Deogratiaz “Deo” Niyizonkiza’s words, “When you survive, you say, ‘Why me’? Then you say, ‘What can I do?’” drew every freshman of Northeastern University towards it. Niyizonkiza is the protagonist in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder’s searing Strength in What Remains. He addressed the new batch of students with an aim to share with them a sense of knowledge and function.
Deo had a tough past; he narrowly escaped the Burundi and Rwanda genocide which led him to escape his home and flee to New York by the support of a family friend. With only $200 in his pockets, he was left homeless in the city with no knowledge of English. After much struggle, he managed to get a job as a delivery boy and didn’t look back. He went on to study at Columbia University and became a doctor in training. Although the memories of his past still haunted him, he didn’t let those pull him down. Deo continued to found and run Village Health Works, an NGO which works to provide healthcare back at his homeland, Burundi. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world and Deo’s NGO has been working hard to improve the conditions of it and the before and after pictures are proof of it.
“Where there is health, there is hope” is the center’s tagline. “So many people say, ‘I am exhausted, I can’t do anything,’” said Deo. “But if each of us could do something, this could be a better world. Educate yourself about the pain of others so you can work to never let people suffer like that again.”
Deo was further asked about his take on the refugee crisis by Serena Parekh, associate professor of philosophy and director of Northeastern University’s Politics, Philosophy, and Economics program. To this question, he asked for everyone to find the root cause of this problem. And described his memoir of the holocaust. “I questioned everything,” Deo said. “I questioned the very existence of God. Growing up I had gone to Catholic schools but was interacting with children who were dying. The priests would come and say, ‘Pray, pray.’ I debated between becoming a priest or a doctor. But I rejected [that]. Later I was challenged by good people who opened their doors and brought back what I used to believe. Otherwise, I would not be here today.”