Hey y’all. It’s good to be back in Uganda. I’ve got a lot to talk about and not really any direction on where to start so bear with me.
First of all I think it’s important to know Burundi’s past. You can read about it in detail here. Basically, it’s the same dilemma that Rwanda went through. A Belgian priest split the people of Burundi into 2 separate peoples when previously there was no real separation except that one group looked more like white people than the other. When the Belgians left they left the white looking group in power and then the ethnic cleansing began. (It seems as if the only good things the Belgians left behind were bread and cheese, which is wonderful in Burundi.) The fighting took place between 1960 and 2006. Fortunately, Burundi has been blessed with a president that will not claim either group. He is a Burundian and so is everyone else in the country. He will not visit any monuments that are dedicated to one group and he has several monuments under construction that mourn the loss of life of the people as a whole. They are headed in the right direction. What a blessing for Burundi.
Second, I need to introduce to you the ministry we were serving. An American woman named Denise and a Burundian woman named Joy started Sister Connection. Denise spent 5 years of her childhood in Burundi with her missionary
parents. When their 5-year term was over they kept visiting Burundi until the major fighting began. As an adult Denise started finding out about Burundian women that she had known becoming widowed and having no means to provide for themselves or their children. She knew God was calling her to do something for them. Joy and her husband had been in Kenya running a ministry when they felt called back home to Burundi to serve those who had been affected by the war. Eventually Denise’s parents were able to get the two together and thus Sister Connection was created. More information about the ministry and sponsoring a widow can be found at sisterconnection.org. (You’re really encouraged to click on the link. You’re extremely encouraged to sponsor a widow and her children. It’s only $30 a month.) eMi was asked to come in and develop a master plan and infrastructure on 20 acres of land the government had given them. The property is known as Mt. Hope. Sister Connection wants to make this a vocational center as well as a place to host summer camps for the widows and their children. (James 1:27) Our job was to design the vocational classrooms, housing, an auditorium, a potential hotel, and the water and sewer layouts.
We departed from Entebbe Intl Airport during the early morning of the 6th. All during our travel I was wondering what Bujumbura (capital city of Burundi) would look like being that it is only 5 years removed from war. I saw a picture on the
Internet that had a little boy walking down a dirt road lined with shacks. It looked like a place nobody wanted to be. So we landed later that afternoon at the Buju airport, which consists of 3 or 5 steel reinforced domes that resembled huts. I can’t say it was the sharpest looking airport. I had a guard snap his fingers at me and I didn’t really appreciate that so with all those factors combined I got a feeling that I wasn’t going to like Burundi very much. However, after we got on the bus to head to the place we would be staying in Buju for the night my mind was changed. The scenery was amazing and they actually had sidewalks and no potholes. That’s a step up compared to Kampala where you can lose a car in some potholes. From here on out I was amazed by Burundi, especially on the beautiful 2-hour ride through the mountains and farmland to Gitega the next day.
When we arrived in Gitega we went straight to the place where we were staying, a Catholic convent. I believe this was my first encounter with nuns and it was quite underwhelming. There were no Mother Teresas here. I’ll get to that in a bit. After we ate lunch we went out for an afternoon site visit. While its steep sides may provide spectacular views it can be quite difficult to place buildings there (remember we’re in a developing country in the earthquake prone Rift Valley). Once the group of 11 had finished looking things over we went to the House of Joy on the site. This building is relatively new
and provides a place for some of the widows to learn and sharpen their sewing skills. So throughout the week the group went back and forth between the site and the convent until Thursday.
Since we had arrived in Gitega the widows of Sister Connection had been at the same convent having a trauma seminar. Dancing and singing for God (amazing, I have videos) usually preceded the speakers. The head nun did not like this and did not treat our group very well for the majority of the time we were there. When the seminar was over on Thursday we left the convent and went into town to stay at a really nice guesthouse. The staff was very accommodating, the rooms were much nicer, we had a big room with a view to do our work, and we could get omelets in the morning with cheese. It was a great place to finish up the work especially since we didn’t have to worry about further offending the angry nun. Also on Thursday we were given the privilege of
participating in the closing ceremony for the seminar. The widows did a lot of singing and had some choreographed dances prepared. They also did a skit and 3 of them gave their testimonies about God blessing them with Sister Connection. It was amazing to see all of the joy on their faces when you realize what they’ve been through. Many of us find it difficult to be truly joyful when we’ve got all that we have in America. It was very humbling. The biggest treat of the week was visiting some of the widows’ house all of which had been funded through Sister Connection on Friday. We went to Jacqueline’s, Adele’s, and Anita’s houses all of whom are currently unsponsored. These houses aren’t much, just 3 or 4 rooms, but the widows are so grateful for them. These widows either had their houses burned by accident or somebody came by and took it. When we were at their houses the widow normally couldn’t stop talking about how blessed they were by the house and then we would say a prayer for her and her family. The big group of muzungus attracted attention so we got to visit with the other folks in the community. It’s good to let them know that we care about these widows so maybe they’ll keep an eye
on her and protect her. The first 2 widows gave gifts, chickens, to Denise as a symbol of thanks. The last widow we visited, Anita, was so poor she couldn’t give anything, but she was still joyful and excited when we came. It really puts things in perspective. It helps me to remember to put an emphasis on people and not on material possession. These widows had next to nothing, just a house, but they were willing to give Denise something they could have ate. When we left the children in the mobs that came to see the muzungus would chase us as far as they could run.
As I mentioned before, our biggest concern about with this project was the slopes. Another and probably most important detail was where to get water. (This seems to be a concern for the whole region surrounding Gitega. The water in the city is unreliable. It might have run for a total of 2 days.
Therefore, I learned how to take a bucket bath and didn’t shower for 9 or 10 days.) The site is about 20 acres and there is no water source on the property. The nearest water source is about a mile or mile and a half away down in a steep valley, which we visited one day. Once we made it down to the valley bottom without slipping and tumbling to a broken neck we found a spring box where 3 small children were filling 1 or 2 gallon buckets each. Somebody made the comment that these kids will probably be descending into this valley and climbing back up every single day for the rest of their lives. Wow! I feel like a loser for complaining about low flow through the faucet. Sometimes I wonder what it would look like if that happened in developing countries, probably total and complete anarchy. Some women get really upset when they can’t do their hair. This was the main cause of the American Revolution when the red coats wouldn’t let the women bathe (joke). The civil engineering team is still a little uncertain about where the water
will come from. We designed for rainwater collection and a pump to possibly run the water up to the site when and if Sister Connection gets to tap into city water. There is also the possibility of drilling for water, but that is uncertain as well because no one has drilled yet in the area. We are praying that a solution comes about so Sister Connection can continue to impact the widows and orphans of Burundi.
Sunday, we went out to Muyebe for church. This part of Burundi was hit extremely hard during the fighting. When the fighting started the president at the time was from Muyebe, so when he was killed many others from his home were too. This was to prevent any retaliation from friends or family. The educated in this area were heavily targeted, leaving a void for a while. The church service was great along with the singing. 4 people from the group spoke for 10 or 15 minutes each. None of them discussed what they planned to speak about, but it all tied in well together. It was all about forgiveness, how God will not leave them and about going through trials. It was evident that God had a hand in bringing these messages together. When the service was over I got to meet several of the
members of the church. It was easy to see the impact the war had on this area, because there were not very many older folks there. Afterwards, the church fixed the group lunch and the preacher of the church did a lot of talking. Denise was given a goat and Sister Connection was promised the wooden trusses that support the roofs in the houses they fund for the widows. It was great to be blessed by these people.
The next day, Monday we made our way back to Bujumbura to present our work to all who are part of Sister Connection. We spent most of the day at a restaurant getting things prepared and unfortunately, they were playing Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and acoustic French music so I completely mellowed out. Things went great at the presentation. We were able to meet and get contact information from the local engineer. We hope he might be able to provide information about water later on. All of the people there were pleased with our layout and are ready to get at it.
Tuesday we went to a resort on the scenic Lake Tanganyika. The resort had running water and it was great to get a hot shower. It also had A/C, something I hadn’t had in 2 months. You really gain an appreciation for showers and hot water when you go over a week with neither. The resort was a great place to unwind, relax, and think about things. I liked the place so much that I think we should move the eMi East Africa office there. Our relaxation was short though, we boarded planes the next day to back to where we came from.
Overall, this was a great trip and I see myself going on more of these short eMi trips. I learned a lot and was humbled many times by the widows’ attitudes. I can’t wait to finish my work on this project so Sister Connection can get the ball rolling and serve many more widows and their children. Have a great week. God Bless!