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.