By Deogratias Niyizonkiza, Village Health Works’ Founder & CEO 

It was scary when we began. We started from scratch with very little money, working with  people who had less than nothing, who carried their tragedies like luggage. The war had just officially ended and wounds were still fresh. Insecurity was still around and there was no place to sleep because homes had been destroyed by the war. At first I encountered skepticism and suspicion when I proposed the health center. I spent so many hours feeling sad and powerless while I watched the life of an entire community evaporate. That was more exhausting than confronting the situation.

So on December 25th, 2005, a group of us—11 men and 4 women from Kigutu—gathered to talk about the issues. I convinced them that I was sincere, and that they could all work together to build a hospital that would be a place of healing and hope. We chose a site for what is now the Sharon McKenna Community Health Center. Together, this community of subsistence farmers gifted 25 acres of land, their most valuable possession.

As we planned for construction, the local community began making bricks; women started carrying stones on their heads and together they pitched in 150,000 Burundian Francs ($150) to rent a truck to bring equipment to the health center site. More than 150 community members labored for days to carve nearly four miles of new road, (which has just recently been renovated by the government of Burundi).

There were grueling setbacks, but giving up was never an option for us. We continued to work harder knowing that nothing worthwhile comes easily and that it would take a lengthy process to accomplish our mission. Everyone understood that we had to work together to achieve results that would last. And they did, with such passion and intensity that the work became a calling, and the site a place of healing, a place for reconciliation, a place for fun and for hopeful futures.

Fast forward a few years. We have built a comprehensive development model that is holistic, offering clinical treatment and prevention services, as well as agricultural and environmental protection programs, educational activities, and women’s income-generating cooperatives. It is at times hard to believe how fast we have progressed given our humble beginings. In December 2012, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza even declared: “Of all the public and private sector organizations operating in the country, Village Health Works is the best of all.”

As we strive to continue to build a healthier and more just, peaceful, and prosperous society in Burundi and beyond, we will continue to strengthen our model. Over the next five years, we will expand clinical capacity by constructing the Women’s Health Pavilion (WHP), a state-of-the-art teaching hospital designed to meet the specific health needs of women and children. We will also establish the Kigutu Academy, a premier teaching institution where teachers and principals from around Burundi come for professional development. 

We are most grateful for all the support that we have received so far. As we think bigger and aim to mobilize new partners who will enable us to make the maximum impact, we look forward to seeing our global family expand. Thanks to all of you for joining us on this amazing journey.