Letters

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IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Columbia Magazine Summer 2014As a board member of the Fistula Foundation, I was already planning to travel to the Great Lakes region of Africa to visit projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda when I read the Summer 2014 Columbia Magazine cover story about Deogratias Niyizonkiza and the Village Health Works clinic that he founded. 

Since I would be in the neighborhood of his village of Kigutu, only some three hours away by car, I wrote to Deo and was generously invited to visit, enjoy a dinner of beans and rice, and spend a night there. I was met at the Bujumbura International Airport by Dr. Romeo Niyomukiza and driven with a full military honor guard (two soldiers with AK-47s in the back of our pickup truck) to Kigutu. 

Village Health Works is a grand project that fully lives up to its billing. I would like the Columbia community to know that the medical care is top-notch, the site gorgeous, the programs in agronomy, music, dance, and community health all well done and very popular with the local community. Deo’s project has gone from dream to reality in an astonishingly short time. It was an honor to be able to see what he has accomplished. 

Lawrence A. William ’62CC, ’66PS
Los Altos Hills, CA 


Stacey Kors’s cover article “The Road to Kigutu,” about Deogratias Niyizonkiza’s Village Health Works clinic in Burundi, is inspirational in so many ways. I was particularly moved by the story of Cécille, a local woman who got villagers together to build a mountainside road to the clinic, a project that reunited Tutsis and Hutus, who had been locked in post-genocidal antipathy and shame. 

The Tutsi–Hutu ethnic rivalry in Rwanda and Burundi is profound, being both historical and biological. This came home to me forty years ago on a site visit to Burundi. Walking into a bar in the capital, Bujumbura, I was surprised to find men quaffing not beer but milk from large beakers. I finally realized that they were demonstrating their Tutsi (ruling) heritage: the taller Tutsis have lived alongside the shorter Hutus for so long that size no longer differentiates them, but the Tutsis’ history as herders (and therefore milk drinkers) provides them with a tolerance for milk that Hutus (historically farmers) generally lack. So what I was witnessing was a particularly intolerant form of conspicuous consumption!

Building a road for the benefit of all mountain patients of whatever heritage was a superb way of resolving ages-old ethnic conflicts and all-too-fresh internecine bloodletting. Where words fail, or are constrained by cultural inhibitions, working side by side can be a literal road to resolution. 

Nicholas Cunningham
Professor Emeritus
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Springfield Center, NY 


What a story — “The Road to Kigutu” shows exactly what one committed person can do in this world. As a parent of a Columbia grad, I read the magazine too, and this issue is especially interesting. Come on, people, we can raise the money for Deo’s next project! Columbia people may be a small segment of society, but I believe they are a mighty one that can recognize a hero to get behind. Let’s do it! 

Elaine Fleck
Sedona, AZ 


Thank you for publishing the article about the heartwarming work Deogratias Niyizonkiza is pursuing in the wake of the horrible Burundian genocide. Hopefully, the publicity will attract needed funds and serve as a reminder of how quickly ethnic hatred and violence can erupt. 

Cassandra B. O’Neal ’92CC
Seattle, WA 


INSTITUTIONAL ROOTS

In the article “Fickle Fortunes” (Summer 2014), Douglas Quenqua describes a survey on poverty put out by the Columbia School of Social Work and the Robin Hood Foundation. As a social worker and community organizer in New York City for more than twenty-nine years, I support a process that tries to understand the roots of poverty and that recognizes how people can cycle in and out of it. However, the article does not discuss poverty’s institutional causes. I can only hope the study looks at banking practices, health-care and housing policies, safety-net programs, and institutional racism. Without this broader understanding, I fear we will end up blaming the victim for poverty caused by institutions. 

Margaret Hughes ’87SW
Brooklyn, NY 

Many Columbia researchers involved in the project do study the institutional causes of poverty. Their work can be found at cupop.columbia.edu. — Eds. 


HAVE TUX, WILL TRAVEL

Phoebe Magee’s excellent College Walk story about the SS United States (“Dock Star,” Summer 2014) reminded me of my stylish trip on that steamship. I was a Foreign Service officer returning to my post in Europe, and I traveled first class. The State Department, in forwarding my ticket, advised me to be sure to bring a tux, because formal attire was customary for the dinner the ship’s captain gave for first-class passengers. 

Yale Richmond ’57GSAS
Washington, DC 


AN HONOR TO SERVE

I was so glad to see the story on Army Reserve Captain Keith Robinson, who surprised his daughter Ruby Robinson ’14SEAS by returning from Afghanistan to watch her graduate (“Bravo company,” News, Summer 2014). I was bartending a lunch shift at a local restaurant during Commencement, and Captain Robinson came in uniform to my bar for a meal. He was the most honorable and memorable guest I have ever had at the restaurant. He called me over and told me he wanted to show me something. Now, when most bar guests do this, it’s because they want to show me something they just got published, their latest Instagram post, or ten photos of their dog — but he very quietly showed me the picture of him hugging his daughter that appears in the magazine. He told me all about how excited he was to surprise his daughter, and how her success is the thing he is most proud of. I thanked him for his service, but in hindsight, he doesn’t just serve our country, he represents it. These are the kinds of stories, and people, we need to see more often. 

Heather Erny ’16TC
New York, NY 


CU AT THE PARK!

It was with great nostalgia that I read Andrea Stone’s piece about Inwood’s new Muscota Marsh park (“In Inwood, a new destination for waterfowl and neighbors alike,” News, Summer 2014). I lived at the corner of Indian Road and 218th Street for most of my childhood and teen years. I was able to watch football games at Baker Field from the roof of my apartment building. I recall the scaffolding as they painted the Columbia “C” on the rock across the river, and our excitement when the Columbia crew would come to the boathouse and we would watch them bring out the boats. It was wonderful growing up across from Inwood Hill Park, roller skating, sledding, and playing ball. It seems that my mother’s admonishments to stay away from the marsh shoreline are no longer valid, as Inwood’s residents and visitors now have a wonderful park and ecological area. I hope to come and visit. 

Gail Altman-Orenstein ’64PS
Sheffield, MA 


LUXURY ITEM

I am sorry that the novelist Teju Cole and the reviewer Lauren Savage both apparently subscribe to the latest progressive clichés. The narrator’s “indignation at the city’s declining social order is therefore complicated by privilege,” Savage writes. He “recognizes that worrying about corruption is a luxury that many people can’t afford.” The poor as well as the privileged are angered and oppressed by official corruption and harassment. Don’t Cole and Savage remember that the Arab Spring was set off by the suicide of a poor Tunisian street vendor who couldn’t take his mistreatment by officials anymore? 

Carol Crystle ’64GSAS, ’71TC
Chicago, IL 


NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE

The ideas expressed in the Summer 2014 Booktalk, about Katty Kay and University Trustee Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code, strike me as dangerously anti-intellectual. Nowhere is “confidence” defined, and if you go to the website mentioned, it is extrapolated by looking at aspects of life such as whether someone likes to play chess. 

If “confidence is genetic and significantly more intrinsic to women than men,” where is the provision in this schema for the overriding influence of culture? Or age? Or even, for goodness’ sake, right-handedness and left-handedness, when confidence is interpreted in terms of chess? 

Maxine Morrin ’87TC
Sunnyside, NY 


WAR STORIES

Your article about Columbia’s First World War veterans (Finals, Summer 2014) was of interest to me because my father, Major General Melvin L. Krulewitch ’16CC, ’18LAW, was a sergeant in France in 1918, where he was both wounded and gassed. He was one of eleven survivors out of his company of two hundred that fought at Belleau Wood and Château-Thierry. He remembered well the day he returned, marching up Fifth Avenue and seeing General Pershing reviewing the troops on horseback. 

When he arrived at the destination of the parade, 110th Street and Fifth Avenue, he walked home to his parents’ apartment at 106th Street and Madison Avenue. 

Peter Krulewitch ’62CC
New York, NY 


 

Thank you for your article on the Columbians who fell while serving their country in the First World War, and especially Joyce Kilmer, who served in New York’s 69th Infantry (federalized as the 165th). It put me in mind of my own, much more modest service with the 69th while I was a graduate student in history in the 1980s. When we drilled on Lexington Avenue, we were true weekend warriors, and the Defense Department was moving the infantry regiments out of Manhattan. After all, who would attack Manhattan? On 9/11, the 69th was the only regiment left and was immediately deployed to guard the bridges, subway, and other infrastructure. Later, the 69th deployed to Iraq. I am proud to be both a Columbian and a Fighting Irishman. 

Jonathan P. Roth ’91GSAS
Burlingame, CA 


FIT TO PRINT

I never read the Letters section of Columbia Magazine, but I made an exception for the Summer 2014 edition. The brave editors should be commended for absorbing and printing a lot of criticism from the readers against the authors. 

Thomas Romeo ’66PS
Greenwich, RI 


PERPETUAL UNION

Almost 150 years after the end of the Civil War, there are still people who refuse to accept the outcome, who regard Abraham Lincoln as a despot, and who believe that the Confederate states were within their rights to secede. Unfortunately, a letter from one of those people, Arthur E. Lavis, was published in the Summer 2014 issue. 

“Where in the Constitution,” Lavis asks, “does it say that a state cannot secede, that the Union must be preserved at all costs, that the president has the right and duty to wage total war on his fellow citizens . . .? Don’t we normally call people like that despots?” 

There’s a reason the Constitution doesn’t say a word about secession: it considers the Union to be perpetual. In ratifying the Constitution, the thirteen original colonies gave up their claims to independent nationhood and could not unilaterally revert to their prior status; they were now part of a new, sovereign nation. Indeed, the predecessor to the Constitution was called the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, and the Constitution’s famous opening words echo that phrase: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union . . .” The Founders considered the Union to be perpetual, as did most Americans — until the conflict over slavery caused many Southerners to change their tune and look for a way out. 

Stan Augarten ’77GSAS
Paris, France 


PAPAL SCHISM

Luanne Zurlo’s letter to the editor (Summer 2014) could not have been better timed, as yesterday I finished reading Absolute Monarchs, a very well-written history of the entire papacy by the well-respected historian John Julius Norwich. Lord Norwich writes with specificity on the way Pope Pius XII remained silent time after time when a vigorous word would have made a significant difference in the plight of the Jews under Hitler. He quotes the pope as referring to Judaism as a cult, and gives repeated evidence of the pope’s anti-Semitism. He also notes that the pope considered communism to be a greater threat to the papacy and himself personally than Nazi Germany was to the world, so he declined to raise a finger against the deportation of Roman Jews, lest in doing so it somehow might encourage a communist takeover of Rome. Norwich notes that for the entire period after the war, “not one word of apology or regret, not a single requiem or Mass of Remembrance was held for the 1,989 Jewish deportees from Rome who had met their deaths at Auschwitz alone.” Later, in describing the twilight of the pope’s life, he notes, “The old anti-Semitism was still in evidence: to his dying day he was to refuse recognition to the State of Israel.” 

Andrew Alpern ’64GSAPP
New York, NY 


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