Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, shares a light moment with women who have been availing of a PWRDF program focusing on issues related to HIV-AIDS, women, and youth in Bujumbura, Burundi. Also with him during a visit were Cheryl Curtis, PWRDF executive director, and Zaida Bastos, PWRDF Africa program co-ordinator.
It was a welcome unlike anything that Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he had ever experienced.
In Bitare, about 50 kilometers from the nation’s capital, Burundian men, women, youth and children lined the roads leading to their village and sang merrily as Archbishop Hiltz and a delegation of Canadian Anglicans came Feb. 14 to visit a health centre funded by the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF), the Canadian church’s relief and development arm.
Children jockeyed for the best angle to see the visitors and women dressed in brightly coloured prints held huge umbrellas to block the mid-morning heat and sun; some of them had infants snuggled securely on slings across their backs.
The same joyful scene was replicated in another commune, Rumonge, where the primate, PWRDF executive director Cheryl Curtis, and PWRDF youth council member Maureen Bailey helped lay the foundations of a health centre.
Construction of a health centre was an urgent need identified by the community, which had been told by government that it would have to wait for at least 10 years before it could have its own clinic, said Zaida Bastos, PWRDF Africa program co-ordinator. The nearest government clinic is 10 kilometers away and it is already bursting to capacity as more and more Burundians who fled a violent ethnic conflagration in the 1990s return home as refugees. About 400,000 had fled to neighbouring Rwanda, Congo and Tanzania at the height of the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis in 1994.
“Thank you for always thinking of us. You were the first to respond to our needs,” said pastor Salvator Ndayiragite in French, one of Burundi’s two official languages (the other is Kirundi), as the delegation and villagers packed the archdiaconate of Bitare. The church was decorated with colourful scraps of cloth and tinsel just for the occasion. “We would like this project to go forward and we would like it to be sustained for years.”
Archbishop Hiltz, whose words were translated into the local language of Kirundi, said, “I’m so happy that the church is alive. I will take this image of the church with me to Canada. We’re also grateful for the opportunity to see the healthcare clinic. We’re delighted with the progress.” He added: “We believe in the Gospel message that Jesus didn’t just care about our souls but also our bodies, so that when they’re tired they could find rest, when they’re sick they can be tended to, and when they’re hungry they can be fed.”
The extension of the clinic, funded by a grant of more than $ 1 million secured by PWRDF from the Canadian International Development Assistance (CIDA), will make it possible for the community to have its own doctor and nurse on a full-time basis.
Ms. Bastos said the projects aim to improve the quality of health services for the local population, especially around the area of primary health, child and maternal health, sanitation and malaria prevention, onchocercosis (water borne eye disease) and HIV-AIDS. They are also meant to address issues around food security and nutrition, with trainings planned around modern farming techniques and crop diversification.
The Canadian Anglican delegation also visited the women’s department of the Conseil National Des Eglises Du Burundi in Bujumbura, where the PWRDF has been funding projects focusing on women living with AIDS and youth since 2001.
The department’s director, Perpetue Kankindi, gave a tour of the facility, which had previously been an abandoned house until it was converted into a thriving center that provides free HIV-AIDS testing and counseling.
“We thank the Anglican Church of Canada for planting the seeds,” of the program, said Ms. Kankindi, pointing to a plaque that publicly acknowledges the contributions made by Canadian Anglicans. She noted that having recognized the value that the center offers to the community, the government now covers the salary of its staff.
The centre, which is run jointly by the National Council of Churches in Burundi, is expanding its operations to include a full-time clinic with a medical doctor and nurse, a daycare and pharmacy.
“We’re glad we could be small part of refurbishing of this facility. It’s much of what we are about in PWRDF. This is an example of partnership with other churches in the interest of caring for people in the name of Christ,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “I want to assure you of our continuing prayers and support…”
At another event, the delegation heard from recipients of another HIV-AIDS program funded by PWRDF and run by the Anglican diocese of Bujumbura. An HIV-positive mother spoke about how the medical assistance she gets, along with the special fortified milk that her child receives, has been “an answer to my prayer.” An orphan who’s raising six other orphans in his community urged the delegation “to continue supporting us and the program.”
Simon Chambers, facilitator for PWRDF’s justgeneration.ca, promised to share the recipients’ stories in Canada. “I want you to know that we pray for you regularly. We light candles, we have vigils,” he said. “HIV-AIDS is a disease that affects all and we share your pain, but we also rejoice when we see that you are well.”
HIV-AIDS programs are crucial in Burundi, where the rate of infection has been growing steadily, especially in the rural areas. UN statistics in 2007 showed that 110,000 of Burundi’s 8.9 million population are living with HIV-AIDS; of this, 53,000 are women aged 15 and above and 15,000 are children.
The PWRDF has supported the work of the diocesan development office in the Anglican diocese of Bujumbura since 1992. In the late 1980s, PWRDF entered into partnership with the diocese of Gitega and funded projects related to relief, reconstruction and peace-building. In 2007, PWRDF provided $272,500 in grants for various projects in these two dioceses, which are part of the Anglican province of Burundi.
(For more stories about the Canadian Anglican delegation’s Feb. 12 to 15 visit to Burundi, please read the upcoming issues of the Anglican Journal.)