Sat in Doha airport waiting to board the London bound plane gives a few minutes to write on the final 2 days of what has been an inspiring, educative, and challenging journey.
The combination of MPs, Southwell Diocesan folk and a Christian Aid staff member has worked well. We all agree this is the case. It could have been disastrous; we might not have got on nearly so well as we have done. There have been a lot of laughs. We have learnt much about each other and each others lives and work. I certainly have a much deeper understanding of what is involved day to day in being a constituency MP. I have gained insights into the inner workings of a political party as well as the House of Commons. I have, as should always be the case, learned more Bout myself through the whole journey and all that we have seen.
Our final full day began travelling to Ngozi up the wonderful winding road from Bujumbura. It is beautiful every inch of the way as the road twists and turns along the mountain edges. Mountains roll away into the distance. Forest appears and goes again. Every mile sees the disturbing yet awesome sight of cyclists clinging on to the back of the very slow moving lorries. Overtaking is hazardous. Cyclists coming the other way reach ridiculous speeds. Many are more than overloaded with bananas, charcoal, or the stranger sights of furniture, gourds and baskets. Women sit side saddle and appear to have remarkable balance.
In Ngozi we visited an inspiring water project. Simply turning a natural spring into a clean source of water. It took 12 days in total to complete with all the labour done by local villagers under expert supervision. £500 supplied all the pipes and cement required. Excitedly villagers spoke of an end to regular stomach problems, diarrhoea etc. through this simple piece of work. Before we visited them we had spent an hour with the bright young provincial governor; clean water was one of the things he highlighted as required across the Province. Impressively we sat in a building opened to celebrate 50 years of independence last year. Proudly he told us that all £700,000 worth of it had been donated in kind or in labour by the local community. He equally proudly showed us the developing football stadium next door. The pitch on which the first ever international between Burundi and Rwanda had been held in 1958 (Burundi won 4-1). Next July Burundi’s football loving President will open the stadium and the 3 surviving players from that match will be guests of honour. We asked if Newcastle United’s Bigirimana will be there too; ‘we will try’ was the governor’s simple reply.
The final visits were to Buye hill where the first British Protestant missionaries arrived in 1935. Here is the oldest Anglican cathedral. The home of Burundi’s Anglican Church. A former bishop’s son, Paisible, had guided us around the nation for the past week. He was thrilled that he was able to come to the village where he was born and grew up to the age of 15. His father’s grave is outside the cathedral. He had also pointed out the maternity ward in which he was born. It is still in use. It was over full and not a joy to behold. The psi attic ward was also harrowing. Far too many children in too few beds; and this is the dry season. When malaria is in full swing it is seriously over stretched. The medical superintendent made it clear that all his staff do their very best; but they all know that they work in far from ideal conditions. The X Ray machine has not worked for 3 years. They are heroic in what they achieve.
The secondary school is also a source of more concern than joy. Teenagers having to share a bunk bed; so 4 to each bunk. There is little space between the beds too. They are fed on such a small budget; 3 meals a day but never any meat; far too costly. The library is seriously under resourced.
Alongside the cathedral is a football pitch. Many were out playing. So the final action was Andy Clasper (Christian Aid) displaying his shooting skills against local lads and Graham Mann MP joining him for demonstrating how both of them handle attacking crosses in the box with their head and feet. I don’t think either answers Arsene Wenger’s search for new team members. Poppy Richards was as ever surrounded by children as she took lots of iPad pics of them and delighted them with showing them the results.
In the face of all the difficulties the generous hospitality from Bishop Sixbert and his team in the evening once again demonstrated Burundian Christians ability to be generous, warm, kind and enthusiastic in the face of enormous challenges.
Coming back through Rwanda was a stark reminder of just how different these 2 nations now are in terms of development. The roads are better and safer; the people look better dressed and kept; the buildings appear more solid and cared for; the streets are much cleaner. This is in no way to criticise Burundi it is to highlight the difference. One nation is now nearly 20 years post conflict and genocide; the other only 5. One has had around 3 times more aid poured into it than the other, and it has used it well. One has emerged increasingly gaining international respect; the other is still not regarded as worthy of real interest or concern. Both have a long journey ahead of them. Both are determined to get there. It is a privilege to have friends in both and to speak up for both through the church, agencies and government. The approach given where the 2 nations are in their story cannot be the same. Neither must be forgotten but in particular Burundi demands our real concern and support. If the international community fail to really help it come out of recovery into rebuilding and renewal it will fall further behind its neighbour; and that will be no good for either of them, the region or the world.