Big Claude,” and the Batwa at Matara to cultivate the land. You really wouldn’t believe how much they have done. The hillsides are covered in crops; Beautiful green crops, something completely different from what we saw in Bubanza. Even the Batwa here at Matara look so completely different. Their faces are filled out and their skin has a nice texture to it, they are healthy.

Little Claude took us around and showed us the sweet potatoes, cabbage – all the crops and explained how everything was done. He also showed us where they began making bricks to sell and told us of an upcoming new venture into soap making. They plan to harvest and sell at the market and each family has a trade to do to earn an income. It was amazing to see!

Then we climbed the hill.

There’s not much I can say about this except you’d have to experience it, but I think no one else will have to experience it again because they are building a road to the top. BUT the hill is straight UP! The Batwa love the fact that we came and climbed the hill to see “their place.” lol!

At the top of the hill we were seated in the multi-purpose room which is an open air two sided room and many of the families and their small children were there waiting on us (they are MUCH quicker climbing the hill than we are).

We were seated and were introduced to the 10 couples that would be married the next day. We presented each of the couples with new shoes, a jacket and tie for the men, and a traditional African wedding dress and sandals for the women.

The leader of the village, Francois, told us that Matara is a good land. There are schools nearby (you can actually see them from the top of the hill) and that the children are being educated. There’s also a clinic nearby. Then he said something that struck me. He said, “no one has died this year.” It just ran through my brain as he said it and I didn’t really have time to think about it then, but I’ve been thinking about it since. The morning before, we met the oldest living Batwa, he’s not very old. The life expectancy of the Batwa is around mid-40’s because of the hard lifestyle. Death is an often occurrence in their lives, more so than what we are used to because of the discrimination they’ve suffered. Terrible land where food cannot be grown, children aren’t educated and they cannot get jobs because no one would hire them, so they could not provide for their families. So being born a Batwa surely meant an early death. So by Francois saying, “no one has died this year,” he wasn’t just saying, “Oh, no one has passed away,” in a way that we would. He was saying {I think} NO ONE HAS DIED HERE! BECAUSE we have our own land, we have food, we have water, we have education, we have a source of income! No Batwa has been able to say that for generations. No one has died here. That’s a powerful statement.

We Are Family – Burundi Day 1

We went to learn some Kirundi language at the Communication Language Center in the morning hours and then had lunch at Claude & Kelley’s. Claude and Kelley are our partners here in Burundi. They work as the Burundi field service coordinators for Community For (Community of Faith’s non profit for international work).

After lunch we went to the village of Bubanza. Bubanza is the first village that Claude took Mark, David and Sydneyann a few years ago to introduce them to the Batwa. To my non-COF readers, you should know that the Batwa were the original inhabitants of Burundi, known as the Pygmies (short people – now a derogatory term). As two other groups, the Tutsis and Hutus arrived, they became neglected and oppressed, and that oppression deepened with the colonization of Burundi by the Germans and Belgians. Ethnic discrimination and racism flourished and the Batwa found themselves at the very bottom of society. The Batwa became a landless people. The government now places them on dry plots of land and will keep them as far away from the road as possible as to not be seen. They did not have any place in the government, in the schools, or anywhere in society.

Bubanza is one of those villages. Dry, parched land…a long way from the main road. As we drove up to the village I tried to place myself in their shoes. It’s really unimaginable; Not only the poverty but also the complete discrimination. I can’t believe they’d want to do anything for themselves. Part of the work Communityfor and Community of Faith is doing is with some of the people from Bubanza. While Mark was in Burundi for the first time, he met the leader of the village and asked his name, the man replied with his name in Kirundi, and translated his name means, “NO Name.” In Africa, families spend much time trying to come up with a name that describes WHO YOU ARE. And this family felt so much oppression that they didn’t even feel that it would matter to make his name anything, they believed that God had forgotten them. Mark told him that God had not forgotten them, and that we wouldn’t either. After this, the work of Communityfor Burundi began. (More on that later).

As we walked up to the village everyone was singing. My translator told me that the song they were singing was, “thank you for coming, we have been missing you.” We walked up the hill on dry ground. As we got to the top, everyone was dancing and singing.

Later, we were told by leaders in the village that there were 600 families living there (1 family = generations of families living together = MANY people). He told us, “thank you for coming to visit,” because we could be the voice to the outside world of the Batwa. Later David told them that we still haven’t forgotten them and that we were still praying for them. Then we danced with them. I’ve never seen such joyous people in the midst of such severe poverty. We said goodbye and were on our way.

We left Bubanza and went to a reception at the student house. Again for my non COF readers – Community of Faith has purchased a house near a school is the city so that we can support the education of 34 bright Batwa students. Before, Batwa were not educated because of discrimination and also because they could not afford uniforms or supplies to attend. By moving these bright students to the house, they can get a great education and later attend university so they can become leaders within their communities.

As we drove up, we stood outside the gate of the student house and Claude proceeded to tell us that the students were very happy we were there, and waiting to meet us. He also mentioned that this was such a big deal, that really only about 60 Batwa have ever graduated from school. We went inside and the students greeted each of us with a giant hug and told us their names. After that we went on a tour of the student house. We walked inside of the girl’s bedroom and noticed they’d decorated their room with home-made signs on paper with crayons and had made a paper chain across the room. Hanging on one of the paper chains was a sign that said, “Communityfor Burundi – One Family!” And I cried. We ARE family. I feel it and they feel it too. Even Etienne, one of the Batwa leaders in Burundi said it again later that evening after the students danced for us. He said, “We’re not just friends, you are our family.”

(Photo credit: Ellen Olive)

If you can ever come here at some point, please do, and come visit your family. When we are with the Batwa there’s this very unique, instant bond you feel, I can’t really describe it, but we are family. I am amazed at the work that is happening here and it’s not a hand out – it’s so unique what they do and how it’s done (more on this later). I am thankful today for the wisdom of Claude and Kelley, and David and Sydneyann and for Mark and Laura. Thank you to my supporters who allowed me to experience this first hand.

I’ll integrate photos and video to this post later….for our Photographer’s photos from this day (Day 1) please click here and here.

The Tragedy of a Single Story

I’ve been sharing on this blog lately about my travel stories and friendships that I’ve made throughout the years. My intention was to have this complete before leaving for Africa this coming Tuesday, but I just haven’t had the time to get it done. Well, I’ve actually been struggling mostly on how to tell the next one in line without compromising the work there, but I’ll figure it out and get on with it soon. But as for now, I’m taking a break from it because I will be leaving for Africa on Tuesday and if I have electricity, then I’ll be sharing about it on my blog. If not, then I’ll share once I return.

Until then (unless I can find some time between now and next Tuesday), I’ll leave you with this video. It is a little lengthy but it is SO WORTH YOUR TIME to watch it. Thanks to Kelley Johnson and Sydneyann Binion for sharing this with me. Please just take a little bit of time, sit down, relax and watch it. It’s powerful!