Among the families that arrived to Matara in June of 2009 was Nestor. He was invited to join the newly forming community that would involve hard work, collaboration and faith in another way of doing business. However, it is hard to shake years of an old mind-set, and Nestor was raised with the thought that NGO’s (Non governmental organizations, akin to not-for-profit organizations) come to town with their endless supply of resources and just keep giving to the poorest. So he believed that Community for Burundi would be the same, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Within the first few weeks what was evident was that Nestor did not want to work that hard. He wanted hand outs instead. Whenever the community gathered to work, Nestor was absent or late or slow to move. We later learned that in a previous village he was known to drink too much and work too little, a pattern that he packed with him and brought to Matara. Nestor’s laziness did not escape the notice of community leaders and CFB staff.
However, there was something else that Claude noticed – Chantal. Nestor’s oldest daughter was a young lady that stood out. She helped her parents with the younger children, worked hard around Matara doing chores and was a strong student. As a matter of fact, over the course of the year she achieved that status of ‘first in class’ in her eighth grade classroom! Her hard work and intelligence impressed Claude, and seeing her succeed and have ample support to stay in school was important to him. It was so important that he put up with Nestor’s laziness to keep her in Matara. Claude did let Nestor know that were it not for Chantal, he would have been kicked out (several times over).
A few weeks ago Claude was hosting a regular meeting with the Matara leadership team. Everyone was there – Francois, Little Claude and all the rest of the men and women of the village. They were sharing stories of personal progress – now harvesting a relative abundance of food, generating some income from small businesses (shoe repair, charcoal production and soap-making) and the overall health of the families was better a year later. They were telling Claude to share this good news with the friends in the States, to tell people that they are, in essence, able to take care of themselves now and walk with pride in their community. What they wanted to send with us was a blessing from Matara, not a request for anything. This was a time of great gratitude and good news.
As Claude was preparing to leave Matara, Nestor followed after him and asked to have a moment of his time. Nestor extended his hand to Claude, ‘Thank you so much for giving me another chance. I know I was lazy and a drunkard and you wanted to kick me out. But now I am making soap and earning 10,000 francs a week (about $10). I am clean and I want other to be clean, too. I don’t drink anymore, I work hard and I can provide for my family. Thank you for the chance to be a better man.’ The two men embraced. Claude said he had to push the tears from his eyes, he was so deeply touched with Nestor’s words.
So friends, this is why we do what we do. We work to see deep transformation on the land, but more so in the terrain of hearts and lives of Burundian families. People can work their way out of chronic laziness if there is an environment of support and a high standard set. People can put down the bottle and start making soap instead. People can change and embrace a new way of living. We’ve seen it happen in Matara, we’ve seen it happen before our eyes with Nestor.