Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)
It’s time for our annual Books for Kigutu garage sale. Your small donations can make a huge difference. What is that cast off bookcase doing in your garage? Do you have to climb over the tread mill you never use? Antique hats take up too much room on your closet shelf?
Last year we made $1200. We are setting a bigger goal for 2015. Our sale will be Saturday, May 14th, at our home in Medford.
Books for Kigutu published 100 copies of “Let’s Eat” a preschool early reader in Kirundi, the native language of Burundi, late last year. A new book is in the pipeline. We have over 400 books on the shelves of our new library in Kigutu. Our garage sale dollars go directly to support these programs and more.
Please give us a call 541.944.2082 or email us email@example.com. We will be happy to come and pick up your items. Every little bit helps. Thank You.
My second full morning in Africa, I got lost.
It was easy enough to do I suppose. After flying for two days from the Western United States and a hurried hotel stay in the capital of Bujumbura, Burundi, I squeezed into a truck for a two hour jolting ride to the small village of Kigutu, a place I had been dreaming about for three years.
That morning I was invited to listen to speakers at the Kigutu Village Health Works annual educational conference, followed by a boisterous and beautiful dance and drumming performance and a generous Burundi feast, I spent the rest of the day fighting jet lag and drinking in the village atmosphere.
As I awoke at 5 a.m. on day two I literally threw myself out of bed to try and Skype with my husband and not wake my dozing roommates. Washing and dressing a bit later I wondered around the campus to take some photographs and wait for breakfast. It was early and I noticed a few stray souls clearly sweeping and setting up on a nearby patio. As I don’t speak a word of French or the native Kirundi I only hoped to stay out of the way and come back when coffee was ready. Near the medical clinic I came across a wandering girl, about 10 or 11 years old. I smiled at her and said hello in the only word I knew “amahoro”. She looked at me and smiled in return. “Shoes,” she said. Unsure I had heard her right, I repeated the word back to her. She nodded, “Shoes, “she said. As I glanced at her bare feet, a wave of sadness came over me. She didn’t know me, but she knew that any time a white person a “muzungu” came to the village, there might be free items given out.
I stayed a minute more and looked up to see several people gathering on the patio for the morning meal. I left the girl, walked up to the patio and began laughing. Clearly I was in the wrong part of the village as none of my traveling companions or the other volunteers were there. I had gotten lost and stepped into breakfast with most of the Burundi staff, medical doctors, teachers, engineers, computer technicians and gardeners. At once, they stood and offered me a chair. Several spoke enough English to assure me I was welcome. I sat down and began to offer my empty cup for some delicious Burundi coffee. It was at this moment that I looked up and noticed the girl I had met moments ago. She had followed me. In an instant the men and women at the table extended their hearts, hands and smiles to welcome her too. Coffee was poured and bread was offered. I asked one of my new friends to question the girl and ask where she had come from and why she was here. Her answer was simple. Her mother was sick and was being treated at the clinic. Soon the girl’s shyness overcame her and she begged to leave. I finished quickly and bid my thank you to all the staff.
Later in my trip to help establish a simple school library I was invited on a morning hike in a nearby town. Clearly the weakest link in this excursion, I immediately fell behind in the brisk three to four mile walk up a 500 ft peak. The host generously saw my problem and assigned one of our soldiers to guard me and directed him to lead me on an easier route. Too embarrassed to quit, I followed along as the soldier began hiking. The trail got steeper and steeper. Finally I could see this was an experience where I was not going to look any better and perhaps fall on my face. I waved at my protector, who spoke no English, to let him know I needed a rest. After assessing the situation, he strode over to the trees and bush, took out a long machete and began to cut a walking stick for me. The noise attracted a local young man who came over to see what was happening. I am sure the two had a good laugh about the silly American woman who could not walk and before I could say or do any more the local man handed me his own beautiful white, carved, walking stick. He indicated he would wait with us. It was no bother to him.
Feeling more than a bit helpless I shared my water with both men and waited until my soldier indicated we should go back. After twenty minutes of walking back down the mountain the young man bade us goodbye. I rushed to return his beautiful walking stick and wished only that I had the words to tell him of my appreciation.
These two African experiences left deep imprints on my heart. Now the words Burundi, and compassion are interchangeable to me. I can’t help but think of the country, the extraordinary people there and their peaceful generosity. It is extended to all, without reservation. In Kigutu working together is second nature. Everyone benefits in the end.
About 13 years ago my friend Jeff and I were having lunch in the elementary school staff room where I taught 6th grade. To lighten the load and turn the talk away from our troubles Jeff and I began to discuss the books we were reading. He steered me to"Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder. It is an amazing book about the work of Dr. Paul Farmer in Haiti. Fast forward to 2011 and a New Years gift of a books from my husband. As I scanned the non fiction section of our local bookstore I reached for another book by Kidder, "Strength in What Remains." The story of Burundi native Deogratias Niyizonkiza. This book has changed my life. About three months after finishing it I looked on the internet to see what Deo's "village" was doing. The rest is history. After seeing the ridiculous picture of 15 books for 300 children, I began to see what I could do. What we could do.
As you read this I am packing my bags full of books and preparing to fly to Kigutu, Burundi. I leave July 22 and will spend about 10 days in the village.
A strange series of events, set off during one lunch time conversation. One book, leading to another.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank each of you for your support and hard work. From the first moment I began calling on friends to help the children of Kigutu I have found a wealth of giving hearts. From shoe boxes full of pencils and calculators, to notes of encouragement, to donations of cash from complete strangers, every step on the way has led to this moment. As I climb out of the plane and walk across the tarmac to present my visa and passport in Burundi, you stand with me.
Please visit our website in August to see pictures and stories from the trip. With the Warmest Regards, I remain,
Today is my birthday and I can't remember a better one, filled with giddy excitement, almost like a five year old. I am not sure of all of the reasons for this feeling but I know in my heart one reason is because I am so lucky to be surrounded by incredible friends near and far. And, because exciting things are happening here and in Burundi that could mean hundreds of books getting into the hands of children who need them. Soon. Very soon.
A small part of our Books for Kigutu group was able to SKYPE for one hour today with Deogratias
Niyizonkiza and Lisha McCormick of Village Health Works.
(This picture of Kigutu Primary School was taken in February 2013 by
Thank you to Les Robertson, Jody Streetman and my husband, Bryce Leppek for getting together and sharing your
thoughts and questions with them. Although I leave this meeting and SKYPE session with renewed vigor and inspiration
I also leave with a heavy heart.
Deo shared this story with us about Kigutu Primary School. This is what he told us. The school is being run by a nearby
Church and the Church Bishop is in charge of the school. The school is a public school. The minister of
education in Burundi oversees education but the government has given no budget to them. So, often, the running
of the schools is given over to the churches. This Bishop who is overseeing Kigutu Primary has only a fourth grade
education. He is not very interested in children getting educated, Deo explained, because then he would not be so
powerful. In Burundi, Deo explained, the Catholic Church and other Christian churches have a lot of competition
for members. Deo also said that when Kigutu women began helping build the Village Health Works clinic, the nearby
church told them this was not a good idea. The Bishop explained that the women and children were sick, not from
disease, but because they had sinned. This is such a sad story that my heart hurts. Deo ended by adding,
"Now the women are seeing the work we are doing and are learning that education is so very important. They are
wising up." He encouraged us to continue our efforts to help these children and invest in their future.
Many other wonderful things are happening in Kigutu through Village Health Works. A community sharing of music with
teachers from Julliard and elsewhere visited the village in February for 7 days. This delegation was led by VHW
Advisory Board Member Wendy Steiner. Over 100 instruments were given and lessons shared. Deo said the children
were so excited and this program is now being used as an incentive to get children to come to school.
Only if they get their school lessons are they allowed to attend music class.
One of Village Health Works Advisory Board Members and friend, Sarah Bennison, was able to organize the donation
of 500 pairs of children's pajamas, school supplies and soccer balls. She and her father delivered these supplies
in February. Read her wonderful Blog here. And she has posted many photos of her visit.
One of our new goals at Books for Kigutu is to raise enough money to purchase a shipping container and turn it into
a makeshift community library with shelves, catalog and check out system. Then we would ship the whole container
to Tanzania and overland to Burundi. Deo says this is very feasible. He encouraged us by saying, "This would be
terrrific. Then people would see what a library can do for a community. They would be more inclined then to help
us do more."
Do you have ideas about fund raising? Grant writing? Containers? Together we can do great things. Join us at Books
for Kigutu. We would love to hear from you. -Katherine Leppek, founder, Books for Kigutu
Wow! It is with a light and happy heart I report to all our Books for Kigutu supporters that our garage sale today was a resounding success. Many thanks to reporter Teresa Ristow our story was published in the local newspaper. http://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120818/NEWS/208180307 The article brought many donors to our doors and also contacts for future help in Kigutu. Many teachers and lovers of books and literacy were moved by the story of Deo and the children of Kigutu. Many, many people purchased items for $5 and gave me a $20 bill and said, this is for the students and the books for the school, keep the change. I also need to mention this sale was set up and carried out in temperatures of 104 degrees yesterday and 97 degrees today. Our Books for Kigutu team, including my husband Bryce and our wonderful supporters Les Robertson and Marsha McHugh, sweated, told jokes and carried boxes and bags. Over and over again. My 90 year old mother folded and helped hang up clothes too. Many friends could not attend today but donated items that were sold to support our cause. I feel truly blessed by the support our group was shown today. $1,700 was raised. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Fall 2012, New energy at Kigutu Primary School
Many exciting things have been happening with Village Health Works and the push for education at Kigutu Primary School and all the schools in their catchment area. Teacher training, ideas for improving the school, grant writing to involve students with decision making, and a push for more arts, dance, and music. Last spring Books for Kigutu was able to purchase $300 worth of new books, maps and games for the school. This week, August 18 we will hold our first annual Garage Sale. With a goal of $500 we expect to be able to buy many more books. We are excited to announce that we have a benefactor who has promised to match any money we raise. One of the books, Atlas du Monde was especially appreciated by the Grade 6 teacher. Our energy at Books for Kigutu is high. We have seen that one small seed can grow into a large sunflower. Please join us in making a difference. One book at a time.
Last weekend four of our Books for Kigutu group met and talked about how to best spend a recent $500 donation. Thanks Les! But the frustration was palpable in that it would cost almost $300 to send just ten pounds of supplies to Kigutu. This is not good. Since then I have been trying to "think outside the box" knowing other answers are out there. In that light I wrote my first letter and translated it into French. Yeah me! I will mail this off to a professor of education at the University of Burundi. Thank goodness for the internet to help me when I am frustrated. Also I happened to find a wonderful blog from a woman working in world health issues. She visited Village Health Works in February 2010 and her blog and photos remind me to keep working and pushing to help these wonderful children. To see Helen's Weld's pictures visit her site http://hwph.blogspot.com/2010/02/our-children-of-kigutu.html
Welcome to a New Year and a new push to get supplies to Kigutu Primary School in Burundi. Thank you to Les Robertson of Medford, Oregon who donated $500 this week to our project. Not only that, but Les issued a challenge to dust off those cobwebs of winter and get crackin' on raising money. Les promised me that as soon as the next $500 is raised, he will match it. Yes! We are on track to use this donation to buy French reading and language games to send to the school. I am reminded that every little nudge can start the ball rolling.
As Deo says, from one small seed can grow mighty things. One year ago in a small book store in Ashland, Oregon I happened to pick up "Strength in What Remains" by Tracy Kidder. After reading this extraordinary account of one man's passion to change health care in his home country of Burundi, Africa I was moved to action. What can one person thousands of miles away possibly do? Well, I can send books and pencils and I can get a few friends to donate a few things. From this small beginning and a network of friends, Books for Kigutu was able to see 300 school kits and a few books and supplies donated to Kigutu Primary School last year. Thank you to all of our friends.
Please check out the pictures on our home page to see the supplies being distributed.
Our goal for 2012 remains to raise $5000 to put real books (textbooks and fiction and non fiction) into the hands of the students of this school. Burundi has been called the poorest country on earth. Any little bit makes a huge difference. If you would like more information about Village Health Works I encourage you to visit their website.
This year I see greater things for Books for Kigutu and I hope you will join me in making a difference in the world, one book at a time.
In about six weeks 270 students will begin a new school year in Kigutu. The Books for Kigutu Organization sent three small boxes of pencils, chalks, erasers and books. Most of the books are in English suitable for first through third grade. I have written to several foundations seeking funds. We are also linked to Pepsi Refresh donation project on the web. Keep your fingers crossed that the Pepsi Project gives us a go. It might mean $5000 for Kigutu. In the meantime, do you know of any foundations speciifcally funding education in East Africa? If so, drop me a line.
Katherine Leppek is a retired elementary school teacher from Medford, Oregon. She says, "I started this project because I am passionate about literacy and the right of every child to have access to books."