Want to cast your vote for health care? Then mark your calendar for Thursday, May 6, and plan to attend Jazzical, a fundraiser where you can enjoy wonderful music while helping to bring medical care to one of the most impoverished areas in the world, Burundi. Village Health Works was founded by Deogratias Niyizonkiza, who fled the violence in his native land, arriving in New York with only $200 in his pocket. Offered a helping hand by various New Yorkers, Deo was able to graduate from Columbia University and continue the medical studies he had begun in Burundi. Since VHW’s clinic in Kigutu opened in December, 2007, more than 28,000 patients have been treated. Monies raised during this event will help the clinic continue its services.
Deo’s story, told in riveting narrative in Tracy Kidder’s bestseller, Strength in What Remains, resonates with New Yorkers who recognize many of the places and people in the book. After arriving in Manhattan, Deo got a job in a food store. One day, delivering groceries to the Church of St. Thomas More on East 89th Street, he met a former nun, Sharon McKenna, who would change his life. (Read her story). Sharon helped find a place for Deo to live (he had been sleeping in Central Park) and his new benefactors, Nancy and Charlie Wolf, paid Deo’s tuition. Along the way, there were many other people in Africa and the U.S. that helped Deo, including Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, an international charity organization, who now sits on VHW’s board.
Jazzical, sponsored by Paula Caravelli,one-half of the talented design team behind Paula +Martha LLC, will bring together many of the people who have played a role in VHW, including Kidder who will introduce the publicity-shy Deo. Chris Gillespie, the talented pianist and singer who appears regularly at the Carlyle Hotel, will bring his unique blend of jazz and classical music to the benefit. Other entertainers will include Broadway singer Kate Fisher and Alexis and Crista of the Kende Trio. The setting, the beautiful DiCapo Opera House on the Upper East Side, will be the perfect venue for the evening’s festivities.
While the organizers are planning an enjoyable evening for the attendees, uppermost in everyone’s mind will be helping Village Health Works achieve its goals. Besides delivering health care, the clinic aims to address the underlying causes of illness and disease. These goals include access to free, clean water, a decent place to sleep, and mental help services that can help Burundians, still recovering from 12 years of violent civil war, adapt. In addition to primary health care, the clinic also focuses on nutrition, wellness programs for both women and children, and preventive measures to combat malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS.
For more information and to buy tickets to the May 6 event, please go to www.villagehealthworks.org/jazzical