How can it be that I have fallen in love with a land mass? And let alone one that is set between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda? It's a 15 hour plane trip, six hour car ride and two hours by boat from New York City. I have Dr. Jacques Sebisaho to thank for making me so smitten with this place. And let's just set the record straight, while it is a good opener for this article, it is not only the island itself that I am in love with, but the people and what can be accomplished there that really make my heart-aflutter.
Just about a year ago, my life changed. I met a man who was the father of my son's best friend and what I thought was just an innocent cup of coffee with another dad, began my love affair with island of Idjwi.
Here is a place that not only had I never heard of before, but could barely pronounce and had no idea where it was. But what I learned in the next 45 minutes sitting with Jacques would forever educate me about this not-so little island (approximately five times the size of Manhattan). Now, I know exactly how to pronounce Idjwi and more so, I am now educated about the trials and tribulations of a people living so alone on an island in the middle of Lake Kevu.
I left that meeting a different man. Much like one would leave a meal after a first date with a perma-smile on their face, knowing that they had just met the man or woman of their dreams. As I walked out of that coffee shop, I just couldn't help but think about the things I take for granted, or what my kids take for granted, or what all of us take for granted every single day that many people will never have the chance to do in their lifetime. These people on this island, at one point not too long ago Jacques was one of them, have nothing. Literally. When I first met Jacques there was no running water, no electricity, no internet and people barely have shoes, let alone the proper clothes. This is all part of the reason why Jacques has started to provide health care to these people traveling back and forth with his wife, Mimy. With duffle bags full of medicine they set up shop and divide the people into two categories: painkiller or antibiotic. A lot has changed in the past eight years and all of that has to do with a man that can make someone love the phone book, just by his genuine and sincere innate desire to help others. Jacques had no reason to return to a place that he was persecuted in. He had no reason to go back and help these people once he acquired his freedom in the United States. He had no reason, except one. That many of us never think of, or even cross our minds. He had to. He owed it to these people once he saw what freedoms are out there. He had to use his new found ability to help them.
I left that coffee shop and within one month became the president of his not-for-profit organization, called Amani Global Works -- which funds all of the work that Jacques does on the island. I quickly found that I wasn't the only one with a love affair, there were others who were just as gaga over Idjwi as I was. Was I jealous? No. Actually quite the opposite. It's sort of like when you walk into a room with your wife and everyone turns their head to check her out. In the past 11 months since I met Jacques, we have set up solar energy with 80 kilowatts supplying the hospital, have full internet service so we can actually Skype with doctors there while we are here and are awaiting a complete list of medical equipment that has been donated from a closing hospital. It has completely invigorated a population of people who only a few years ago felt as though they had nothing.
Now a youth or child on Idjwi can look around and see that they too have a future. If people like us all the way in New York care enough about them to actually build a full-functioning hospital for them, then anything is possible. The hospital is of course built to improve the health on the Island, which it has miraculously done in the last few years (for the first time, there has been no cholera outbreak and people are not dying of the common cold), but it is also a symbol to all those that live there that the sky is the limit even if you live on an island in the middle of a lake. I am planning my first trip there in January and I feel as if I have fallen in love over email and letters and I am going to finally meet my love. I can't wait for the feeling of first stepping on land, seeing the people we are helping, feeding the children who would otherwise not eat and touring the hospital where people are actually staying healthy. So, I guess when I really think about it, I do love Idjwi, this land mass with 250,000 people -- but I also love the people, I love helping them and I love Jacques for introducing me to his home.