I’m a gift giver. I know this about myself. It’s my mother’s primary love language and I learned it from her. It was how I showed her love and it is how I like to show others love. It is also why Valentine’s Day is such a difficult time for me. The purity of the concept of showing people you love them by giving them gifts has been sullied by the corporate greed and capitalistic culture that surrounds us. They have adulterated my love language and tarnished it. They’ve stripped it of all integrity and re-clothed it in made-for-tv packaging that smacks of greed and materialism. It really bothers me. I mean, I’m still going to buy my wife, daughter and mother gifts for Valentines Day, but it does bother me. It makes me wonder if the gift is cheapened somehow – do the stores really care why I am buying the gift, and does it matter if they don’t? To be fair, I don’t usually take the time to wonder why stores are selling what they sell. I figure they are simply stocking shelves with the stuff people buy.
But what if there were more to it than that? What if I started thinking about the shop owners and what they were doing and why they are doing it? It’s funny that I don’t do that here in Canada, because we think about that all the time where we have projects. Our microfinance projects often provide the start-up capital for women to open shops in village markets. What they sell is important – and they do want to sell items that people want to buy. But even more important is why they sell. They sell to provide income for their families, to give their children a chance to go to school, to make sure that every member of the family is able to eat every day. That is what the marketplace is all about for them.
That’s why it was so horrifying for us when we got word that the main marketplace in Bujumbura, Burundi burned last week. We partner with the TURAME microfiance project in Bujumbura and amongst the people we are helping there are more than 100 microfinaced vendors operating in Bujumbura central market and almost 80 percent of these are widows.
As you can see, this is a big market – there are an estimated 5000 vendors selling everything from food to clothes to electronics – and this was a huge fire. For these vendors and their households, this is a DEVASTATING loss. They desperately need our prayers now and in the days and weeks to come.
By the time the fire subsided, the vast covered market, once the economic heart of Burundi, was reduced to rubble. Around 10 people died attempting to retrieve merchandise from their stalls, and thousands of vendors and merchants have lost everything they owned: their property, assets, and livelihoods that took years to build in a fragile economy.
World Relief Canada is responding to the urgent needs of these vendors and families through its microfinance bank, TURAME, which for a number of years now engaged with them in building their business. World Relief Canada and our partners will assist vendors to rebuild their businesses and re-establish their livelihoods.
The Director of Operations of TURAME, Jean Marie Musangwa immediately reassured our clients by telling them not to be discouraged, that we will do everything in our power to help them recover and restart their activities.
The response of one client in particular summed up the feelings of the people there.
Diane Ndayisenga is a 25 year-old orphan. She owned a shop at the central market of Bujumbura so she could support her younger brothers and sisters. For her, the loss was overwhelming. She said:
Since Sunday, I am unable to sleep at night; I wonder how I am going to live and support my brothers and sisters; this store was our only source of income. Thanks to it, I could pay the tuition for my little brothers, I could pay the rent for us to have a home and I could put food on the table. Because of the microfinance loans of Turame, and the people of Canada, we could make ends meet, but now that's all gone up in smoke. It’s as if the sky fell on my head.
I prayed, begged God to help us, but I couldn’t see how; I was overwhelmed, but I knew that God is always listening to his children and through TURAME, an answer was given to me. Today, I give thanks to God for this wonderful news, I pray that God will continue to help us and to hear our prayers and I bless TURAME and the people of Canada for their spirit of helping the victims of disasters – like us.
Times like this are an important reminder to me about the realities of life around the world. Being bothered by too much red and too many cupids seems trite in the light of this tragedy. But maybe I will be a little more thoughtful about how I see the folks in the shops I go into. They are people too, and they are there because they need that paycheck – just like the widows and orphans who need the income from the marketplace in Burundi.
My love language is gift giving, and this Valentines Day, I think my gift will be something other than chocolate hearts. This year I’m giving my whole heart. I’m giving the gift of love to Diane Ndayisenga and so many others who need a little extra. You are welcome to join me
. For me, it means more than anything Hallmark can create.
Happy Valentines Day and may you and your family know love – whatever your love language is.
Eric Frans, CFRE
Director of Philanthropy