Strength in What Remains | Tracy Kidder

Summary of: Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness
By: Tracy Kidder

Introduction

In ‘Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness,’ author Tracy Kidder tells the miraculous and inspiring story of Deo, a young man who escaped the violence in Burundi and Rwanda and eventually made it to the United States. Despite the odds, Deo achieves his dream of studying medicine and ultimately uses his skills to build a clinic in his home country. In this compelling tale, readers will journey with Deo through his humble upbringing, harrowing experiences of war and displacement, and his fight to create a better future for himself and the people of Burundi.

Deo’s Journey to Success

Deo overcomes poverty and discrimination to become a doctor in Burundi.

Deo grew up in a humble background in Burundi, where infectious and parasitic illnesses were rampant due to the lack of public health systems. His family’s prized possession was a large herd of cows, which served as a source of prestige and insurance during times of scarcity. Despite their simple lifestyle, Deo’s parents believed in the power of education and sent their children to school.

The Burundian educational system was marred by violence and political discrimination, making it difficult for Deo to excel. As a Tutsi, his family had no connections to the ruling military dictatorship, and the majority of secondary school teachers and university professors belonged to this group.

However, Deo managed to score well in the nationwide exams administered to sixth graders, which became his only ticket out of their village. He excelled through middle school to gain admission into one of the best high schools in Burundi. There, he received outstanding grades that earned him a slot in medical school at the University of Burundi.

Despite facing numerous challenges and obstacles, Deo’s perseverance, excellent academic performance, and hard work paid off, earning him a spot in medical school. The story of Deo’s journey to success serves as an inspiration to young people from humble backgrounds that education is the key to unlocking opportunities.

A Tutsi’s Escape from Burundi’s Civil War

Medical student Deo flees from Burundi to Rwanda on foot after civil war breaks out, risking his life as a Tutsi targeted by Hutu violence.

During his time as a medical intern in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, Deo was caught up in the civil war that broke out after the assassination of President Ndadaye, who belonged to the Hutu tribe. As a Tutsi, Deo knew his life was in danger, so he made the choice to flee and walk over 70 kilometers to reach a refugee camp in Rwanda. However, this camp was filled primarily with Hutus, who were also caught up in the conflict. Deo feared running into someone he knew from Burundi, especially if they were Hutu, as it could result in grave danger.

Deo decided to leave Rwanda and journey back to Bujumbura, where he thought he might be safer despite the danger. After returning, he was unable to find any information about his family and believed that they were most likely dead. This passage is a gripping account of the dangers faced by people caught in the crossfire of ethnic violence.

Courage in Chaos

In the midst of violence and chaos in Burundi, Deo, a medical student, fled to New York thanks to his wealthy friend Jean. However, upon arrival, Deo, who spoke no English, faced immigration issues until a Senegalese airport employee named Muhammad intervened to help him. With only $200 to his name, Deo struggled to find housing and work, but Muhammad offered him a place to stay and helped him find a job. Despite working 12 hours a day, six days a week for just $15 a day, Deo persevered and eventually attended Columbia University. This is a story of resilience and the kindness of strangers.

From Sleeping in Central Park to Enrolling in Columbia

Deo, a new migrant in New York was introduced to Sharon McKenna at The Church of St. Thomas More during his search for a doctor. Sharon helped him find a doctor who answered to him at zero cost. She also secured a safe place for him to live. From living with the Wolfs, Deo goes to Hunter College to learn English and later to join Columbia University.

Deo’s first few weeks in New York was more complicated than he had anticipated. With nothing to his name, Deo was forced to sleep on the floor of Muhammad’s apartment, which was abandoned. As Muhammad decided to return to Senegal, Deo found himself without a place to sleep among drunks and drug addicts. After being threatened with a knife and robbed of his money, Deo had to resort to sleeping in Central Park for several weeks.

One day while delivering groceries, Deo met Sharon McKenna, who worked at The Church of St. Thomas More. After sharing his tribulations with her, she went ahead to find him a doctor who offered to treat him for free. Impressed with his resilience, Sharon went out of her way to help Deo find a safe place to live. The Wolf family invited Deo to live with them and even enrolled him in an English class in Hunter College. Later on, Deo joined the American Language Program at Columbia— all in the good hands of his newfound friends.

From Burundi to Columbia

A determined young man overcomes obstacles to pursue his dream of a biochemistry degree at Columbia University while at the same time discovering that his family, whom he had thought lost in the Burundi civil war, is still alive.

Deo had a dream of pursuing a degree in biochemistry at Columbia University. However, to apply to the university, he needed to prove he had attended school before. The administration of the medical school he had attended in Burundi initially refused to supply any of his records, claiming Deo was dead, which made it difficult for him to apply. Fortunately, Deo’s records were eventually found and sent, and in the fall of 1995, he started his freshman year at Columbia University, where he was majoring in biochemistry and philosophy.

Getting into Columbia University was not something Deo considered an achievement until he met people from other New York colleges who were impressed with him. Nevertheless, he worked hard and performed well on numerous exams and standardized tests, which were part of the admission and placement process.

During his sophomore year, Deo received exhilarating news from home. After assuming his family was lost forever due to the civil war in Burundi and Rwanda, he learned that his family, including his parents, was still alive. With his unrelenting spirit, he took odd jobs and tutored high school students in math while bartending, so he could send money to his family.

In summary, Deo’s story is a testament to resilience, courage, and perseverance. Despite the many obstacles he faced, he remained determined to pursue his dreams while at the same time finding a way to help his family.

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