Lutheran Malaria Program in Burundi: Meet Bugera

Jessica Nipp Hacker

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Bugera Barnabé spent twelve years of his adult life as a refugee. In his native Burundi, civil war was raging, and Bugera, along with hundreds of thousands of his compatriots, fled to a refugee camp in Tanzania.

"At the beginning, I was a refugee," Bugera says. "And then I become a volunteer." 

Being a refugee is a sad experience and a positive experience," Bugera says.  "It was sad because I had to flee my country.  I was cut off from social, economic, and spiritual roots.  One must start anew—new friends, new environment.  You have to learn.  You have to make all efforts to fit in." 

In a difficult situation like that one, Bugera reflects, “you learn to use your potential. You see yourself succeed in another country; you use the gifts you got from God.  I created a sustainable life; I managed to educate my children.  I could use my intellectual potential; I helped create a secondary school in Tanzania. It was good to see Burundians come home educated.” 

When it came time to come home, more than a decade later, Bugera was deeply connected with Lutheran World Federation.  

He was hired to help start the "Program for Peace," which was the first LWF program in Burundi. The Program for Peace focused on humanitarian support—helping former refugees to repatriate into a land they could hardly remember. "But of course, says Bugera, "the program couldn't just deal with emergency care forever.  It can't continue like that. Just providing monetary donations doesn't build capacity."

So LWF-Burundi began its second program: the Community Empowerment Program.   This program shifted focus dramatically: from providing relief and humanitarian assistance, to empowering communities to strive for development.  The Community Empowerment Program, or CEP, has been supported by ELCA World Hunger funds for several years. 

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And that's where the ELCA Malaria Campaign comes in. Bugera explains why the Lutheran malaria program in Burundi is so important in Cankuzo: "In implementing our community programs, we came to see so many people suffering from malaria; so many resources going to malaria.  Malaria was taking the time of the people.  It was taking the resources of the people. We thought, if we don't deal with malaria, then there will be no community development ever. If we don't deal with malaria, all other outcomes will be jeopardized completely."

And so, at the end of last year, Burundi became the 12th of the 13 countries participating in the ELCA Malaria Campaign. The Lutheran malaria program in Burundi stands proudly on the shoulders of the other LWF-Burundi programs that have paved the way. Repatriated refugees whose lives depended on LWF those first few years are taking charge of their health, and participating with gusto.  Communities and households who have learned new skills through the Community Empowerment Program are eager to learn how to protect their families from malaria.  

Under Bugera's leadership, the Lutheran malaria program in Burundi hit the ground running, and the change is already tangible.