Aspen couple ready to volunteer full time |

Aspen couple ready to volunteer full time

Dewayne and JoAnn Niebur are about to take the first step into the next phase of their lives.

The couple — a family physician and a registered nurse, respectively — have lived in Aspen with their two children since 2004. Before that, the family was in Tasmania, where Dewayne worked as a doctor, but ailing parents in Denver and their children’s need to stop moving around so much landed them here.

“We promised we wouldn’t move around anymore,” JoAnn said.

Now, however, the children — Tara, 21, and Kinsley, 18 — are adults, and their parents are heading to Burundi in East Africa next week for their first glimpse of a world they hope to soon inhabit on a long-term basis.

“This will be our first medical mission together,” JoAnn said. “It will be a view of our future we’ve had for a long time.”

The Nieburs believe it is their duty as Christians to help others. They’ve gone to South Africa; Juarez, Mexico; and Costa Rica over the past decade or so with fellow members of Crossroads Church in Aspen to do just that. In fact, JoAnn, who is studying to become a midwife, traveled to Sierra Leone in January 2015 to volunteer in an ebola holding unit for maternity patients.

But they’d really like to spend months at a time volunteering in far-flung places where they believe their medical skills can do some good.

“I’ve always had an interest in travel,” Dewayne said. “But it’s a lot more interesting to see the world with a purpose.

“My overarching purpose in life is to help people.”

The two-week trip to Burundi will be the couple’s first experience with a charity called Samaritan’s Purse, which has a medical mission that places Christian medical personnel in hospitals and clinics around the world, according to its website.

They will relieve doctors at a well-established hospital about 21/2 hours southeast of the capital of Bujumbura. Kibuye Hospital is a 110-bed facility that not only provides surgical, maternity, pediatric and other services but also operates as a teaching facility for Burundian doctors, according to websites and the Nieburs.

JoAnn and Dewayne plan to do some teaching while at the hospital and said they like the Kibuye Hospital setup because the doctors there are trying to have a long-term impact on the country. JoAnn said she was particularly affected by the people of Sierra Leone, who kept asking her and others when they were leaving.

“They saw us as someone to come in and save them from ebola, then leave them in the same sorry situation,” she said. “They knew we were going to leave.”

One relatively minor worry is the current political situation in Burundi.

The country — and the capital in particular — is not stable. It is one of the world’s poorest countries, with high levels of child malnourishment and a life expectancy of just 50 years for both men and women, according to the Nieburs and a BBC profile of the country.

Like its neighbor Rwanda, Burundi is beset by tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. And since April 2015, when the current president provoked a violent political crisis by running for a third term, more than 400 people have been killed and 260,000 have fled the country, according to the BBC.

Burundi’s interior, where the hospital is located, is calmer than the capital, Dewayne said, though the couple have been told that 17 separate escape routes exist to other countries.

“We were like, ‘Oh, gosh,’” Dewayne said. “But I’d rather die with a purpose instead of dying crossing Main Street in Aspen.”

Said JoAnn, “The safest place to be is in the middle of God’s will.”


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