Recently the Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana spoke at a service at the First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto, and met with some of us afterwards to speak about his recent experience as a political dissident and prisoner in his country, Burundi. I’m writing to share an opportunity to support Unitarians who have fled Burundi for a refugee camp. This is on my own initiative, not from any official or formal point of view.
In Burundi, it’s dangerous to stand for freedom of religious thought. Members of the Unitarian Church in Bujumbura have become targets of harassment for participating in peaceful demonstrations, and helping victims of the Burundian regime. Late in 2015, Rev. Fulgence was picked up by members of a militia representing the government, held and tortured. After some time he was able to contact the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists. Within twenty-four hours, 1200 Unitarians and Universalists had signed a petition demanding his release, and sent letters to the regime and its embassies.
That action saved his life; Rev. Fulgence was released. He and many members of his congregation fled the country. Through the intervention of the Canadian Unitarian Council, Rev. Fulgence came to Canada as a “person in need of protection”, and is living with his family in Saskatoon. Rev. Fulgence completed his internship with the Saskatoon Unitarian congregation, and has recently been confirmed as the Affiliated Community Minister. Fulgence is preparing to be ordained in North America.
In discussions with the refugees, Rev. Fulgence asked them how they see their lives moving forward, and what they thought they could do to make sure war chaos and hatred do not have the last word. As the discussion wound down, a young man timidly raised his hand and said “Education is the way to resist war, chaos, and hatred.” Rev. Fulgence promised that he would tell the young man’s story to UUs around the world so that his dream of building peace and harmony through education can happen.
With his supporters in Saskatoon, Rev. Fulgence has established a foundation, the Flaming Chalice International Education Fund, to enable young Burundi refugees to build a new life through education. Usually, the congregation would take a special collection for the work of the foundation. The foundation has applied for charitable status under the Canada Revenue Agency’s guidelines, but has not yet received it. Under CRA guidelines, charities are not able to send monetary donation to non-charities, therefore, the congregation is unable, under those restrictions, to take up a collection or provide receipts for these donations.
However, individuals, families and groups who want to change the course of the life of a refugee overseas can commit to sponsor a student for a year. $130 per month will cover safe and comfortable housing, nutritious food, tuition, and other basic expenses for one student. Students will be in touch several times a year with their sponsors. The foundation is currently sponsoring five young people.
Our UU congregations generously support refugees from over a dozen countries, including Syria, Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan and Burundi. Can we do the same for young Burundian Unitarians? It would take twelve donations of $130, or 24 of $65 to do so; any other amount will be helpful. I know we can manage this.
If you are able to share in this project, please make out your cheque for any amount to Flaming Chalice International, education fund, and send it to me, Ellen Campbell, at 555-602 Melita Crescent, Toronto M6G 3Z5. I’ll send the cheques on and report back to you on our results, and forward news about our student/s.
Thank you for supporting the international family of Unitarians.