Deogratias "deo" Niyizonkiza
President & Chief Executive Officer, village health works
VHW's visionary founder, president 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. He left the country during the catastrophic war that lasted more than a decade and took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Deo survived not only this man-made tragedy and poverty, but also homelessness in New York City.
Deo’s life journey is told in Pulitzer Prize-winner 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.
Despite the hurdles he faced in the U.S.—homelessness, illness, and low-paying work as a grocery store delivery boy— 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 nonprofit organization Partners In Health. He left Partners In Health to continue his medical education at Dartmouth Medical School.
In 2005, guided by his unwavering conviction that humanity’s progress should be measured by how we honor the dignity of others - including those a world away - Deo traveled back to Burundi. There, in the remote village of Kigutu, he established Village Health Works, with the goal of removing barriers to dignity and progress by creating a model healthcare system. Deo's passion rallied the community of Kigutu into action. Thanks to community-donated land, a small amount of seed money from fellow American students and supporters, a community of compassionate volunteers, and Deo's leadership, the health center opened in December 2007. Deo's success in building a community-driven health and development organization is unprecedented, and makes Village Health Works unique among NGOs.
A frequent lecturer on global health, Deo is the recipient of multiple awards, including the 2014 Wheaton College Otis Social Justice Award, the 2014 Dalai Lama Unsung Hero of Compassion 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 Refugee Commission’s Voices of Courage Award.