Journey of discovery leads UD alum to Burundi health clinic
Eva Koehler addresses UD students via Skype on Sept. 27.


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10:37 a.m., Sept. 29, 2010----When Eva Koehler arrived at the University of Delaware in the fall of 2001, she began a journey of discovery that led to places far away from the Spencer, N.Y., community where she grew up.

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Koehler also used her UD experience as a bridge to help others to a better life in places that the rest of the world seems to have overlooked.

Such a place is Kigutu, Burundi, where Koehler, who graduated in 2005 with an honors degree in international relations and a double minor in economics and music, serves as a volunteer at the Village Health Works clinic.

The clinic was founded Deogratias (Deo) Niyizonkiza, a refugee who escaped from the genocide in Burundi in 1994. His journey to America and return to Africa is the inspiration for the book Strength in What Remains, by author Tracy Kidder.

Koehler first met Deo and Sarah Broom, Village Health Works executive director, while interviewing to become a Global Health Corps fellow this spring.

“I got the chance to hear them address the need for health care in Burundi,” Koehler said. “They also told how the community came together there to get the clinic and the road built.”

Since arriving at Village Health Works in August, Koehler has been inspired by the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the countryside.

“It is astoundingly beautiful and peaceful,” Koehler said. “It would be an ideal location for a meditative retreat, except for all the work that needs to be done.”

New to the clinic, Koehler is working with leadership and staff to learn about system strength and support, monitoring, evaluation, supply chain managing and community programming.

“Staff members have been walking me through their daily tasks,” Koehler said. “I'm learning about the basic challenges of operating the clinic and how to keep the work going.”

Although far from Delaware and New York, Koehler said she often has fond memories formed while a student at UD.

“My friends at UD are among the first people I email to decode life's complexities or share little triumphs,” Koehler said. “I'm optimistic that we will remain part of each other's lives.”

Koehler, who spoke from Burundi via Skype to a UD audience on Monday, Sept. 27, said she also keeps in contact with her mentors in the Honors Program and Distinguished Scholars Program.

“The willingness of the staff in the Honors Program to spend time helping me understand what I wanted to do and how to do it helped build the strong relationships I enjoy with them today,” Koehler said. “It's nice that I can see the UD logo on a desk in Burundi and learn that my boss is speaking there. It's also great that I can immediately email Jama Allegretto (associate director) and Katharine Kerrane (senior associate director), of the UD Honors Program, and that they'll know who I am and have an idea of what brought me into this work.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photo by Ambre Alexander