Written by: Penny Lyons, Seva Canada Executive Director
We plan to drive from Bujumbura, Burundi to Kigali, Rwanda and stop en route at a school for the blind. It’s one of 3 blind schools in Burundi and ensuring it has the resources required is part of the overall eye care program for Burundi that Seva Canada is funding. The school is off the main highway, down a red dirt track more suitable for walking than driving. It is a lot further than we expected and the drive is breathtaking. Burundi is one of the lush and most beautiful places I have ever had the privilege to visit. Not a lot of Muzungus (white people in Swahili) travel down this track so we are the morning’s entertainment and distraction.
We arrive at a tiny village. Another collection of mud brick houses with small house gardens. People leave their homes as they hear the vehicle approach. By the time we get out there are over a hundred people outside, most of them young children; watching, waiting to see what will happen next.
We are ushered into a dilapidated building. No bigger than my living room. Inside are rough wooden tables, a beaten earth floor and fifty children; most blind but some with other disabilities. In this one room, the children and their volunteer teachers eat, sleep, learn and live. Welcome to Hope of Future Boarding School for the Blind. We are seated in wooden chairs along the wall, facing the rows of kids and they, and their Headmaster, start to sing. The words are translated for us but their meaning is clear: hope, strength, determination and even joy. It is impossible and somehow wrong to feel sadness or pity. Instead, we listen with awe and admiration - humbled. We speak with the Headmaster and learn of his dreams for the school; pay my teachers, give my students a decent place to live, help me to help them.
We want nothing more than to empty our wallets but there is a process and a plan to follow; steps that have to be taken to ensure the long-term success of the school. I think the teachers and headmaster are disappointed we won’t be building them a new school but they seem satisfied with our respect and reassurance that they won’t be forgotten. Leaving the school the crowd has multiplied. I don’t know where everyone has come from but they stand ready for the photos they know come next. None of the pictures capture the beauty of the people or the place. None capture the quiet dignity. And none capture the gratitude we feel for the gifts we have been given this day.