All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

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Happy reading!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder

Strength in What Remains is the true story of Deogratias, or Deo for short, an immigrant from Burundi, Africa. Burundi, which is south of Rwanda in East Africa, was historically subject to bouts of genocide as power shifted between the cultural divides of Hutus and Tutsis. Deo fled to New York City with $200 in cash and the ruse of being in the coffee business. In fact, Deo was a medical student when violence erupted, his commitment to improving the health of his community stalled. His story, which is told in the first part of Strength in What Remains, recounts his start as a grocery delivery man in New York, for which he earned $15 per day, hardly enough for subsistence. He gave up his square on the floor of an abandoned tenement building when it became too dangerous and started spending his nights in Central Park.

Silenced by his lack of English skills, illness, and trauma from the horrors he witnessed, Deo struggled to face his abrupt change in direction and deal with the losses of family and community. Eventually, he was able to unravel some of his story--his escape from medical school and the brutal murders he witnessed as he made a desperate attempt to reach the border of Rwanda--and he gradually made friends who were able to offer him assistance and shelter.

In the second part of the book, the author explains the history of the conflict in Burundi and what factors contributed to the slaughters that plagued the country for many years. Finally, in the third part of the book, Kidder narrates his visit to Burundi with Deo, who takes him on a tour of the important places in his life--his hometown, the schools he attended, many memorials to the dead, the town where his mother and father were able to start a new life, and the site of the health facility Deo was determined to build.

Deo's courage, naivete, perseverance, and ability to engage others in his dream, helped him recruit those who understood the connection between health of the people and health of the country, education, and their ability to resolve tribal, ethnic and cultural issues. Deo's project, Village Health Works, is now a fully functioning health clinic for Kigutu and surrounding communities, and he has returned to his medical training while serving as Vice President of the organization. The Village Health Works website states that their programs recognize that "the relationship between socio-economic status and health is obvious to members of poor communities who, in their daily lives, witness the link between ill health and lack of food, shelter and clean water. VHW works to simultaneously address the social determinants of ill health and provide quality, compassionate health care."

There are many lessons from Deo's powerful story--how one person can be driven to help thousands despite spirit-breaking and immovable roadblocks; how responding to a need may give another person the foothold from which to reach great heights; how people who work together can help themselves and multiply the benefit. It's an inspiring story.

More information about the Village Health Works project can be found at

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