Losing Everything: The Market Fire in Burundi

On Sunday, an inferno overtook Bujumbura’s Central Market—the economic heart of Burundi.

In talking to staff and friends in Burundi, we know that although this fire will cause a major economic disruption, it is personally devastating for families who lost everything and had no safety net or insurance to soften their fall.

Over 100 clients of our partner Turame lost their businesses and their livelihoods as market vendors. 85 percent of our clients are women who rely on this business to provide for their families.

Ndayisenga Diane, a 25 year-old orphan, held a shop at the Central Market to be able to support her brothers and sisters. She built her shop with training and capital provided by HOPE’s partner Turame and said, “Since Sunday, I am unable to sleep at night; I wonder how I am going to live and support my brothers and sisters; this store was our only source of income and thanks to it, I could pay the tuition for my little brothers, the rent and put food on the table. We could make ends meet, but now that’s all gone up in smoke. It’s as if the sky fell on my head. I prayed, begged God to help us, but I couldn’t see how; I was overwhelmed, but I knew that God is always listening to his children.”

My heart goes out to Diane, and I’m reminded how:

  • Individuals in poverty suffer most during crises. Though everyone is affected by natural disasters or catastrophes, those in poverty have the least ability to cope with sudden loss. Only 5 percent of shopkeepers in the destroyed market had insurance. Very few had a safe place to store their savings—and many had their life savings go up in flames. Imagine all you’d spent your life building disappearing in one day.
  • Lack of infrastructure heightens damage. In developed countries, fires are quickly contained. The local Burundi Fire Brigade was no match for the inferno. Helicopters from Rwanda arrived to help put out the fire, but it was too late. The fire raged without anyone able to fight against it and completely destroyed thousands of businesses.
  • Looting exacerbated by absence of a stable government. Burundi is ranked as the most corrupt country in East Africa. During the fire, journalists on Twitter reported that policemen were looting the Central Market. Lacking the government’s protection, individuals are more vulnerable to theft and abuse.

It is in times of loss and pain that the beauty of the Church should be most visible. For centuries, people have followed the example of Jesus and responded with full-force love and compassion. You don’t forget those who stood by you during your most significant losses.

We are actively reaching out to individuals in Bujumbura, providing loans for them to jump-start their businesses and giving them a safe place to come together as a community, to pray, and to begin anew.

We ask for your prayers as we eagerly help families get back on their feet and see hope rising again.

The preceding blog was reposted from www.peterkgreer.com.

If you’re interested in giving to HOPE and our local partners as we help clients begin the rebuilding process, please visit HOPE’s donation page and designate your gift to “Burundi.”

Peter Greer

Peter Greer

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Peter Greer serves as president and CEO of HOPE International. Prior to joining HOPE, Peter worked internationally as a microfinance adviser in Cambodia and Zimbabwe as well as the managing director of Urwego Community Bank in Rwanda. He is a graduate of Messiah College and received a master’s in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School. Peter has co-authored over 10 books, including Mission Drift (2014), Created to Flourish (2016), and Rooting for Rivals (2018). More important than his occupation is his role as husband to Laurel and dad to Keith, Liliana, and Myles. For more information, visit www.peterkgreer.com.

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