One Year In

It’s been a year since we moved here to Burundi as two weeks ago was the exact day one year ago that our family touched down at the retro-futuristic international airport  in Bujumbura.

IMG_5736It sure seems like it’s been more than a year – and I don’t think that’s just because it was a leap year.

We landed in Bujumbura March 6, 2015 –  and it sure feels like we’ve seen, experienced, and learned a lot since then.

We stayed for one month in a temporary place before moving into our house. We basically brought over our bags and then left for our Serge East Africa conference. Looking back we were actually pretty hesitant about going – it seemed like a fairly big, expensive trip so soon after we arrived. It was a fantastic experience, and we are so glad we were able to get to know the rest of the East Africa team, and what we learned, expeirnedced and shared there  were much better prepared in many ways for much of  what was gong to happen over the next 12 months.


Then a few weeks after we got back the ruling party announced that the President would run for a third term, and the protests started.

In May there was an attempted coup, and we left for what we hope would be a few weeks in Rwanda.



The violence continued, and escalated and things got pretty bad in the city and we stayed in Rwanda for most of the summer. We finally returned as a family at the end of August.



I got back into the swing of things at Hope Africa University, moved classes to our house for security reasons,  the kids got into their school – and we settled in to what everyone seemed to refer to as “the new normal”


We had to leave again after a day of intense fighting in December, and ended up spending Christmas up here.

Now we’ve moved up here to Kibuye and the kids have settled in to their new school routine, I’m working with administration at the hospital, and Susan has started helping out with the malnourished children.


While at the time, it often seemed like a bit of a random even chaotic ride – it has been amazing. We have been able to get involved at HAU, and now here at the hospital, and help out a country that has some of the lowest levels of medical care and university education in the world. Both HAU and Kibuye Hope Hospital are part of the local church that we partner with – and so we have had that common link, and ability to work with others who also are attempting to better this country because they are compelled by the love that they have received from God, and want to both share it and show it with others.




A little over a week ago I travelled back to Bujumbura to take part in the Hope Africa University graduation ceremony.
Someone has to sign all those diplomas..
oh…I see. that would be me.
It was a very significant event for several reasons.  Firstly – the graduating class was huge – double what it normally is. One-thousand-two-hundred-and-four students who have received their training, been equipped, and are now ready to head out to impact their communities, their nation(s). These students will become: engineers (of various types), teachers, business leaders, nurses, doctors, mid-wives, community development workers, and so much more. In a country, and part of the world, where post-secondary education is still quite a rarity, these one-thousand-two-hundred-and-four graduates stand a chance at making a significant change in their world. The sheer size of this made the graduation noteworthy. The parking lot was mostly covered in tents, but that was only enough seating for the graduates, faculty etc…the other 4000 or so people were squeezed in all around us, looking down from windows in the building, even climbing up on fences, standing in the shade behind the tents. There were a LOT of people there.
lining up just before we start


Secondly, this has been a tough year at HAU. The violence in Bujumbura these past 10 months or so has not been evenly distributed throughout the city for various reasons, and the neighbourhoods around the HAU campus have seen far more than their share of violence. At one point during his opening words, the Rector (~president) read the names of a student and a staff member who were killed, and asked everyone present to stand in a moment of silence for their memory, and to thank God that we are all still alive. It was very moving, as I can’t imagine there was anyone there who wasn’t keenly aware that it’s not a given that we’re all still alive. The fact that ‘only two’ members of our community were killed I think makes it seem like it has not been that big an impact. Just living in the city means that almost everyone knows someone personally who has seen something, been way-too-close to something, just missed something. There is no way to avoid the impact that the violence has had in the city.
For everyone at HAU, I think it was hugely important to have this graduation successfully take place – partially just to be able to stay: “We’re still here. We’re still educating people. Students are finishing. We haven’t given up.” So in light of that security was tight…very tight. From where I was standing on the platform, I could see at any time more automatic weapons than I had ever seen in my entire life growing up in Canada. (OK, bad comparison, as that number was zero…but still)
The other thing I’ve learned is that you just roll with things here.  If the graduation is supposed to start at a certain time, it maybe will not. If your secretary asks “do you have the words for your speech ready?” about 30 min after said start time, she is, in fact, not joking. The event will take place. Someone will hand you a copy of what your supposed to say. Things may seem kind of chaotic to a western mind, but honestly, they seem to always pull things off. Sure maybe I was already standing on the platform just prior to the start of the awarding of diplomas, and in my role as Directeur Pedagogique (~VP Academic) I was the one to say the “can the head of the ______ program please come forward and present their candidates …” (in French of course) – yes, on the platform with the microphone in my hand in front of thousands of people when I was told what I was to do, what to say. But, you know what, maybe everyone else didn’t even notice (note: Dr Alyssa said that in fact they could hear me saying “what order do I read this? When do I say it?” in the mic…oh well, c’est la vie).
The whole day was a great celebration. The rain held off, it wasn’t too oppressively hot, and there were no security issues. It really was a great day. I think in some way my mind-set makes it hard to comprehend what a university degree means to these students, to their families, to this country. This is not a place where basically everyone goes to university, and a bachelors degree is the new high-school diploma. This is more like a Bachelors degree is our graduate degree. When HAU first started about 12 years ago there were less than 8,000 students enrolled in post-secondary education in the entire country, meaning on average, somewhere around 2000 graduates per year – for the entire country. So if you go back even one generation, you can see how rare post-secondary education was, and how it is considered such a precious, rare, and treasured thing by these students, and their entire extended families. These one-thousand-two-hundred-and-four students getting degrees – including MANY of them masters degrees in Business, International Law, Theology, and eleven medical doctors – really is a very big deal.
That would be: Minister of Higher Education, Bishop of the National Church, Chairmen of the Board of HAU (and current senior government official and former ambassador to Kenya), Rector of the University…..and me.
The day was a great testimony to what Hope Africa University is, what it has become, and what it represents.  In the midst of seeming chaos, students still end up learning. In the midst of violence, they still show up, and they graduate. In the midst of economic and security problems, they persevere.
So much celebration and joy. And to me, it felt like it came at a time when it was greatly needed.

Matea is 12!



Thursday was Matea’s birthday – her 12th one.

Matea is also now the last one to have a birthday in Africa, meaning we’re coming up on just about one year since we arrived. For some reason – possibly because of spring school holidays – we seem to often be travelling on her birthday – or right around it.  So here is a look back at the previous twelve February 25’s, where she was, and what she was doing. All of these pictures were either taken right on her birthday, or a day or two around it – so there you go- a trip down a 12-year-old’s version of memory lane.

One year ago – we were just about to leave Canada. So it was a family & friends time -and able to spend the day with her birthday twin…Grandpa.


Plus another birthday with Grandma Watts


Two years ago, 2014 was her last birthday living in France.  And was also a birthday shared with Grandpa – as they were visiting us in the alps.




2013 we were in Israel – the day of her birthday we were touring the ancient fortress of Masada, and the kids took a dip in the Dead Sea.



The year before was a birthday with school friends in FranceIMG_0964IMG_9848



But later that week we were in Rome




One year before that, 2011 – Seven years old was her first birthday in France





2010 was in our house in Canada, apparently a large gathering of family & friends


Six years old!



5 years old –



Four years old – 2008. It looks like the reno’s in the kitchen were done.



.but the bedrooms upstairs were still a work in progress.



2007 – three years old


February 2006 – Two years old – we were flying back from California.




February 2005 – One year old





Then there was her actual birth-day. February 25, 2004 – in Edmonton.


Matea Dawn 8hrs old