by Lauren Sheard, HOPE Burundi Program Manager
Last month, a new report hit the proverbial newsstands, ranking the countries of the world in order of happiness. My native United States ranked 13th, but my new adoptive home of Burundi came in dead last. Or, for the glass-half-full people, first in sadness.
How could Burundi be the saddest country in the world? Even lower than war-torn Syria? I have only lived here a couple of years, but my image of Burundi is not one particularly marked by downcast faces or depression.
It’s true: Burundi has the lowest GDP per capita in the world. It’s a place where political parties are perpetually in conflict at the expense of the general public; people have to go home at nightfall to avoid getting caught in gunfire or grenade explosions. Incredible poverty and despair is personified in beggars on every street corner in downtown Bujumbura.
I know that Burundi.
So it’s understandable that Burundi ranks low in some of the factors that make up the “happiness quotient.” I have heard from others (and observed firsthand) that Burundians can lack vision and optimism to see the potential that lies within their own country. But I have seen far more redeeming qualities in beautiful Burundi that give me hope for its future.
Burundi is where guests will overwhelm you with visits if you’re sick or in the hospital. Where groups of men or women take time to laugh together. Where people find an abundance of reasons to praise God and laugh together. Where HOPE savings group members are excited and proud to save even 50 cents a month, giving generously out of what they have.
That’s the Burundi I love.
In response to these recent happiness rankings, NPR posted an article called “What Makes People Smile in the Saddest Country in the World?” which asked Burundians what they have to be happy about. I’d like to let a few Burundians I’ve met also answer that question for themselves.
“I will help orphan children that I often meet in my area, as people did for me while I was homeless.”
“Our savings group members have an activity of helping people in poverty who don’t belong to our church, and we go and farm for them for free. It’s a kind of showing love to them.”
“My God is beyond imagination.”
“My dream is to have our own house. One night I dreamed that we were living in a beautiful house. … I am hopeful that we will build [it].”
“I see that God has blessed me. I want to put my children in private school. Maybe even university!”
“The future is bright. We are no longer beggars—we are providing for ourselves.”
So what do the “saddest people in the world” look like? They look like beautiful, hardworking people who love their tiny country and want the best for it.
Being first in sadness is not a distinction Burundi will carry for long.