Thursday, February 25, 2010

The angels of Gitega

Despite a dramatic journey upcountry, a lovely surprise awaited us in Gitega, the second largest town in Burundi. A few miles past the centre of town, Youth for Christ runs an orphanage for about 25 kids. Most of them have lost their parents to various diseases, including HIV-AIDS, or were abandoned by a single parent that couldn’t cope.

I had never been to an orphanage before, and at the risk of sounding terribly naive, I was somehow obsessed by images of places in Romania where children have barely enough to eat, get beaten up by their wardens and live in abject poverty. Romania being far richer than Burundi, I just didn’t know what to expect.

As we step out of the car, a horde of children run towards us with huge smiles on their faces and one by one, start distributing hugs to each adult. “What is your name?” they ask in broken English and are terribly proud when they can reply “my name is Laurette” to the same question. Not impressed by the colour of our skin, the children pass by us and jump on the Burundian leader of the project who's visiting with us, tickling him and burying their face in his chest. There is incredible joy and love in this place and I feel humbled.

We visit the dormitories, tidy brick barracks where about 4 children share a room on bunk beds. We are told that for the first time in their life, children can have their own bed, whereas in Burundi most of them will usually share their bed with their sibblings. The place is clean; the children are well-fed and look genuinely happy. The house mothers nod graciously as tell their protégés not to overwhelm the visitors. One child takes my hand and for a few moments, we stand there looking at each other in silence, content. Suddenly I am at peace.

Youth for Christ’s vision is to raise a generation of young Burundians who will be healthy, educated and God-loving – men and women of integrity who will be ready to take up the challenges of their country. For 50 US dollars a month, they house/dress/school/feed a child. The project is so popular that the local authorities have granted YFC permit to build another site on the opposite side of town. If every child in Burundi could grow with the grace, unconditional love and support that these orphans receive in Gitega, the face of the country would certainly change in 20 years.

Laurette looking very cool

Kids having fun during a class break

Learning hard

Tea break at school...

...and the all so popular football

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