Today was my first full day in Rwanda, which meant it was the first opportunity for our team to visit a site where young people are participating in ZOE.
The young people we met today are nearing graduation from the three-year program that has taken them from being orphans and beggars who were marginalized and mistreated in their community to being business owners. Some of them have already grown their businesses to the point of employing other members of their community. As they are raising themselves up, they are also raising up others around them.
How does this work? Well today, Epiphanie Mujawimana, a social worker in
Rwanda for many years and the person largely credited with developing the ZOE model, introduced me to an important phrase: “holistically empowered.” It is the perfect description of what ZOE is. Holistic because the ZOE model comprehensively addresses the personal, social, psychological, and spiritual needs of these young people, all of whom enter the program from a place of abject poverty and many of whom have experienced horrific treatment in their past. Empowerment because ZOE does not give them food or shelter to get them to the next day, or week, or even month. Instead, ZOE equips them to find joy and accomplishment in being able to care for themselves and to become respected members of their communities.
When these children and youth begin their ZOE journey, they are put into family groups. It is at the family group level that they decide what kinds of businesses they will start. ZOE provides the grant and loan funding that makes it possible for them to start and grow their businesses.
Meet Clarice and Jean-Claude. As the two oldest members of their group, they began with a bread making business. It was inexpensive to start and could generate immediate returns. Almost three years later, they have expanded to grow and sell passion fruit, they are making sure the younger children in their family group are able to attend school, they have taken in an 11-year-old who was in dire circumstances as an additional member of their family group, they have purchased goats that are fertilizing the soil for an area where they will soon begin growing vegetables and once again expand their business, and they have earned enough profit to be able to invest in building a better house for their family.
Clarice and Jean-Claude’s story, as well as several other remarkable ones from today and hundreds of others from other ZOE groups, bear evidence to the effectiveness of being holistically empowered. I’m so glad I’m hear to witness it.