I ask Gordien why he’s here today, and he explains that Donate, the youngest of his four children, is dangerously malnourished. He carried Donate for an hour and a half, trekking along muddy hillsides, to reach the centre.
Gordien gestures towards Donate – ‘You can see for yourself, my child is sick,’ he says. And I can. I have a two-year-old at home, and she is nearly twice as big as Donate. My two-year-old is always on the go, whereas Donate lays still on her daddy’s lap the whole time we’re in the car.
‘Some days, we don’t eat at all,’ says Gordien. ‘When we have no food, we try to be patient, but it’s so hard when the children are suffering. I feel deep sorrow.’
Hunger is a massive problem in Burundi right now, with one in every six children suffering from malnutrition. Tearfund’s church partners, FECABU and the Diocese of Matana, are throwing everything into a response, running repeated eight-week feeding programmes in the most vulnerable communities. It feels like a David and Goliath kind of battle, but they’re not giving up.
Power in weakness
I ask Gordien about his family, and he tells me that his pregnant wife, Lydia, is at home sick. Gordien tells me that he came today because Donate needs food, but that it’s not the done thing for fathers here. Between them, he and the translator explain that the feeding of children and everything related to it is seen as a woman’s work. This is why you hardly ever see a dad at the feeding centre. It’s not that they don’t care, they’re just taught to step into a different role.
Gordien, however, is undeterred by cultural norms, able to see things differently. It takes a strong person to do that. ‘A child is a gift for both parents,’ he says gently. ‘This is why my wife and I are raising our children together. If one of us is unable, the other must help.’
I’m struck by Gordien’s willingness to look weak before the other men, and I’m reminded of the verse from 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”’