Our Founder and CEO
Deogratias “Deo” Niyizonkiza, founder and CEO of Village Health Works (VHW), is a leading advocate for some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable people. His compassion, expertise, and lived experience have made him a key voice in global health and international development. Deo was born in rural Burundi, escaping to New York City when his medical studies were interrupted by the catastrophic war that lasted more than a decade and took the lives of hundreds of thousands. Having survived war in Burundi and homelessness in New York City, he eventually enrolled at Columbia University, earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and philosophy. He then attended the Harvard School of Public Health, where he met Dr. Paul Farmer and worked at Partners In Health before resuming his medical education at Dartmouth Medical School.
In 2005, Deo returned to Burundi, the poorest country on the planet, to establish Village Health Works, a model rural healthcare system. Deo’s passion and vision rallied his native community of Kigutu into action. With land from the community, seed money from American fellow students and supporters, many compassionate volunteers, and Deo’s leadership, the health center opened in December 2007 and has since expanded to include a school, and, now, the foundations of a referral and teaching hospital.
A frequent lecturer on global health, Deo is the recipient of numerous awards, including an honor by the Carnegie Foundation of New York as the 2016 Great Immigrant: The Pride of America, the 2016 Presidential Medal: Amities des Peuples (Burundi), the 2014 Dalai Lama’s Unsung Heroes Award, the 2014 Wheaton College Otis Social Justice Award, the 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’s Refugee Commission Voices of Courage Award. Deo’s story is told in Pulitzer Prize-winner Tracy Kidder’s “Strength in What Remains.”