A Message of Thanks-Giving
by Marnie Jones
Burundi-based humanitarian Prosper Ndabishuriye wants to see Africa smile again, and he knows how to accomplish his goal. “For the last 22 years my work has been in serving the community. The greatest joy I have discovered is in helping others,” he said. “Imagine the one person you have helped—to build a house, or to have clean water—he is smiling. Imagine the children you are helping to educate. They are smiling. These children are the leaders, parents, and business people of tomorrow. They will be able to help themselves and to help care for their communities. Africa will smile again, because the children are our future and because so many people care.”
Prosper and I recently met in the dining room at Chinook, looking out at green lawns and woodland during one of his regular visits to Whidbey Island and the Whidbey Institute. He filled me in on the work of Jeunesse en Reconstruction du Monde en Destruction (JRMD)/Youth in Reconstruction of a World in Destruction (YRWD), a faith-based non-governmental organization which he founded in 1994 in the midst of genocide. His goal was to promote reconciliation and peace among Hutu and Tutsi people through the rebuilding of hope and homes in the Central-African Republic of Burundi. He found support for this work in an unlikely place when he visited the Puget Sound nine years later.
“This place you see, surrounded by trees, is the heart of the connection we have had in the United States,” he said. “I remember, in November of 2003, telling my friends that Whidbey Island was going to be a source of hope for Burundi. Now, this has become a reality.”
Twelve years ago, Prosper briefly left Burundi to attend back-to-back peace conferences in Washington, D.C. and at the Whidbey Institute in Washington State. Here, he met Peggy Holman, through whom he was introduced to Mike Seymour, who has since become his collaborator, friend, and colleague. Together, they’ve connected Whidbey Island and Washington State donors to Burundi citizens in need. JRMD has built over 3,200 houses in Burundi—each housing seven to ten residents—and Prosper credits supporters in Washington State with funding at least 1000 of these homes. “It is impossible to promote peace, education, reconciliation, development, safety, and health in and among families who do not have the security of any kind of shelter,” Prosper once wrote. “The work of bringing healing and hope to a wounded community . . . is being done by joining hands together with our partners, friends, and friends of friends.”
Prosper participated in a leadership retreat at the Whidbey Institute last week, but he said the training was not a primary reason for this visit to Whidbey. “I have come back to this place with two messages,” he told me. “First, to tell the people of Whidbey Island and the Whidbey Institute how very grateful I am to them for being a source of hope to the people of Burundi by helping to provide homes, education, and clean water. Second, to tell them how much the work has been progressing with the help of friends from Washington State. We have completed over 3000 homes. We are now providing education to 500 kids—orphans, sick children, and children from underprivileged families. Now, we are providing clean water to families through bio sand filters.”
Prosper explained how impactful American dollars are in Burundi—explaining that $55 funds a water filtration system to serve a family of seven to ten with clean water for thirty years, or that $998 builds a two-bedroom home with a sitting room for a family of the same size—but emphasized that his mission in returning to Whidbey today was not one of solicitation, but of thanks. “My connection with Whidbey has transformed me by showing me how much people care for others. People here are very generous . . . they have heart for other people. What they have already done is really a lot. So yes, you can make a donation if you wish, but I will remain very appreciative for what has already been done.”
Prosper said he continues to live in Burundi, his beloved home, but that he visits Washington State often to bring progress reports and his message of gratitude back to this community. He added that youth have been involved in the work to build homes in Burundi, and that former Governor Christine Gregoire (pictured at right) extended a message of encouragement to Washington State students of the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics and Skyview High School benefit dinner for the AfricaAmericaExchange during her term.
In addition to meeting the former Governor, Prosper, Mike Seymour, and other supporters from Washington State have met with Republic of Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza (also pictured at right). The reach and impact of JRMD is growing, and today an orphanage, school, and community center is under construction by the organization in Ruhagarika, Cibitoke Province, Republic of Burundi, to serve orphans of civil war and HIV/AIDS. The orphanage, Imuhira Iwacu Village (In Our Home Village), will house 160 children and grow the school’s capacity from 500 to 800 students from surrounding locations.
If you wish to support the work of Jeunesse en Reconstruction du Monde en Destruction (JRMD)/Youth in Reconstruction of a World in Destruction (YRWD) with a tax-deductible donation, you may give online through Global Giving.
Visit this link to donate specifically to JRMD/YRWD’s work building homes for widows.
Global Giving Foundation and Heart of Africa are registered 501(c)(3) non-profit entities, and donations are fully tax-deductible in the United States.