Reading Together Blog

A Thank You Letter from Deo




June 9, 2011

Dear Friends of Kalamazoo,

It is from the bottom of my heart that I relay my thanks to Kalamazoo Public Library and the Kalamazoo Center for Social Justice for helping to coordinate Kalamazoo’s recent reading of “Strength in What Remains.” The invitation you sent us to hear about Village Health Works in Burundi and the warm welcome you offered us last month made us feel at home.

It is critical that communities around the world come together to support those that have been forgotten. This, I believe, is how we can measure world progress. From Kigutu to Kalamazoo, we all have a role to play in making the world a place of peace, health and hope. This is why we created Village Health Works. Our Village Health Works (VHW) project in rural Burundi is many years overdue and is in the perfect place for everyone who truly wants to make a difference in the world. When I think of the unspeakable misery in that country so badly forgotten and still off the map, I always wonder: what have the poor Burundians done wrong to deserve such kind of punishment? But that misery also can be looked at in another way: as a test of morality for those who sit idly by watching what happens and choosing to do nothing about it.

In the 21st century, letting some of our world citizens lag centuries behind is a serious challenge to social justice and a threat to human progress as well as global peace.

Although there is no shortage of woes in Burundi, there is no shortage of opportunities either. There is always a reason for keeping hope alive when I look at how VHW has brought so much joy and hope to the lives of our community members in such a short time and despite the meager resources and other challenges we have faced.

The mission of Village Health Works is to become a center of excellence for healing and teaching for our world so that existing conditions that have dehumanized Burundi for so long can shift into ones that favor life. There is no question in my head that this mission will be fully accomplished. All it takes is a community of compassionate people who, arms linked, get together to understand the world as it truly is.

When one does good after seeing with an open heart and mind what we eyewitness and deal with on a daily basis in Burundi, it is a humane act, more about what makes us all human than being generous.

You have dearly recognized that fact, and I trust that the event you organized in May 2011 to hear more about our work was the first step in an important collaboration between your Kalamazoo community and our growing organization. So, whatever you do, keep us in mind and let's make a difference together.

With many thanks,

Deogratias Niyizonkiza, Founder, Village Health Works.

P.S. Please continue to follow our work by visiting us at


PO Box 75 New York, NY 10013 | 917.546.9219 |

Download Deo’s original letter PDF


Village Health Works
Reading Together Steering Committee

By the Numbers...

Although there is still one more Reading Together related event in 2011, I wanted to report out on the success of the program. Check out these numbers!

• Over 1,700 copies of the book and audiobook circulated

• Over 800 readers attended the Tracy Kidder program on March 10 at Chenery Auditorium

1,063 patrons attended one of the 13 events with an average of 82 at each event!

The above numbers show that over 3,500 individuals either read Strength in What Remains, attended an event or both. So if you average this number over the six weeks we celebrated Kidder’s novel, over 580 a week participated in Reading Together! This does not even include the many community book clubs and partnering libraries who hosted events.

I would like to thank the Steering Committee, Community Partners, and Sponsors for making it another great year.


Strength in What Remains
Kevin King

Kidder kicks off Reading Together with a challenging message.

Over 800 fans of Reading Together and this year’s selection, Strength in What Remains, packed the Chenery Auditorium on March 10 to hear the author Tracy Kidder speak. This year the annual author visit signaled the kick off to KPL’s community reading program. Kidder spoke eloquently of not only his relationship with the book’s subject, Deogratias ‘Deo’ Niyizonkiza, but also the mythic journey of hope and forgiveness that Deo experienced. The presentation touched upon other timely topics in relation to world health, poverty, and what society can do to make change happen. In addition to speaking, Kidder shared a variety of photos that showed both the beauty of Burundi and the many residents whose lives have changed from proper medical care.

Many attendees commented on the way out that thought Kidder was “fabulous” and that his words really inspired them. I know that I heard Kidder’s challenge to work towards asking our leaders make world health an important issue to tackle. If you attended the event, we thank you for participating and hope that it enhanced your reading of Strength in What Remains. There are still many more great events in the coming weeks that will further your enjoyment of the book.


Tracy Kidder
Kevin King

God, Suffering, Sharon, and other theories

Why would God allow human suffering? This is just one of the questions that Strength in What Remains tries to answer.

The author set's the stage for what he considers unacceptable theories (he mentioned this at his talk): "One of the things I've noticed about some of the genocide narratives I've read, people will say, 'God spared me.' The problem I have with that is then you think, 'Well, what about all the people who got their heads chopped off?...So I'm not quite sure that's the way to look at it" (p. 177).

Deo says that human suffering is caused by God letting people do what they want, a sort of Deistic approach; God created human nature and said "you're on your own." (can you find that passage?) It struck me as almost sad, slightly sarcastic and comedic, perhaps due to the desensitization Deo went through.

Sharon, more optimistic, says: "I have a theory," she replied. "I remember thinking long ago, 'We're loved infinitely for however little bit of time we have.' And it's not ultimately tragic to die at any age. Whether we're talking about being blown into little pieces or waht is ultimate tragedy, I just think there isn't ultimate tragedy except for evil, and God doesn't will any evil. And we're surrounded by--I tell the little kids about the Good Shepherd...but the vine and the branches is great, too--but whether we feel it or not, we are surrounded by this tremendously loving presence, and that covers every second of every day. Of everybody" (p. 177).

Sharon's theory, I think, is one of the most unique theories I have come across.

For further reading, other theories (called "theodicies") include: (a) Free will is the greatest gift, which allows for evil and suffering, (b) suffering is God's way of making us stronger, (c) God cannot stop evil and suffering, (d) evil and suffering do not actually exist, (e) for good to exist, its opposite evil must exist. To find them in our catalog, do a subject search for theodicy, or suffering, or good and evil.


philosophy of religion

Appreciating Kidder

About fifty dedicated readers braved the cold to attend the first Reading Together program of 2011, “Appreciating Kidder”.

Bill Combs, WMU professor emeritus of English, examined all nine of Kidder’s books with particular emphasis on Strength in What Remains. He described them as narrative nonfiction - a true story written in a style more closely associated with fiction with plot structure and character development to make the story as compelling as possible. That’s a good description of Kidder’s style.

I’m just about through rereading Strength in What Remains. I don’t often reread books, but I want to be ready for all the programs and events and have the book clearly in mind. I’m now inspired to read as many of his other books as possible before his visit here on March 10.

Reading Together 2011 is off to a strong start!


Photo: Kevin King


Reading Together 2011


“Powerful story that touches your heart, mind and soul.”

“Powerful and inspiring.”

“Powerful, well written.”

“So much in it. Powerful on many levels.”


These are five reader responses to Strength in What Remains. As I read through the first couple dozen surveys, I couldn't help but notice that “powerful” was the most frequent word used to describe the book.

A powerful book has great effect. The story or the way it’s told may cause us to remember it for a long time. It may create awareness, challenge assumptions increase knowledge, or strengthen conviction. And it may prick any number of human emotions. The responses to a powerful book are as unique as we are.

What makes a book powerful to you?


Tracy Kidder

It Has to Be True

At one time or another, we’ve all heard stories so amazing they make us say, “It has to be true. You can’t make that up.”

Some events and situations simply exceed our imagination because they fall outside what we have come to consider everyday possibilities.

Strength in What Remains is such a story. It is a biography that, at times, reads with the breathless pace of an adventure novel. At other times, the book causes us to reflect, not only on the conditions of Deogratias’ life and the people encountered in his remarkable journey, but on how we might respond in similar situations.

And we have Tracy Kidder to thank for that. In the hands of another writer, this true story might not be as believable, or even as bearable to read. It might have been preachy or maudlin or sentimental. It’s none of those things. In Kidder’s hands, Deo’s story inspires us.

In the months since Strength in What Remains was selected for Reading Together’s 2011 season, our committee of volunteers has been crafting a schedule of events to complement the book.  Coming soon will be a complete list of discussions and programs taking place from February to May. Mark your calendar for March 10 – that’s when author Tracy Kidder will visit Kalamazoo.

In the meantime, pick up your copy at a bookstore or library. Tell us what you think about the book by completing an online survey.


Strength in What Remains