The People Behind the Scenes

by Jess Cropsey

We are privileged to work alongside some amazing people here in Burundi.  Behind every big "accomplishment" -- a new building, a new program, a special event -- there are dozens (or more) of Burundians who have made it all happen.  These people have graciously guided us as we have transitioned to life in this very different place.  They have endured our cultural blunders and language stumbles time and time again.  We could not be here and do what we do without them.      

Today, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, Thérèse, and give you a small peek into her life.  She is a well-known figure in the Kibuye community.  As a teacher for the last 33 years, she has taught many of the adults & children in the area at some point in their lives.  She is a widow in her 50’s, with three grown children (one of whom is married to the head nurse in the eye clinic) and three grandchildren.  When her twins were 6 months old, her husband got sick and within 24 hours died of an unknown illness.  Being a widow in a paternalistic society like Burundi is incredibly difficult, yet somehow she has managed to flourish and thrive.  

Thérèse is one of the lucky ones because she actually has a job, though the pay is less than $50 a month.  While teaching is her “day job”, she stays busy with tending her fields, pastoring at her church, being involved in local community government, and starting or participating in various community organizations.  She maintains more than 10 fields scattered throughout the local area where she grows peanuts, peas, beans, corn, soy, wheat, and sorghum.

She is a Free Methodist pastor and is active in her local church where she preaches, sings, plays the drum, and assists those in the congregation with food & clothes.  Given that she is a widow herself, she has a special heart for these women and has been involved with an organization called Sister Connection that provides financial assistance and vocational training for widows.  She also organizes a day of prayer once a month with and for these women. 

Thérèse is incredibly industrious and knows how to make soap, soy & peanut milk, and avocado oil.  She shares this knowledge with others, particularly those who are too poor to buy oil in the market or to own a cow (for milk that children and pregnant women desperately need in this malnourished country).  [Interestingly, the avocado oil can be used for cooking, for lighting lamps, and as a hair product.]  In addition, she teaches basket-making, sewing, and cooking.  

She is also a representative for her local district in a health care association that assists its members with hospital bills (for a small membership fee of less than $10/year).  She also started a small association for widows at the local Kibuye church.  Every month, these women contribute 1,000 frambu each (about 50 cents) and save their money together until they have enough to buy something as a group (like a goat).  

You would think that all of these activities would keep her plenty busy, but she is also studying in a degree program designed for teachers to advance their training and provide an opportunity for further study in a university.

Despite the challenges that Thérèse sees in her community and experiences herself, she is full of joy.  She loves the Lord and takes great delight in teaching children.  She is incredibly patient and full of life.  It has been an honor to get to know her over the last few years and we have been blessed to have her as a Kirundi teacher for the missionary children at Kibuye.  Below is a photo from a visit we made to her home a few months ago.  

Always a teacher, she is constantly trying to help us learn Kirundi, with every greeting and every activity.  Below, the kids are removing corn kernels from the cob (which will later be taken to the mill to turn into flour).  All the while, she is patiently reviewing basic vocabulary with the kids.  

Here she is again in "teacher-mode" from a home visit two years ago, showing us how to cook a Burundian meal.

Learning how to make bricks...

This unexpected friendship with someone whose life is so different than mine has been a blessing to me.  She has taught me about contentment, perseverance, and patience and it has been a joy to share life with her.    

These photos are from the "putting the baby on the back ceremony" for her grandchild, which is basically the Burundian equivalent of a baby shower.    


Sandy said...

Love this post! Therese sure is a wonderful "grandma" to the kids at Kibuye Hope!

Sarah Lorenz said...

Wow, what an amazing woman. Thanks for writing such a wonderful description. It is inspiring to hear how Burundiuans are working to serve those around them so tirelessly.

Unknown said...

What an inspiration! People from different cultures are worthy of our respect and awe. Thank you for taking the time to write.

Rebekah said...

She sounds like a true Proverbs 31 woman & I am inspired by her!