FH Volunteer Can't Keep Away From Change In Burundi


FH volunteer, Mike Deboski, is impacted by the determination of a community.

Mike Deboski, Independant Insurance
Advisor & FH Supporter
Volunteering in Mufumya, Burundi - and seeing the great need among the people there - gives Mike Deboski, an independent insurance advisor in Edmonton, renewed perspective every time he returns home to Canada.

“There was leadership in place that had a vision for the community,” Deboski says. “They could articulate that well, and they had strategies as to how that might come about.”

That ambition was one factor that inspired Deboski to begin devoting much of his spare time to development efforts in Mufumya. The impoverished community of about 4,000, located in the province of Kayanza, has no electricity, no running water and no medical facilities. In fact, half of the population of the province cannot meet the daily caloric requirements for a healthy lifestyle. “There was significant need and very evident poverty,” says Deboski, 64.

Deboski first visited Mufumya in 2006, as part of a volunteer trip with Food for the Hungry (FH). He persuaded his church to partner with Mufumya through FH.

Through this partnership model, a Canadian community provides assistance to a community in the developing world through measures such as financial aid, child sponsorship and assistance with hands-on projects during visits to the developing community.

“The objective is,” Deboski says, “within an eight or 10-year period, that the community actually becomes self-sufficient.”

In order for the program to have a successful long-term impact, Deboski says, leaders within the developing community must demonstrate the willingness to play an active role in the pursuit of change. That’s a key reason he is so encouraged by the high level of enthusiasm among the locals in Mufumya.

“The engagement starts with the leaders in the community,” Deboski says. “They must have a desire among themselves to become self-sustaining.”

Deboski has visited Mufumya four times since his initial visit, and he's observed substantial improvement in conditions in the region each time he has returned. Specifically, the church partnership initiative has led to the construction of a new school. Another project currently underway will bring water into the community from a mountain spring about 15 kilometres away.

Deboski and the other volunteers have contributed to the construction of those projects during their visits to Mufumya. However, most of the hands-on work has been conducted by the locals themselves.

In fact, witnessing their daily hardships — and contrasting those conditions with the l uxuries that Canadians tend to take f or granted — certainly puts things into perspective, Deboski says. Even after having visited Mufumya multiple times, he still struggles to fathom how difficult life must be for residents there.

“When you’re just there for a short time,” he says, “you just get a picture of the hardships and the issues and the struggles of their day-to-day lives. But I can’t say you really experience it.”
Deboski finds the poverty most striking in the schools, where each class is composed of as many as 80 to 100 students. In many cases, he says, a single desk, notebook and pencil are shared by up to four students.

Despite the crowded conditions, the students’ desire to learn — and the teachers’ motivation to teach — is unwavering, Deboski says: “The teachers have the same kind of desire and passion that a teacher would here in Canada. However, in seeing the lack of tools that they have… you see such a vast difference. It’s two different worlds.”

“We fully expect that in a few short years this community will have an economic base and local leadership to be fully sustainable and no longer relying on outside assistance. I consider it a privilege for my company to have a role in this.”

Deboski is particularly encouraged by the success of an initiative in which FH volunteers educate small groups of local women on matters such as nutrition, gardening, sanitation and health. Those women then share their knowledge with other families in the community.

The result has been the improved ability among local women to take care of themselves and their families. That progression has been rewarding to watch; Deboski also admires the generosity of the people of Mufumya. Each time visitors arrive, the community welcomes them with open arms. Says Deboski: "They're overwhelmingly hospitable. They're very generous with the meagre things they have."

- - - - -

Deboski carries these lessons back into his day-to-day life each time he returns from Mufumya. For him, everyday life involves advising business owners and professionals regarding life insurance and advanced financial planning needs. (He kicked off his career in the insurance industry in the mid-1980s as a career agent with Equitable Life Insurance Co. of Canada, then launched his own company five years later.)

Beyond Deboski's involvement with FH, his life outside of work largely revolves around his family; he and his wife of 40 years have three grown children and seven grandchildren.
For more on the work in Burundi, click here.



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Food for the Hungry: FH Volunteer Can't Keep Away From Change In Burundi
FH Volunteer Can't Keep Away From Change In Burundi
Food for the Hungry
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