This week we are proud to introduce you to Deo Niyizonkiza who is part of our 9 to Watch series – a set of interviews that highlights 9 incredible innovators from around the world.

Photo courtesy of Village Health Works
Photo courtesy of Village Health Works

Deogratias Niyizonkiza’s personal story is about as powerful as they come.

While the details of his story have been chronicled in biographies and TED Talks, what resounds for us is how much it has shaped his role and legacy in the work he does today. He transformed his hardships into healing and growth – starting with a village, Kigutu, and now for a country, Burundi – through a guiding principle that “where there is health, there is hope.”

Deo’s approach is unique because he realizes how much is involved in delivering healthcare to people, especially in a community devastated by civil war. Through the process of constructing Village Health Works (VHW), there was reconciliation and purpose and, according to Paul Farmer, an unparalleled level of community participation.

This year, Deo is ensuring that VHW strengthens its mission, which is not just about delivering quality healthcare but also about addressing the root causes and the social factors of illness, disease, and violence. In 2014, Kigutu families will also benefit from expansions in the early childhood education program. VHW is also in the process of establishing a state-of-the-art women’s health pavilion. It will be a major step in bringing this region the surgical facilities needed to deliver babies under emergent conditions. Given that the local hospital is more than a two-hours’ drive, the health centre will quite literally be a life-saving addition to VHW’s health services.

Deo breaks down VHW’s theory of change – where health is the foundation:

“Think about this: you and I wouldn’t be here talking in this office if we were sick; we’d be
stuck. And, unfortunately, this is a world where so many people fail to understand and these
are people who are healthy. We take good health for granted, even in a place, like Burundi,
where health indicators are abysmal. It’s very hard – even unimaginable – to think about
how a mother who is pregnant and who is carrying a heavy load on her head and on her
back can be fully productive. So, you have [health] as a prerequisite, but you cannot solely
support education through health. These two must go hand in hand to have a peaceful
country, a peaceful self and a prosperous society.”

WATCH Deo thoughtfully guide an organization that is truly created by and for the people it serves.

Check out the full 9 to Watch series here


Related stories:

Introducing 9 Incredible Forces for Change from Around the World

UNICEF Next Generation travel to support Burundi Innovation Lab

Photo essay: Innovative entrepreneurs in Cankuzo, Burundi

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