Julie and Jesh Thiessen

Julie and Jesh Thiessen

Family heads to Burundi

Dr. Jesh and Julie Thiessen are making the move with their children as part of his surgical residency

Two former North Okanagan residents are leaving their home in Kingston, Ont. for a different way of life in Burundi, East Africa.

This fall, Dr. Jesh and Julie Thiessen and their two children are heading to one of the poorest countries in the world, where medical equipment is scarce and poverty affects almost every medical decision.

Both Jesh and Julie grew up in the North Okanagan. Jesh is currently a fourth-year general surgery resident who began his training for medicine at Okanagan College’s KAL Campus prior to completing medical school in Calgary, Alta.

Now living in Kingston for his surgical training, Jesh and Julie and their two kids are going to Burundi for 10 weeks as part of his residency at Kibuye Hope Hospital.

“It was an idealistic notion when I decided to go back to school in 2005 but I wanted to change the world,” said Jesh. “I met Julie and we had our first date at the Starbucks in Vernon.

“Julie had previously travelled to Burundi and worked as a teacher at the end of the civil war in 2003-2004.”

From that day forward, having a heart for missions work was their shared dream. The journey to get to this point, since getting married seven years ago, has included moving five times between four provinces, three universities and two kids along the way.

With just two years until completing a general surgery residency, Jesh and Julie are excited to see the possibilities this trip may bring.

Jesh said the opportunity to impact people’s lives with surgery is tremendous, adding that more people die from surgically preventable illnesses than                                                                                                                                             HIV, TB and Malaria combined. (www.cbc.ca/news/health/safe-surgery-unavailable-to-5-billion-people-study-finds-1.3047465).

“In Burundi, approximately half of the population is under the age of 18 years old and 20 per cent are under the age of five years old,” he said. “The vast majority of people in Burundi live on less than the cost of a small Tim Hortons coffee per day. There are approximately 15 surgeons in the entire country of 10 million people.”

Jesh and Julie will be assisting a team currently there, seeking to provide education for national nursing and medical students.

“If it is anything like the my last trip in 2010 as a medical student, I may need to find a welder to fabricate a screw in the middle of an operation to make a plate work to fix a broken leg,” said Jesh.

Having been raised in the Vernon area, Jesh and Julie still consider it home and they are grateful for the community where this journey began.

For more information about what they are doing you can check out their journey at www.facebook.com/thiessensburundi