“You are now getting to taste an appetizer of porridge similar to the recipe served daily to 448 malnourished little children in Burundi, Africa,” Connie Green announced to 50 guests at a benefit dinner at the Boone Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in early September. The porridge contains maize, groundnuts, soya, sorghum and ginger.

The tots are participants in Dreaming for Change, a brand new program in the village of Butanuka, spearheaded by young Burundian visionary Janvier Manirahiza.

The children's moms are excited and grateful that their kids, who have been suffering from lack of food, are now plumping up. Jacqueline, a mother of six, says, “The results are really beautiful. It's been a great success.”

And Cecile speaks of her miracle child, Ornella, 8: “She used to look almost elderly. Her body was extremely thin and skeletal. Now she is walking.”

The High Country can almost claim Janvier as our own. In 2017 he was chosen for the Nelson Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, spending six weeks at Appalachian State.

While he was in Boone, Janvier began dreaming of starting a project in Burundi. His father had warned him not to begin anything there because of local unrest, but soon he had initiated the porridge program, plus a microbusiness training component for 84 Burundian women, funded by the U.S. State Department.

Right now $500 a week feeds the 448 kids. So far the money has come from a GoFundMe account, the dinner proceeds, sales of Burundian coffee provided by Boone's own Hatchet Coffee Roasters, and partnership with the World Food Program. Volunteers are also applying for grants.

The mother-daughter duo of Connie Green and Gael Wood is a class act, for sure. Meeting Janvier and hearing of his plans, they were bitten by the Dreaming for Change bug. The dinner party they threw featured Gael's delicious Burundian meal and Connie's informative, exciting presentation.

“Dreaming for Change,” Connie muses, “is a well-thought-out program with long-term solutions. I want to see it grow and reach its goals.”

Connie, a recently retired professor of early childhood education and reading at ASU, says, “My dream is to go to Burundi in the near future to start a small preschool program that can be used as a model for an expanded early childhood program.”

“I'm really excited about it,” she enthuses. “Right now the kids are just there eating porridge. The moms don't know what to do to stimulate them. I will adapt the program for cultural appropriateness, which I will learn from observing the children at the feeding center, talking with parents and visiting schools.”

The children, Connie says, will learn basic sanitation, simple songs with movements and hands-on activities to build fine motor skills. They will develop vocabulary through games and stories. She will train 40 prospective Burundian teachers, some of whom will be University of Burundi students.

Gael says, “I think my background in marketing will help spread the word about Dreaming for Change. I'm working on reaching people who we think would sympathize with the situations of the children and the mothers, and want to learn more, and donate.” She adds, “I've always loved big projects and challenges. I was looking for a project where I could give back.”

“Working with Gael has shown me how alike we are in our hearts,” Connie claims. “It has brought me great joy to work with my daughter for such an important cause.”

Gael, for her part, adds, “I'm enjoying working with my mom, as we bring different skills to our project. My husband and kids have also been involved, and that has been wonderful, as well.”

Dreaming for Change's additional plans for the near future include teaching computer skills, providing youth vocational training, and donating school supplies for older children. Partnering with the World Food Program will teach agricultural skills and furnish tools and seeds for family farms and gardens.

Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. $1.90 a day is the average family income. Ninety percent of adults are farmers, tea and coffee being important crops. The average woman gives birth to 6.5 children, 29 percent of girls giving birth before age 19. Six percent of children die before age 5. Half of the children are malnourished.

Burundi is located in the Great Lakes region of East Africa, on Lake Tanganyika, adjoining Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. Its population consists of Huti, Tutsi and Twa peoples. The Rwandan genocide of 1995 also affected the people of Burundi.

Not to let grass grow under their feet, Connie and Gael are off again on a clear Boone football Saturday morning in October, this time to set up a muffin-and-Burundian-coffee stand on King Street. You guessed it: another Dreaming for Change porridge benefit project!

Writes poetry and essays about nature, spirituality, writing, and travel. She has a little cabin in the mountains. degreesoffreedom@frontier.com

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