Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Dinner with ambassador from Burundi

Pam LeBlanc

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 17, 2013

It’s not every day you host an ambassador from your homeland for dinner in your home.

But that’s what drum-thumping, “run with joy”-shouting running coach Gilbert Tuhabonye did Thursday, when Angele Niyuhire, the ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Burundi, dropped by for dinner.

Niyuhire came to Austin with about 30 other ambassadors as part of the U.S. State Department’s “Experience America” program. They toured the state Capitol, visited the LBJ Library, talked with representatives of the ACL and SXSW music festivals and ate barbecue at the Salt Lick.

But she sought out Tuhabonye, head of the Gilbert’s Gazelles running group and track coach at St. Andrews High School, to learn more about the water wells a foundation he created has built in Burundi.

First, she shared snapshots she took on her cell phone of longhorns in Driftwood, and he introduced her to his closest friends. They drank wine and ate pasta and salad prepared by The Grove.

But they got serious when it came to water.

Since 2006, the Gazelle Foundation has built nine water well projects that provide about 19,000 people with access to clean water. The organization will start its tenth project this month. By the end of 2013, organization officials hope to provide access to clean water for an additional 10,000 people.

Tuhabonye told Niyuhire how he had to walk miles every day as a child to fill jugs with water from creeks. Niyuhire told similar stories about her mother, who still spends hours hauling water to her home to cook meals. Students across the country, they both said, arrive at school late and exhausted after carrying buckets to their families.

Tuhabonye escaped the genocide in Burundi nearly 20 years ago and moved to Texas, where he became an All-American runner. He created the Gazelle Foundation to make sure other people in Burundi had easier access to clean water. The projects tap natural springs on hilltops and use gravity to move water to storage chambers closer to where people live.

“As a representative of the Burundi government I really appreciate the work they are doing,” Niyuhire said. “We have water in Burundi, but a lot of it isn’t clean. By bringing clean water to villages it helps the women and children.”