Water, air, food, shelter, clothing. These are basic needs all humans have. Austin-based Gazelle Foundation has a singular goal: provide clean water to people in Burundi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Our city’s link to Burundi is a remarkable survivor, and proponent of joy and helping others, Gilbert Tuhabonye.
An Inspired Life
Gilbert Tuhabonye has survived horrors most of us cannot imagine. As a young child, he escaped a brutal attack by Hutu tribesman at his school, where the marauders beat the Tutsi children with machetes and set them on fire. Tuhabonye managed to escape through a window and literally run to freedom, despite being on fire. Today he exudes hope, and practices forgiveness and faith. He now works to save his people through Gazelle Foundation.
Tuhabonye came to the U.S.A. when he was already a nationally recognized runner in Burundi. He quickly made his mark on the running world here, earning the title of national champion during his time at Abilene Christian University. In an effort to help others transform their own lives through running, he founded Gilbert’s Gazelles, a training and coaching program. He is also the running coach at St. Andrew’s Episcopal High School in Austin, and a motivational speaker.
However, it was through Gilbert’s Gazelles that Tuhabonye met a group of runners who were motivated by his stories of Burundi. The group wanted to help. So they put their heads together and decided that water, one of humankind’s essential needs, was the best way to aid Tuhabonye’s countrymen back in Burundi. Thus, in 2006, Gazelle Foundation—a 501(c)(3) charity—was born.
Tuhabonye provides an instant connection to Burundi, but the country itself offers a compelling case. Burundi has an obvious, immediate need, with more than 80 percent of the population living in extreme poverty (per 2016 World Atlas.com statistics). Water-borne illness is one of the leading causes of mortality in the region, and Burundi is no exception. Most deaths are among children under the age of five.
Burundi shares borders with Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania. Access to water has always been difficult and often unsafe, due to political instability, war, and tribal conflicts. By providing safe and clean access to water, Gazelle Foundation is saving lives and providing real hope for the future. Because of Gazelle Foundation, more than 70,000 people in Burundi now have safe access to clean water.
How Does Gazelle Foundation Work?
Gazelle Foundation raises funds here in Austin and sends the money to a project team in Burundi. Kippi Griffith, Executive Director of Gazelle Foundation, explains the process. After visibility studies are done in a prospective community, the local project manager begins by hiring a local team of 100-110 builders (providing jobs for the community). A pipeline carrying gravity-fed, clean water is built to fill collection tanks at the end of the of the line. For each project, there are between 4-16 tap stands, like faucets, where villagers can fill their water jugs.
In the past, the best case scenario meant villagers (mostly women and children) traveling three to four hours for water—which was usually contaminated. Today, water routes are built across tribal lines, with tap stands every 400 meters along the route. The foundation’s completed projects in Burundi have changed the average trek for water from four miles to 400 meters.
This clean water, and the relative ease of reaching it, begins a trajectory to improve all other aspects of life in Burundi. People are healthier. Children, freed of the burden of spending hours per day trekking to fetch water, are beginning to show up to school. Women are working to build their communities. Villagers are building homes, investing in livestock. The ripple effects for good are dramatic and visible.
How Can You Help?
Gazelle Foundation always welcomes volunteers! Volunteer opportunities include:
- Event planning
- Community outreach
- Ambassador programs
- Corporate giving
The foundation’s big annual events are Spring for the Water and Run for the Water. Spring for the Water is a springtime evening event complete with cocktails, appetizers, entertainment, and a dedicated give drive. Spring for the Water 2017 will take place May 4, at 7 p.m. at Rock Rose Hall (11420 Rock Rose #100B).
Run for the Water is one of the largest road races in Austin. Each fall, runners can participate in a 10M, 5K, Kid’s-K, or Global Run. The Kids-K sounds the most fun, especially if Tuhabonye is leading the pack. Executive Director Griffith tells the story of one year when Tuhabonye led the kids on a winding, bouncing route that the children took with glee. Griffith emphasizes that the registration fee for ONE runner provides clean water to one person in Burundi for a lifetime. That can’t be beat.
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