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  • Deogratias' Voices of Courage Award Remarks

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    Thank you Tracy for that wonderful introduction.

    On behalf of the many brave women of my native community and myself, I want to thank you, Women's Refugee Commission, from the bottom of heart for this great honor.

     I would not be here today if not for one women who is sitting in the audience with you now. My mother, Clemence Mpozenzi. Mom, urashobora guhaguruka. Please stand!

    I was born in Burundi, a country off the map. On Mother’s Day 2003, Burundi was declared by the UN one of the world’s five worst places for women and children. And in 2006, it was pronounced by the World Bank the poorest country on earth. I grew up dirt poor in that country. But I was lucky to have parents who taught me that I was not poor even when we had nothing to eat.

    As a tiny boy, I watched my mom give birth to her children at home on the mud dirt floor. There was no midwife, no physician on call, no anesthesia. While mom suffered alone, my job was to go around and find grasses to burn so that she could see enough to deliver. I'd keep the fire going and hide my eyes. When the baby arrived, she cut the umbilical cord herself. This image will never leave my mind. Everything I tell you, I have seen with my own eyes.

    The civil war was not started by women. But women are the ones who pay the highest price. Many women have been widowed. They have no home, no land. They have nothing but deep shame and humiliation. During the civil war, women were repeatedly gang-raped, infected with HIV, silenced by stigma, and often told: it was your fault. No one, no human being should suffer this way.

    This is why I created Village Health Works. It was founded on the humane principle that every human being is entitled to quality and compassionate healthcare in a dignified environment, regardless of the ability to pay. At Village Health Works, we see over 15,000 patients per year. The majority are women and children. Where there is health, there is hope. No society is a self-sufficient society without good health. Providing good health care is step one. We must go beyond that to address the ways poverty has dehumanized the world.

    From the day we opened Village Health Works women took charge. Every week, more than 40 women walk miles to the clinic to volunteer. They and their children are our greatest strength and hope.

    The purpose of Village Health Works is to create decency where there was none. What we are building in Burundi is bigger than just a clinic. It is about social justice.

    When we talk about women's health, we are talking about the health and protection of the basic human rights of our mothers and their children, the wellbeing of humanity. Health is empowerment. What we have set out to do is to make possible what many have thought impossible. We are showing through successful work that: where there is health, there is hope.

    I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the many brave women, including my mother. I saw her struggle. I experienced her love. Together, with the community, we are building a global community of compassionate people who have the power to change their lives and the lives of everyone around them.

    Thank you so much.