A September Tradition

school supplies kids

My grandmother gave me new pajamas every Christmas Eve. When I slipped into the new nightgown I found myself wearing all the anticipation of Advent, ready to burst into Christmas morning after one more sleep.

Now my own mother gives my children pajamas on Christmas Eve. She also stuffs Easter baskets with new swimsuits, goggles, flip-flops and beach towels. Every year since they can remember…

Does she have to do this? No. She gets to because she’s grandma to Justin and Emma! My mother has the capacity to give generously, to show tangible love with these seasonal gifts. And she loves it – so the tradition is carried out year after year.

We could afford to get our kids slippers and flip-flops, clothes for sleeping and swimming and such. But sometimes it’s not about the economics. Sometimes it’s about the tradition of connection, about the expression of love, about gifts that celebrate a new season shared together.

school supplies parents

So this year, as in every year since we can remember, we provided school supplies for the kids in Matara. We brought up new school uniforms for the first-time students and some for the ones who hit a growth spurt over the summer months. We brought up composition books, pencils and pens for the fresh start in a new classroom. We brought stacks of books for more reading. It’s back to school in Matara!

And this is what we do – not because we have to anymore, but because we get to. We get to shower these kids with school supplies every September. We get to christen another school year together because we are friends.

Our friends can afford more now. They’ve come a long way from the days of necessary handouts. Now they proudly plant, tend, harvest and take produce to market. Now they run local businesses. Now they can lend each other money – any pay it back.

But they still love the gesture of friendship that comes like Christmas Eve… because it speaks of connection, love and celebration.

(The school supplies do help. They do lighten the economic load on the families. But more than anything these September supplies are about on-going friendship.)

So this September we took school supplies to our friends in Matara. We anticipate together another year of kids succeeding in school, acknowledging the new normal as much as anything else. The kids will skip to school on Monday with confidence, anticipation and readiness.

We gave school supplies. But their parents will be the ones who really give them all they need to succeed this year – good food fresh from their fields, milk from the cows, clean water from the stream for drinking and bathing, clean clothes each morning, time to do homework each afternoon and plenty of love.

Traditions are good. They remind us that we are connected. They invite us to remember and celebrate together.


Dancing at the Well by Leigh Kramer

As we drove down the dirt road and turned beneath the gate, we were greeted with sound. And not just sound but joyful praise.

Bubanza was alive with music.

I slid out of the backseat of the SUV, still unsure what I was walking into. How do you prepare yourself to attend a well dedication? How do you know what to expect from a celebration of clean water?

I walked toward the sound, dozens of children singing and clapping. Just behind them, a crowd of women singing and dancing. I was mesmerized by the expressions on their faces. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand the song. Joy needs no translation.

Read the rest of Leigh’s reflection over at SheLoves Magazine!

Clean Water by Fiona

I’m back on Burundian soil, as I am every summer. And the first visit was out of the city to Bubanza to visit our friends who’ve been eking out a living in arid, nearly forgotten terrain. I didn’t travel alone this time. We were a caravan of three SUVs filled with my beloved SheLoves sisters (and a few husbands among us). We’d come from Canada, South Africa, America and Luxembourg to witness… clean water!

Fiona is the first to write her memory of that drive, that arrival, that moment when water flowed clean and sweet. I hope you’ll read her words and feel her heart overflowing with joy. I hope you can imagine what clean water means to the families of Bubanza!

Read Fiona’s words about CLEAN WATER!

Remembering the Central Market

The Central Market is the economic heart of the city, pumping out all manner of goods from fresh produce and fish straight out of Lake Tanganyika to cooking pots, second-hand clothes and locally produced palm oil. My favorite part of the market – the fabric stalls. Imagine bright African block fabrics draped, layer upon layer, at least ten feet high, in each kiosk. The colors, brilliant; the patterns, dizzying; the possibilities seemed endless as I craned to see the ones at the very top where they almost touched the sky.

My sister in law took me once. I remember her strutting, with her perfect African gate, toward her favorite venders and showing off her light-skinned family member. We laughed together as we looked at the fabrics and considered which would make good shirts for Claude, maybe a dress for me. All the ladies, some with babies strapped to their backs, weighed in on the right selections.

Another time I went with my no-nonsense Auntie. She refused to let the sellers take advantage of my whiteness, bargaining on my behalf so I could get an armload of fabrics. Her interactions were efficient and stride swift, just what I’d expect from a woman who knew this market from years of such daily exchanges.  Arm and arm we made our way out from the darkened paths of the market and into the Burundian sunlight.

But the first time I went to the big market was with Mama Rose, my mother in law. Round and stout, she maneuvered through the tight stalls and clusters of people with unexpected agility. I remember running out of breath just trying to keep pace with her. No one stood in her way for long as she elbowed to the left and shimmied to the right passing all the eager vendors trying to get her attention. She took me out to an enclosed courtyard filled with fruits and vegetables – beyond any farmers market I’d ever seen. Pyramids of mandarins, piles of garlic with long stalks still attached, baskets of purple shallots and bigger baskets of potatoes – it was hard to take it all in as Mama Rose never slowed for my produce tourism. I just recall a moment when we stopped, she making quick purchases and the place pulsating with Kirundi words, brown hands and the energy of local commerce.

She made sure I followed her, grabbing my wrist, as we hopped over gutters and swerved around toddlers toward an exit. She chose the route leading right through the tables of fresh fish, some still wet and glistening, some warm with stink. Oh, and then we passed the squawking chickens in cages and others being plucked for waiting customers. The smile that finally came to light revealed her plan… she wanted to give me a little dramatic flare at the end of our market venture together!

Yesterday the Central Market burned to the ground. Not even the roof was left standing. In the close quarters filled with vendors and products, livestock, shoes, cooking oil and tailors sewing dresses …the flames spread quicker than my Auntie’s swift stride. All those fabrics fell from the sky and burned into ash. The livelihood of all those women went up in smoke. All the laughter I remember then, now turned into wailing and the kind of grief that smacks you to the ground.

And the chaos wouldn’t be contained. On the outskirts of the market looters began to take all they could carry from surrounding street sellers and nearby shops. Before sunset price gouging was widespread in little neighborhood grocery stores. By morning, everyone knew food and sundries would be hard to come by and too costly, even if you did. This would be the beginning of a chain reaction in the Burundian economy, more crushing for those at the bottom, already vulnerable.

My heart soars with pungent memories of the Central Market. A place of commerce and community in the very core of the city – where small fortunes are built one day at a time by women with babies strapped to their backs, by men lacing together the last bit of hope, scrappy entrepreneurs trying to break into the economy and provide for their families. The Sunday fire burned entire inventories, life savings for most clients and the dreams of so many. Now I want to smear ash across my face, across my memories and weep for the loss of life and livelihoods.

The Central Market stood amid the city every day. It was the intersection for local goods and neighbors. It was a place of small transactions and nearly invisible margins. It was the place people got what they needed and made a little living, just enough on a good day. And it’s gone. And now life will be harder.

Lord, remember the place where I walked with Mama Rose and the other women of my family. Remember all those now grieving losses too deep for words. Remember the limping economy of Burundi. Please bring hope in the midst of heartache.



New Year’s for COH!

Friends ~

We stand on the threshold of a new year. There’s much to anticipate and welcome with the dawn of 2013. But we begin by remembering the work of 2012.
This past year brought such great progress in Bubanza. We worked alongside 660 families in a holistic community development project and witnessed great strides forward for young and old, alike. There’s an elementary school under construction. But even before the doors have opened the single class has grown to multiple classes with multiple teachers and a student body of over 300 children. (This really eclipses the single school room with 16 students we met in week one of this partnership!) In 2012 we were able to secure identity cards for all the adult men and women of the community! This is the year they became citizens of their country with access to legal protection, government representation and the dignity of belonging. We also discovered (and verified) that there is water beneath the land of Bubanza. So under the dry dirt is clean water, a fact that is good news to this parched community. So much to celebrate!
The steps forward in education, sanitation and human rights created true momentum within the community. Hope is growing as the families see changes unfolding and begin living into some new realities on the ground. We’re all excited for 2013 and what will continue to happen as we work together. We anticipate opening the elementary school, we expect to dig several wells in the community and we won’t stop advocating until each child has a proper birth certificate and access to healthcare.
The other big news of 2012 is the opening of Kazoza Community Bank. We’ve taken a fragile micro-loan program inherited from another NGO and transitioned it into a credentialed community bank within the Burundian banking system. Now the working poor can, for the first time, access basic banking for their families and their businesses. This is more than small loans, it’s access to a bank account with a checkbook and a personal banker. We’re also offering mentoring for the business-minded among the clients, helping them step up to the next level of business skill. We see business leaders who are creating valuable services for their communities and employing their neighbors and we want to invest in them so they can expand their good work in the community. This is how economies grow!
In 2013 we hope to enlarge our mentoring program for local business leaders and innovators so that we can see local economies really stimulated and moving forward for all the families in the neighborhood. We’re excited to invite investors to partner with Kazoza in offering loans to local businessmen and women, confident they will reap great benefits while their money proves catalytic for the Burundian economy.
Matara continues to be a happy place for us. Our Batwa friends remain faithful in their local leadership roles spanning education, government representation and community mediation. The children of the village are robust – they perform well in school, they’re growing strong and playing hard. Babies born this year are healthy and all the mothers have survived childbirth. Businesses are growing in Matara, livestock is increasing and crops continue to grow with nutritional goodness. We visit Matara and just smile… God has transformed this land and these lives. In 2013 we imagine they will become local spokespeople for tangible transformation, teaching others how to bring about positive change in their villages, too.
We are so grateful that so many of you have shared this year with us. You’ve followed our Facebook Page and kept up with weekly stories. You’ve prayed with us and for us. We are so humbled that many of you have given to help these friends – with desks for schools, identify cards for women, towards wells and school supplies and so much more. Some have even traveled to be with us, sharing in the celebration dances like SheLoves women from Canada, COF friends from Texas and Amahoro friends from the West and all over Africa! We love being in this hope-filled work together, to be in solidarity with our Burundian friends and global friends all at once. We are moving forward toward that grand vision a la Isaiah 41 for transformed land and lives!
Thank you for walking (and dancing) with us in 2012. We hope to be sharing in the work, prayer and joyful celebrations into the next year. Let’s anticipate schools, wells, bigger loans, more banking accounts opened and more transformation in 2013!
Happy New Year from Communities of Hope!

Sponsor Hope in 2013!

This year we’re embarking on a community development adventure and we’re hoping you’ll join us!

We’ve begun working with a large community called Bubanza in Burundi. This is a community of 660+ families, an average of 8 people per family, all living in dire conditions. They exist on less than $0.35 per day, lack access to clean water, ample food, jobs or adequate medical care. It feels so hopeless.

But since we began working with these friends in October, we’ve seen God stirring up hope in this dry and dusty place. We’ve now secured identity cards (so citizenship) for all the men and women and are working on the longer process of birth certificates for all the children. Human rights matter and are foundational to the good things to come. We’re building a primary school and thinking about a better pedagogy filled with hope for the kids of Bubanza. We’ve done feasibility studies and found water under that arid land. We’re dreaming big, our sails filled with great hope for Bubanza.

We’re dreaming of a community with wells, trees, jobs, a school, and a clinic. We’re dreaming of a community that is sustainable within 5 years, a community that benefits their neighbors and brings peace. We’re dreaming of an outbreak of HOPE!

So we want to invite you to join in…

  1. 1.    Would your family consider sponsoring Bubanza? Would you invest in this community as they dig wells, build infrastructure, get the school up and running, cultivate crops + businesses + funds to sustain it all long-term?


(1) Would you sponsor a community for $55/month or $660 one-time gift for the year?

(2) Then would you consider inviting 9 of your friends to do the same – sponsor Bubanza?


We’ve created this video to help share the story briefly, we hope you’ll watch, share with friends and maybe even put up on your Facebook page or Tweet about it.

(There are 660+ families in need of partnership – so we need lots of friends to jump in with us!)


We’ve created a website for easy access to stories, more information and the sponsorship form.


You know us, we’ll be sharing stories, pictures and updates along the way so you all see what is unfolding in real time on the ground in Bubanza. We hope some of you can travel to visit Burundi and our friends in Burundi, too! We’re excited to make these connections between your community and the Bubanza community.

We believe when you sponsor a community, you sponsor HOPE!

Thanks for considering this request…let me know if you have any further questions!
Blessings from Bubanza,
Claude & Kelley

Impromptu Art!

a royal greeting for Joelle & Joseph!

- by Joelle Inashaka
The best way to describe the first grade class in Bubanza is to imagine an average sized bedroom housing about 108 children, ranging from ages 6 to 12.
The desks, so closely arranged, are not enough for all the pupils. The smaller ones get to sit on little stools. Each desk seats four children. There’s hardly any room for the teacher to freely move at the front of the class, let alone between the rows of eager students.
Joseph and I set out to have a little fun with this class. Armed with a few coloring books and coloring pencils, we were ready to occupy them for the last 15 minutes of the day.
We weren’t expecting a royal welcome. But all students stood and waved shouting out, ‘Bonjour Madame’, and ‘Bonjour Monsieur’ in the littlest, loudest voices you ever heard! It was certainly breathtaking to be greeted with such bright enthusiasm.

Joseph – community development project leader and… art teacher?

What we didn’t know beforehand was that ‘art class’ is not part of the curriculum. So, if one can imagine a wide range of coloring styles, we’ve now seen it. Coloring inside the lines, outside the lines, along the lines, way off in the corner of the page, I mean name it and we probably saw it! As for the 15 minutes we intended to spend with the kids coloring – it turned out to be over 40 minutes. Kids excitedly showed us their paper, their colorful creations and first attempts. Soon our time turned into a lesson on learning how to share colors and helping a friends on how to use the colors. Nonetheless, it was fun for everyone and each of the kids got to take their masterpieces home (which I suspect will be hung on a wall somewhere).

creating art… so someday they can create change!

Looking at this class, one thing is certain, they are enthusiastic about school. They are all looking forward to the new school year to start, they can hardly wait to move into the nice and spacious classrooms at Kwizera Academy.
For such a time as this, God’s grace and mercy is upon these precious children. For such a time as this, God is preparing their little hearts to be instruments of change in their families, community and country. They can change… Burundi!

Working Out of Poverty

Diane, the credit manager, and Francoise

- by Joelle Inashaka

When you sit in the reception area of Kazoza finance, there’s a picture that has often attracted my attention. It’s a picture of a lady counting money with a huge smile on her face. It’s the picture of Francoise Rugema.

She is divorced with 5 children, the oldest is attending university and her baby is the 8th grade. She is a confident lady. I introduced myself and said that I’d be asking her questions about what she’s benefited from Kazoza finance as a client, she smiled and said ‘Yesu Yaranshoboje’ (literally – Jesus made me able).

What was business like before Kazoza?

Before Kazoza, she would borrow money from neighbors. She became the talk of the neighborhood, and though she had no choice, she was often times embarrassed.

She is appreciative that her loans are a private matter between her and her banker now. She is also appreciative that her loans are bigger and allow her to expand her business.

pressing the palm oil

What does business look like for Francoise?

She makes and sells palm oil. The refuse from this is usually sold to a bigger industry that uses the by-product for soap manufacturing. She has 2 partners and together they employ about 6 people to do the oil production.

She also has a stand at the market in Kinama, where she sells palm oil as well as flour. She personally works at the stand. She has also a warehouse that people use to stock goods, and that earns her some money monthly.

working in the marketplace

What has she gained from her businesses?

First she is grateful that she is always able to always make her monthly payment on time. She can always count on having a profit in her businesses monthly. Her children are able to attend school, eat well and dress well. (Even she dresses with elegance!)

She is confident and trusts that God will prosper her in all things.

Her neighbors trust her again. She’s repeatedly been chosen to be the president of her cooperative group by her co-borrowers. She has respect within her community.

Her greatest achievement to date has been the fact that she bought her plot of land where she can her house! She says she has bigger plans to achieve, and has so enjoyed working with Kazoza finance. She is also grateful that she shares her faith openly with her creditors whom she so enjoys to see.





a school in transition

Mrs.Josepine, headmaster of Bubanza school.

Meet Mrs. Josephine… the new headmaster at the primary school in Bubanza. While she is not the first, but she is the first to come the long way from the road to the small adobe classrooms at the edge of the community. She’s the first one to have a small office on site, giving her heart and presence to the children of this community.

Each day she works hard to oversee a school in transition. Twelve months ago there were sixteen students in one weathered classroom sitting on stones. Now there are 427 boys and girls, many sitting at desks!

These are some of the issues Mrs.Josephine tends to as she moves the school forward this season:

  1. She’s creating more classroom space. Right now there are two adobe classrooms with desks. We’ve now converted the covered meeting space into two large classrooms using tarps. These makeshift classrooms hold 36 fifth-graders in one and 46 sixth-graders in another. It’s not ideal, but an interim solution until the school next door is complete, funded and staffed for the next academic year.
  2. She’s visiting parents weekly to discuss things like attendance, parent involvement and stirring their hopes for what a good education means to their children. Even enrolled students have a hard time attending class daily due to chores like water-fetching and babysitting younger siblings. Mrs. Josephine pleads with parents to not disrupt the learning rhythm for their students, helping them see the long-term benefits of showing up to class every day. She tells them that living off of handmade pottery is a thing of the past, now their kids must be bike-makers and even car-makers to thrive. And, she emphasizes, school and studies are the prerequisites they need to enter those industries.
  3. She’s encouraging the teachers in Bubanza to be better teachers. She supervises daily, ensuring classes start and time and don’t let out too soon. We’ve noticed there is more class time now. She also resources the teachers, supports them and inspires them as educators. The morale of the teachers has increases exponentially with her loving attention to them and their students.

We’ve come a long way from sixteen kids sitting on stones. Now the school is bursting at the seams with children eager to learn. They see the school under construction and they want to be a part of that future, so enduring the interim season is all part of the growing pains for them. They are fine with it because they see the classrooms where they’ll be next year, they know the teachers will be there and Mrs.Josephine will be there, too. If she can do all this with a makeshift office and some tarps – imagine what she’ll do with classrooms, chalkboards, desks and more teachers?

Hope is bubbling up in Bubanza – Mrs.Josephine and 427 children all have tasted it! They’re ALL IN!

Bubanza school under construction…

Innovators in health & hygiene

- Joelle Inashaka & Kelley Nikondeha

How often are the Batwa in Burundi asked to attend an international conference, let alone asked to stand up and be applauded? Salvator and Francois from Matara lived this experience this week in the capital of Bujumbura. Both men were invited to the 3rd regional ACECI conference focused on malaria awareness.

Unbeknownst to the public, for the past year the community in Matara has been participating in a pilot project on the cultivation of the catnip (also known as ‘catmint’) plant. This plant possesses essential oils that have mosquito-repelling properties. The hope is that production of this plant and extraction of the oil could aid in malaria prevention in the region.

Matara community was selected for the pilot project because it met the three basic criteria.The village was comprised of a disadvantaged community. It was a well-organized village and able to collaborate with the local governmental authorities. Lastly, the community had land available to cultivate for the catnip experiment.

The good news is that the harvest was strong resulting in a successful project.  Although the project will be expanding to in the neighboring Commune of Nyabiraba, where 5 hectares will be cultivated, there are other good outcomes.

  • The success of the project means that Burundi will start producing it’s own natural insect repellent at affordable costs.
  • The residents of the Nyabiraba, of which Matara is a part, will have new work opportunities in the fields cultivating the catnip and in the extraction process of the essential oils.
  • There are new prospects to pioneer a new kind of soap. Francois and Salvator got to attend a short training on making soap using catnip, eucalyptus and citronella based oils. A perfumed soap with the added insect repellent properties would be so beneficial for the people of this region in terms of health and hygiene.

How wonderful that innovative agriculture and malaria prevention remedies were piloted on the soil of Matara. How great that our community leaders were given the opportunity to share their learning and contribute to national solutions. How amazing that our friends are pioneers, advancing good health with local made products in their own soap shop!

In Isaiah the prophet says that when we return and commit to rebuilding our cities, we infuse them with hope and we are given a new name: ‘repairer of the breach, restorer of the streets where people live.’ Isn’t that what’s happening in Matara? Our friends are restoring the streets, making the region a better (and healthier) place to live!