Twenty-three years after Gilbert Tuhabonye nearly died in a massacre, the drum-thumping, “run with joy”-shouting coach marked the anniversary by walking from Lady Bird Lake to the Capitol with a water jug on his head.
“Today is significant because I celebrate Oct. 21 as a birthday, by surviving an event that gave me a second chance at life,” Tuhabonye said. “The walk is a reminder of how hard and how far it is for most people in Burundi get their water on a daily basis.”
Civil war racked Burundi from 1993 to 2005. On Oct. 21, 1993, a Hutu mob attacked the school Tuhabonye attended. He and other Tutsi children and teachers were roped together and marched a mile and a half to an abandoned gas station, forced into a room, tortured and burned. He lay for hours under a pile of bodies, finally breaking a window and dashing into the night.
One hundred students and teachers died there that day; Tuhabonye was the only one to survive. His legs, back and arms still bear the scars, but he says he’s been able to forgive the people who tried to kill him.
Tuhabonye went on to become an All-America runner at Abilene Christian University, then moved to Austin and started the hugely popular Gilbert’s Gazelles running group. He also coaches track and cross country at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
Tuhabonye, 41, used this morning’s walk as a chance to encourage people to register for the Run for the Water on Nov. 6. The event, which includes a 10-mile, a 5K and a Kids K run, raises money to build water projects that provide clean, easily accessible water to people in Burundi.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, nearly 1 in 5 children there dies before age 5. Nearly 20 percent of those deaths are due to diarrheal disease, and nearly three-quarters of all reported illnesses are due to a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.
Since 2009, the Gazelle Foundation has built a network of pipes, spigots and collecting tanks to bring water to more than 60,000 people in Burundi. (The organization named Kippi Griffith as its new executive director last month.) The projects tap natural springs on hilltops and use gravity to move water to storage chambers closer to where villagers live.
Registration fee for the race is $30, the amount Tuhabonye says it costs to provide clean water to one person.
“Everyone who signs up allows us to change one life,” Tuhabonye says.
For more information or to register, go here.