Antoine, pictured here smiling with his wife and children, is from the Batwa (Pygmy) ethnic group in Muramvya Province, Burundi.
Despised by other ethnic groups and without land of their own, the Batwa often live hidden away in mud hut settlements deep in the forest, at risk from the elements and disease. They survive by scavenging whatever they can find, often eating food considered inedible for human consumption or without any nutritional value. Without access to basic health care facilities, their life expectancy is just 28 years.
GLO Partner Harvest Initiatives (HI) visited their community several years ago, and they were shocked by the conditions they witnessed.
Antoine lived in a tiny hut with his wife and five young children. He tried to support his family by making pots, but this didn’t sustain their basic needs. Two of his children attended school, but hardship had pushed them to the verge of abandoning their studies. “My kids would walk to school barefoot eight kilometres each way. Most of the time, they would attend class on an empty stomach,” recalls Antoine.
In despair, Antoine turned to alcohol and became a drunk. It regularly led to his family having nothing to eat for days. “We constantly argued about that. I needed to take the little money he earned before he quickly spent it all on alcohol,“said Sauvatile, Antoine’s wife.
His transformation began when Harvest Initiatives offered him a job as a security guard at the construction site of the Karubabi Harvest School. He also joined some Harvest Initiatives programmes: a money management course, an addiction support group and an adult literacy class. “I’d never known how to write or read, now I’m able to… this makes me so proud!“.
Antoine and his family were also among sixty families to benefit from Harvest Initiatives’ housing project. The project provided well-built housing along with pigs and goats to start a farming enterprise.
Antoine also decided to follow Jesus: “One of the reasons why I chose to believe was because of the kindness and generosity that I had received from Harvest Initiatives. They did not judge me how I lived. I couldn’t understand why someone who did not know me was willing to help me. I later found out that that is the whole point of the Gospel. Now, all my neighbours know of me because I help them whenever I can.“
Antoine continues to serve Harvest Initiatives as a maintenance worker at the Karubabi Health Centre. Six of his ten children attend Karubabi Harvest School. His family also receives free medical care at the Karubabi Health Center. With his salary and savings, he can now afford to send his daughter to university! She is the first member of this Batwa community to study in higher education.
Antoine continues to be thankful to Harvest Initiatives for supporting him. Through their efforts, not only was his life transformed, but the lives of his entire family and community too!