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Experience #14 - Burundi

In my last birthday I won one of the best gifts of my life. I loved it by the time I received it, as it has a very special value in my concept of value, but I had no idea it kept a thrilling surprise afterwards. My sister, Gabriela, instead of giving me one of those souvenirs the person receiving has the privilege of not needing it like clothes and electronics, she sponsored in my name a child who didn’t have the same opportunities I had. I think that with this brief explanation you can feel the enormous value for the good that a purchase can mean.

She made it through ActionAid Brasil, a global organization that works for a world with poverty and injustice in 45 countries since 1972. Who are they according to their definition: “We help people use their own power to fight poverty and injustice. Because that’s how real change happens – for families, for communities, for whole societies”.

When Ga made the sponsorship, she didn’t choose the country, only where the urgency was higher. That’s the reason why Evangeline Igiraneza was chosen, who is five years old and lives in the Nyabikere village, in Karusi, in the northeast of Burundi. This was the surprise, this country was in the initial route of Think Twice Brasil and went to the no-miss list as soon as we knew it, as we found out we could visit her personally. I confess that in the beginning I wasn’t totally confident that meeting her would be really possible due to a prejudice I have with a few gigantic organizations, after trying to get in contact before with no response.

For our joy, ActionAid Brasil answered me immediately after my contact, confirming that the visit would be possible. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world, according to the World Bank ranking measured by the GDP per capita. Even not fully in agreement with the order criteria, travelling around the country we could see it might be true, as we’ve seen poverty spread across everywhere, just like we saw in Angola. For having less natural resources and a underdeveloped tourism it was a challenge to find out how to get to the capital, Bujumbura, by land and where to stay, but we managed to overcome it very well excited to meet Evangeline!

Continuing with the good impressions, the friend Josias Ukuriniyesu, sponsorship manager in ActionAid Burundi, warmly received us and was an exceptional host. Besides coordinating the whole visit, he also took us around to see other projects they lead in the country and guided us through the city. They were intense days of talking throughout many roads, meeting people and many good things being done.

Their work goes way beyond welfare and giving money, their focus is developing, qualifying and empowering people so the transformation is in their hands. In the agriculture associations we met, for instance, instead of giving seeds for them to plant, they enter with money and monitor them to have the power to decide where to buy, how much to pay and put themselves into the community. I’ve never thought this way and it was great to learn. Another proof of this is the courses they lead continuously to educate people according to the opportunities they face.

The incredible effect of this work was seen when we met Monique from the Tujehamwe Association (what means “be together”), that plants beans and soya for consumption and sale. Beyond the concern of making more profit, I was impressed by knowing that the major objective of the association is to guarantee that each family is capable of taking care of their garden and have the financial discipline to be self sustainable. – Imagine if this concept existed in the capitalism, how genial it would be… – An evidence of this awareness is that through the community meetings they identify the families that are facing real difficulties and, with part of the profit, they help to buy school materials for the children and medicine credits, for example. Amazing!!! Education is a proof of when purpose transforms realities!

Actually ActioAid doesn’t stop there, to supplement a necessity the government cannot provide, they built a new primary school. We took time to arrive there through endless dirt tracks where it seemed to be too far off to have so many kids, but for our dazzle when we got there we faced just around 250 children, bustling with the white couple in their area. It was the biggest crowd we had seen and it was so much fun. The movie shows it.

We talked to the school director and were delighted to understand that after it was set up the government took the responsibility to remunerate the employees, therefore they are not dependent on donations to keep on going. Even more important, is that they managed to conquer a land grant from the government to build there and researched to find an intermediary location in the village so all the children walk a human distance to get to the classes.

It was my first direct contact with beneficiaries from projects led my big organizations and the initial impression I kept until the end was excellent and fed my hope. Congratulations ActionAid for your mission and the fulfilment you generate for the life of so many people. Gratitude!

I didn’t start telling about the encounter with Evangeline just because the emotion would take over me! For real! It was the critical moment of the journey so far where I had to hold myself together not to cry. That’s because I rather strive to restrain tears in respect to the people, once I believe they might associate this reaction to feelings like pity and inferiority, which are not positive. Well, each one have their own theories, this is mine…

We left Bujumbura early in the morning and after four hours in the car and a twenty minutes trail walk we arrived to the Igiraneza family home. A simple house with plantations all around it, one pig, goats and chickens. The residence has two rooms, one is kind of a living room where goats stay in the night for security reasons and a bedroom where Evangeline sleeps with her two sisters and parents.

I was anxious to really feel the result of a well intended gift. When we got there with the food we bought for the family, as it’s a tradition to bring something when you are visiting someone there, her mother hugged me tight and started to talk on and on in Kirundi, the local language. I presumed was something good and then Josias started to translate. It was many words of gratitude and blessing for us. – First weeping restrained…

The little Evangeline and her sister didn’t waste time to warmly hug and thank us. Very kind! She was still shy with our arrival, but our jokes started to making her feel more comfortable. Of course we didn’t forget taking some candies and could notice her delight with the lollipop. – Second weeping restrained…

Noticing there were unusual people in the village, the neighbours got together around the house and a very special moment of generosity just happened. Her father got a package of biscuits we gave them and shared one by one to EVERYONE who was there. Imagine us there, thinking about so many difficulties and minimalisms watching a tremendously generous gesture so spontaneously. – Third weeping restrained…

Gabi and I couldn’t resist playing with the kids and a wonderful energy of joy was all around us in that moment while Evangeline started to guffaw nonstop. I’ll never know if it is her personality or any force majeure that was there to transmit us a feeling of fulfilment that is indescribable. For ten minutes an energy of bliss was in that little spot of the world as a clear sign from the universe that all that had a meaning. – Fourth weeping restrained…

Living all that, we didn’t resist leaving one more special thank you and gave a contribution for the family to buy two goats for an additional income. I just felt I needed to do that in retribution to that learning, nothing else.

It was an intense hour and a joyful farewell, aware that a different purchase can generate a chain reaction significantly greater than just one more material good for someone who has everything.

I didn’t want to extend myself in the critics to the sickly consumerism, as this experience was way more about love than any other emotion. Just hope this story can really impact more people to rethink about the concept of value, of gift and material, especially in Christmas. When somebody asks me about what gift I would like I have the pleasure to be able to answer that I don’t need anything because I have everything I need, while there are so many people for who a minor amount can represent a life changing.

Well, it’s all relative but who knows when everyone can create a conscious relativity to stop buying on and on, without thinking and not even wanting, to help.

If you don’t know how, it’s very easy to sponsor a child in ActionAid, click here, as I do.



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