Deo’s Story

Deo speaking

Deogratias "Deo" Niyizonkiza, VHW's visionary founder and CEO, is a leading advocate for the most impoverished people in the world. His compassion, expertise and life experience have made him a key voice in global health and international development. 

An American citizen, Deo was born in rural Burundi where he attended grade school and part of medical school. After surviving a massacre at a Burundian hospital, where he was a third-year medical school intern, Deo fled to New York in 1994, arriving penniless and without one word of English. Despite the hurdeleslow-paying work as a grocery store delivery boy, illness, and homelessness he eventually enrolled at Columbia University, where he received a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and philosophy. After graduating from Columbia, he attended the Harvard School of Public Health, where he met Dr. Paul Farmer and began working at the medical non-profit organization Partners In Health. He left Partners In Health to continue his medical education at Dartmouth Medical School.   

In 2006, Deo traveled back to Burundi to establish Village Health Works. Deo's passion rallied the southern Burundi community of Kigutu into action. With community-donated land and an army of committed volunteers, the health center opened in December 2007. Deo's success in building an entirely community-driven health and development organization is unprecedented, and makes Village Health Works unique among NGOs. 

Deo’s extraordinary story is told in Tracy Kidder’s most recent work, Strength in What Remains, a New York Times best seller named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune

A frequent lecturer on global health, Deo is the recipient of multiple awards, including the 2014 Dalai Lama Unsung Hero of Compassion Award, 2013 People to People International's Eisenhower Medallion Award, a 2013 honorary degree from Williams College, the 2011 International Medal Award of St. John’s University, and the 2010 Women Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Award.