With the theme of community at the center of the school year, Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness was selected as Berkshire’s inaugural All-School Read text. The subject of Kidder’s work, Deo Niyizonkiza—a Burundian genocide-survivor and founder and eventual CEO of a free medical clinic—provided the School with an inspiring story of one man’s American Journey, a story about second chances and the value of community. As a culminating event, Deo, as he quickly became known in our community, spent two days under the Mountain.
From students working to understand the biological and environmental working of infectious diseases, to reflecting on and interpreting Deo’s story, the School eagerly prepared for Deo’s arrival. And Deo’s impact on the community was immediate. A private lunch with ASR contest winners, Amir Ghani ’17, Gwynne Domashinski ’16, Tanner Tomasi ’14, and overall winner, Sarah Kinney ’15, proved inspirational not only for the students, but for Deo as well. Deo’s address to the community encouraged each of us to be proud of our individual stories and to know that we, no matter our circumstances, can find meaning through service to others. The evening panel discussion on the importance of community in developing African nations included Education Development Center curriculum developer, Beth Miller-Pittman and associate bioethics professor, Dr. Sean Philpott-Jones, and was moderated by Berkshire’s Dr. April Burch.
To end his stay, Deo visited with classes, where he discussed topics spanning from faith in spite of terrible adversity to the astonishing circumstances endured by Burundian children. He also sat down with Sarah Kinney to reflect on his time on campus and on the inspiration for Sarah’s contest-winning entry: an introspective stop-motion film based on Deo’s story. It was in the informal conversations that we felt the true impact of Deo’s time at Berkshire. As a result, students launched an ambitious year-long initiative led by the Philanthropy Society to raise funds to build a classroom for Village Health Works.
“All the women came in singing with bricks on their heads, and all the men came in working on the road from the highway to the plateau, a place that has never known a road in the history of that country. It all had to do with just one question: What can we do together?”
— Deogratias Niyizonkiza