Odette’s Story – A Story of Hope

An update on our Burundi Crisis Appeal.

I am always amazed and inspired by our Burundian friends. They show such courage and resilience in the midst of such extreme challenges and hardships. One such example is our beautiful friend, Odette. I first met Odette in 2014, in a camp where she’d been placed following a dreadful natural disaster which destroyed her community.

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Over 100 people were killed in the disaster and thousands had lost their homes and livelihoods. For one of the poorest communities, in one of the world’s poorest nations, it was totally devastating.  However, for Odette, already a widow, it was especially tragic. She lost 5 of her 6 children in the flooding when her simple mud house was destroyed by the torrents of water, boulders and mud which cascaded through her community in the middle of the night.

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I will never forget the haunting image I have in my mind of the emptiness, the hopelessness and the grief in Odette’s eyes that day; of her standing there traumatised with her one remaining daughter, Vanessa, by her side looking so lost, so alone and so afraid. How is anyone ever able to come to terms with such trauma and loss?

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I was there with a small film crew to see how we could help.  We wanted to make a short video to try and communicate what had happened. Odette shared her horrendous story with us. It was utterly overwhelming.  We then tentatively asked Odette what she hoped for when she thought of the future. In some ways this felt the most ridiculous and insensitive of questions, but she gently replied, telling us she simply wanted a safe place for her and Vanessa to live, out of the camp. She told us how she wanted to start up her business again and that she wanted to able able to send Vanessa to school. These were such basic dreams and yet she had no means of ever seeing them happen. She had nothing and no-one. The tears rolled down her cheeks. I forgot about the filming and just hugged her and silently prayed.

Overwhelmed by her desperate circumstances, we asked Odette what her business had been and she had told us it was selling tomatoes and cabbages. She needed just £30 to start it up again. To rent a small house for her and Vanessa would be around £50 a month. Just £80 was all that was needed for them to take a step towards rebuilding their destroyed lives – such a small amount, yet it would make such a difference.

Very quickly, Hope for Tomorrow Global joined with the Regions Beyond group of churches and launched a crisis appeal to provide emergency food supplies, medical care and assistance for renting homes to those who were homeless. Wherever possible, funds were also given to help families start up businesses, or replace those washed away by the floodwaters.  Of course, the very first person we helped was Odette! Within 2 weeks she and Vanessa were out of the camp.

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Three months later I returned and had the privilege of visiting Odette and Vanessa in their new home. Odette proudly showed me her mattress on the floor where she and Vanessa slept and a cooking pot and two plates laid out on the ground. She was smiling and Vanessa was chuckling away! The grief was still tangible and the journey ahead was clearly a long and painful one, but she told me that day, “I have hope again!” Vanessa was in school and they were looking forward. There was life in their eyes again.

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Within a year of the disaster, thanks to the support and generosity of all those who gave in the aftermath of the disaster all 120 families from Odette’s area who we’d assessed as being the most vulnerable and in need of support were in safe accommodation and able to provide for themselves again.

Sometimes people tell me we can’t make a difference. They tell me the needs are too great and the problems too big. They tell me there is no point. I beg to differ!  Few of us will ever go through what Odette has gone through, but she has hope; hope for today and hope for tomorrow. We can make a difference and that is why we do what we do. There is a point – transformation starts with the one!

Let’s not stop, let’s continue to show compassion and be generous and help those who need it the most to have hope for tomorrow!

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