Below is the last installment of our four part series featuring award-winning producer Jessica Stuart’s stories from the field:
Friday, June 24th- Citoboke
Guise and Wangechi work at the distribution center
We spent the morning in Bujumbura visiting the country’s drug distribution site. Although it’s a warehouse full of boxes, it’s an exciting place. We see drugs from the World Bank, from UNICEF, from pharma, lined up along walls waiting to be picked up and taken to communities that need them the most. We find rows and rows of Albendezole. This drug is less than a dollar and we’ve already seen what it’s done across Burundi. The room is filled with kindness packed in brown boxes. It’s the kind of place we would want to know is there for our children.
Drug distribution center in Bujumbura
Although time is getting tight, on our last day of filming, we decide to go to a site that has evidence of another NTD, schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia or Snail Fever). If there is one thing I’ve learned in my travels to Africa, “Not far” means FAR. If you ask anyone how long it takes to get somewhere, the answer is always “not far”. “Not far” could possibly mean 5 minutes, but it usually means an hour or more.
We ask the ministry representative where it is. The answer, of course, is “not far”. We head North of Bujumbura for over an hour and a half to an area called Citoboke. This is the part of Burundi that separates itself from Eastern Congo by a small river. The feeling is different here. Drier, hotter, and more intense. The road is…. bumpy to say the least full of potholes. Not far becomes 30 minutes, an hour, an hour and a half plus a stop at the ministry for protocol.
Boys collecting water in Citoboke, along the Congo Border
Just when I think I can’t hear anything worse about NTDs, Guise tells us about Schisto. Although it has a low mortality rate, its chronic effects are devastating. It damages internal organs, impairs growth in children, and can cause damage in cognitive development. I read that Schisto is second in economic impairment to a country only to Malaria.
snail samples from Citoboke
Schisto comes from fresh water snails. Guise and a guide from the Ministry walk along the Eastern Congo border to a riverbed. Here, the doctor and Guise begin searching for snails. After a few minutes, they begin to find many and collect them for testing. At the same time, several families are at the same location bathing themselves and their children. It appears to be a bathing place for members of the community.
Crew films children bathing in Citoboke
Again, I don’t know what to say or think. The water is a blessing and necessary to life, yet it’s the water that is keeping the population sick. It’s hard to watch kids playing and bathing, knowing they are putting their life at risk. We film and gather crowds, curious what we are doing on the side of a road. It’s hard to explain we are hoping to save lives when they don’t even know their lives are at risk to begin with.
We returned to our hotel, which felt like the Ritz Carlton after a week of bucket showers.
We sat outside of our hotel, watching hippos graze from Lake Taganika and the lights of Tanzania shimmering on the other side of the water. In the distance Burundian drummers were performing a celebration and the sound wafted our direction. Keith, Kenny, and I toast and think about the next time we will be lucky enough to travel dirt roads, take cold showers, film for 15 hours a day, get covered in dust, and travel to far reaches to tell stories about people who need us the most. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
I think our translator Gerard summed up our trip the best as he got out of the car to say goodbye. He looked at me and said in his very deliberate English “When I started this journey I was just a translator of English. But after this trip, if one more child gets an albendizole pill, or one more person doesn’t have to suffer because of the work this group is doing, I will always know that I, myself, had a very small part in making my country a better place, and that brings me more joy than I have ever known”. Well said Gerard. Well said.
Jessica Stuart is an award winning producer and consultant. Her video work and live productions have been seen around the globe- on television, the web, and in theaters. She has worked for NBC Network News, The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, ABC Network News, and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In September 2008, Jessica created Long Story Short Media, an independent creative consulting and producing firm, specializing in short form, multi-use content. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, David, her son Alexander, and their rescue dog, Riley Martin.
July 8th, 2011
Part two of our four part series featuring award-winning producer Jessica Stuarts stories from the field:
Monday, June 20- Mwaro Province
Keith Walker films community members in Mwaro Province
On our first full day of travel in Burundi, we drive 2 hours into the mountains to the Mwaro Province. Today is a very exciting day for the Global Network and partners; the culmination of over 4 years of work. The Health Minister,Madame Minister Sabine is in Mwaro Province to Launch National Mother and Child Week. This initiative is an integrated approach at a National Level for an MDA- a mass drug administration. Partners include the Burundian Government, The Global Network, Geneva Global, CBM, WHO, and Schistomiasis Control Initiative (SCI). Here, every pregnant woman and child between 1-5 years old can receive free Albendezole to treat whipworm and roundworm, along with Tetanus vaccinations and Vitamin A distribution provided by UNICEF and partners.
Health Minister Sabine distributes Albendizole to a mother and baby at the Futa Clinic in Mwaro Province
This program is one of the few they are running at a National level after the Genocide and the Civil War.
Because it has devastated the country, infrastructure is practically non-existent. There is evidence of rebuilding, but it will take quite some time. Being among the top poorest countries in the world, Burundi can’t do it alone.
The Minister delivered medicines herself. In a speech, she told the community gathered that no one should suffer from any form of NTDs when the medicine and vaccines are free to the people. She said there are 9 provinces where worms are ravaging the population. Mwaro is one of them.
If anything is happening in a rural village, the ENTIRE village shows up. It is an inevitable factor.
Health Minister Sabine distributes a tetanus shot at Futa Clinic
Hundreds, maybe even thousands come. Events of any kind are taken very seriously. And today, Madame Minister’s visit to the “Stadium” (a large field used to play soccer), the village came to listen. Dances were performed and speeches were given. Our interpreter, Gerard, explained to me that each song and dance represented an illness or health initiative. They sang about using malaria nets, how to wash your hands for hygiene, how women should breast feed for the first 6 months. Now, I highly doubt NeYo or Akon or JayZ would create a song about public health, but the moment reminded me of those cartoons we used to watch as children that taught us about Bills on Capitol Hill or how not to over salt your meat. Or at the end of GI Joe when the lesson would come and GI Joe would say “now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
Same concept, different execution. We aren’t so different.
Minister Sabine at a protocol meeting over an Amstel
We ended our day with Madame Minister and formal government protocol. Protocol was to sit and enjoy a beer and talk about the news, families, etc. One thing I must say about Burundi- the beers are NOT 12 ounces. They are liters. So, about 50 of us sat around, each sipping our liter of beer. I don’t even like beer that much, but protocol is protocol!
Our hotel in Mwaro had hot water and electricity. No Internet. Our dinner took 2 hours to cook and we could only eat what they had left from the dayrice, 2 chicken legs, a chicken wing and some fish for 7 of us. This is the first night, however, we learned about brochette. Brochette in Burundi is a meat kabob. There are brochette shacks all over Burundi. Brochette and beer is happy hour. Brochette and beer is happy hour with no choice of anything else but brochette and beer, or goat or cow brochette.
At the hotel, Kenny’s room had disco lights in the bathroom. I’m not sure why only his room had flashing green, blue, and red lights –we figured he had the honeymoon suite.
Tuesday, June 21st- Rutuna Province
Read more: Personal Perspectives Part 2: Inside look at Burundi’s national NTD program