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‘You cannot do this work without love’

Emmanuel Ntakirutimana (43) has a big heart for the people of his country Burundi. With ZOA, he worked day and night to alleviate their suffering. His secret? "Love. You cannot do this work without love for other people.”

Emmanuel from Burundi:

‘I try to bring people together’

He dances and jumps with the children in the village, but moments later he is in a very serious conversation with a farmer who experiences climate problems. Emmanuel Ntakirutimana (43) easily gets along with young and old. A conversation about his work for ZOA.

Emmanuel, you are coordinator of several ZOA projects in Burundi, including the PIP project in Chibitoke. Why ZOA?

"Burundians have experienced multiple crises and they need people who can give them hope. Who can listen and talk to them, help them with what they need. I discovered that ZOA is an organisation that can do that. Moreover, ZOA's Christian vision matches my outlook on life. So I joined ZOA in 2015."

What do the people in Burundi need?

"Change and development, so they can escape from their poverty. They also long to live together in peace. They need people around them who want to accompany them on the journey to peace. There were many conflicts in Burundi. Many of their loved ones died and some have lost hope to live on."

Did you experience the war yourself?

"Yes, when I was in the last grade of elementary school, the civil war in Burundi (1993-2005) broke out, between ethnic groups. My friends were killed and I myself was chased because I belonged to a certain ethnic group. But by the grace of God, I stayed alive. My world was turned upside down, though. It was a difficult time. After that, I wanted to contribute to peace, to help solve problems."

You could also have chosen violence, but you didn't.

"My mother was Catholic and I went to a Protestant elementary school in Burundi. There the gospel was told. I also read the Bible and saw that Jesus helped people in need. He was my example and invited me: "Come, and I will make you a disciple, a peacemaker," as it also says in Matthew 5. That faith grew and He is still my favourite role model. I want to be like Him and try to bring people together. For me, inner peace is also important. With inner peace, you can't ignore others suffering or fight others without knowing why. Of course, you can't trust people one hundred percent and we have a long way to go towards peace. But step by step we will get there, together with Him."


There is much suffering in your country: unprocessed trauma from war, poverty, poor access to medical care, clean drinking water or food. That must hurt you.

"Yes, I feel in my heart a lot of sadness. But I try to turn my sadness into something positive. It's in my nature to help, to do something about problems and poverty. That started when I was about eighteen years old. I came across a 4-year-old child. He was living on the streets. I didn't have much money, but I thought: I can share my food with him and take him into our home. We (my mother and I) sent him to school and now he is studying at university. I'm proud of him."

How do you keep hope?

"Firstly, I believe in a God who gives hope. Secondly, I believe in the strength of people around you: your family, neighbours, community. They can be comforting and provide security. I have had that experience myself. My first wife died of breast cancer and with our three daughters, now aged 17, 14 and 9, we had to carry on. We are always there for each other, which is healing. I have since married again, to Emily. For this new happiness, I am grateful."


You also love your country. What are you proud of?

"The hospitality of the Burundians. Although they are poor, they do see another person. And they laugh a lot, I love that."

What gives you strength to keep going?

"God gives me the strength to do this work. I also get inspired by other people I see helping. That gives me hope. That is my dream for Burundi, to be a country where loving people help each other. This is also how I am in life: I want to be a blessing to others. And fortunately I get great feedback, from teenagers for example. They say, "We want to be like you. Then I say, 'Try to do better than me.'"


When do you find that difficult?

"When I'm tired and disappointed, because people react differently to good things. Then - like Moses - I can get angry. We have a beautiful country, why would you want to destroy it? Then I say, 'You're doing well, don't ruin it. There is hope.' Or I say, for example, 'You helped yourself, why not help others?' I then even wonder if I should continue to do this work. But then I remind myself to be patient. I remind myself that God is with me and that He gives me strength even when I feel weak. He wants to use me and is with me, to keep going and to love people."

What is your secret to empowering people?

"My secret is love. I can do work or give something without love, but that's not going to work. They want to move forward in their lives through ZOA's projects, but they also like having someone who cares and comforts them. I hope we can be there as ZOA for a very long time."

Would you like to work for ZOA too? Check out opportunities here