As Americans prepared to celebrate the most patriotic of their holidays on July Fourth, Carnegie Corporation of New York paid tribute to the role immigrants play in strengthening America’s democratic society.
Since 2006, each year the philanthropic foundation has recognized the contributions of naturalized citizens with its “Great Immigrants: The Pride of America” initiative. For 2016, the Corporation named 42 honorees, who represent some 30 different countries of origin, a wide range of personal immigration stories, and inspiring professional accomplishments. Among the honorees this year is ALN Member Deogratias Niyizonkiza, Founder and CEO of Village Health Works in Burundi.
An American citizen, Deo was born in rural Burundi, where he attended grade school and part of medical school. He left the country during the catastrophic war that lasted more than a decade and took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Deo survived not only this man-made tragedy and poverty, but also homelessness in New York City.
In 2005, guided by his unwavering conviction that humanity’s progress should be measured by how we honor the dignity of others – including those a world away – Deo traveled back to Burundi. There, in the remote village of Kigutu, he established Village Health Works, with the goal of removing barriers to dignity and progress by creating a model healthcare system.
Deo’s passion rallied the community of Kigutu into action. Thanks to community-donated land, a small amount of seed money from fellow American students and supporters, a community of compassionate volunteers, and Deo’s leadership, the health center opened in December 2007. Deo’s success in building a community-driven health and development organization is unprecedented, and makes Village Health Works unique among NGOs.
Congratulations, Deo, from the entire ALN community! You’re not only the pride of America, but also the pride of Africa.