World Relief Burundi Mission Update: Words, Pills, and Paint: Two Women Bless Their Neighbors

World Relief Burundi Mission Update: Words, Pills, and Paint: Two Women Bless Their Neighbors

written by Dawn Duncan Harrell

sylvan world relief burundi missions


“Amagarameza,” Sylvane greets us when we visit.

“A-ma-gar-a- . . .” we bumble in response. Sylvane stifles a smile and diverts her eyes.

Our translator waves us off. “No, no. You can’t say only that! Amagara is ‘the engine of the man.’”

Bob Thomas shouts his laugh. This frees our hosts to grin at us.

We try again. “AmagaraMEZa!”

“Amagarameza,” our translator explains, “means ‘good force’ or ‘good health.’”


Good health is Sylvane’s work. She began as the neighborhood volunteer with a World Relief Care Group seven years ago. This year, Sylvane’s WR Promoter turned her supervision over to the government’s health care system. In her new role as a volunteer Community Health Care Worker, Sylvane provides basic triage and treatment of malaria, diarrhea, and pneumonia for her own hill as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.

A 30- to 45-minute walk to the nearest clinic often deters proper and timely intervention, especially when a child is sick in the middle of the night. Her neighbor cannot stop telling us what a blessing it’s been to have Sylvane’s help right next door.

During our visit, a woman arrives with her sick baby. Sylvane checks the girl for malaria, using a rapid diagnostic test in her UNICEF box, but the test is negative. She sends them to the clinic for other tests and treatment. When her neighbor returns, Sylvane will help the mother follow the clinician’s directions.

Sylvane is the figure of our partnership with World Relief. Minutes after we met, Bob leaned over and showed us the iPhone picture of her that he’d snapped. “There. That is what we’re doing here. It’s all in her face.”

When he saw June Steckler’s portrait of Sylvane, he repeated his assertion: “Powerful, beautiful, generous, talented, caring, calm, quiet and speaks so loudly with her actions.” All of this shines in June’s painting.

You can see “Sylvane” and 18 other portraits and abstracts in June’s Kira! exhibit, hanging in our Commons Gallery this month.

Sylvane is the figure of our partnership with World Relief.

“I am grateful to have had the opportunity to paint a handful of portraits and images of individuals and scenes from Burundi,” June writes in her artist statement. “I became aware of the work that Colonial Church and World Relief are doing in Burundi through my long-time friend Dawn Harrell. I asked Dawn if my skills might provide a means to further the Burundi efforts and she and the team took it from there, providing me with a collection of inspiring photographs shot by Kristin Geer.

“As a Christian, I bear a debt of love to those in the world around me who face grave circumstances and dire realities. I am humbled to do something—anything—that might afford my neighbors in Burundi greater opportunities to know more of what life offers, the potential they each have, and who their Creator is. The beauty of the Burundi people, as well as their acute needs, was the inspiration for the pieces in this series.”

Kira! means “Bless you” in Kirundi, the language of Burundi. “To bless is to make (something or someone) holy by saying a special prayer; to ask God to care for and protect; to provide (a person or place) with something good or desirable.”

June is donating all the proceeds from sales of the pieces in the Kira! series to our partnership with World Relief Burundi. Amagarameza in deed.

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