Out of the Ashes

Her name is Confidence.

We listened yesterday as her mother told us about her life before ZOE. Janviere (age 19) was a young teenager when she started accepting help from a man in her community. She was an orphan, and the small amounts of money he would give her enabled her to eat.

She thought he was just being nice. Then, as she got a little older, she learned that there were strings attached to the gifts. She felt like she didn’t have a choice but to give him what he wanted because he had helped her. He began abusing her and after some time she became pregnant. Immediately, the man rejected her and left her to care not only for herself, but also for the child that was in her womb.

It was not long after this time that she was discovered by ZOE workers. She became a member of the Ibyishimo (Happiness) group in January 2018. Now, only 14 months later, Janviere and her friend Bieta are running a business together where they sell sorghum juice, a popular drink in Rwandan villages.

When we met them yesterday, Confidence was dressed in an outfit that matched Janviere’s skirt. They both are healthy. They are food and shelter secure. Janviere has been able to send her four siblings back to school, equipping them with the required school uniforms as well as supplies. She is able to pay the national health insurance fee that assures her and her family members access to health care when they need it. She has already reinvested some of her profits in the purchase of two pigs and a goat, valuable assets that will generate additional income for her family’s needs. She participates in a table banking group that pools funds which can be borrowed with interest by members of the group to start up new business ventures.

This is the power of ZOE. Raising young people out of the ashes of a desperate life in a remarkably short period of time. These young people are not given temporary relief from their circumstances. They are equipped through a model of empowerment to be wise, diligent, and creative investors in their futures. They find strength and support in the community of 60-100 children and youth to which they belong through the ZOE group with which they journey for three years. They know the power of God’s love for them and sing joyfully about God’s presence in their lives.

Now, their children will be able to believe…with confidence…that they will never have to live a life of desperation that their parents once knew. Thanks be to God!

Graduation Day

Today we had the privilege of attending a ZOE graduation ceremony. These young people have just completed the three-year empowerment program and are thriving as business owners and leaders in their community.

The first part of the day was spent at an exhibit where some of the graduates could tell us about their IGAs (income generating activities) and show us their goods. The stories we heard revealed the incredible creativity, resiliency, and commitment these young people show in pursuing their dreams.

Immanuel (age 21) lost both his parents as a young teenager. Abused by other relatives after their deaths and marginalized by his community, he decided to journey on foot to the capital city of Kigali (a two hour trip by car) in search of a better life. There he was exploited by a hatchery business that “hired” him and paid him only a piece of bread at the end of each day for his efforts. Undeterred, Immanuel decided to learn all aspects of the business, including the artificial incubation of chicken eggs. He took diligent notes on what he observed and, as he put it, “got an education for free.”

Immanuel then decided to return to his village and soon after that became a part of a ZOE group. ZOE provided the grant for him to start his business, applying the knowledge he had gained in his time at the hatchery. He even studied and learned how to process high quality feeds for his animals rather than having to buy them. His business is thriving and he is now known as “Dr. Boss” in his community, for his expertise in the raising of chickens.

Samuel (age 20), like almost any Rwandan boy, grew up dreaming about owning a motorbike. But given his circumstances as an orphan, he never thought that dream would come true. Then he was welcomed into a ZOE group three years ago. Samuel’s first IGA was growing and selling cassava. He remembered his dream, saved all he could from his profits, and after a year received driving lessons. After his second year, he had enough money to pay 50% on the purchase of a motorbike and take out a loan for the other 50%. Samuel was then able to begin his motorbike business, transporting people around the community. One year later, he has paid off the loan and has already calculated depreciation costs and begun saving for his next motorbike. Meanwhile, he is also caring for his three younger siblings, making sure they are able to go to school and helping them start their own businesses.

On the front of Samuel’s bike is the word “Shalom.” When asked about it, he shared that before ZOE he had no peace in his heart. It is a daily reminder to him about the peace that he has found, the peace he desires for others, and his hope for a world where people live at peace with each other.

A highlight of the day was witnessing these graduates who had been blessed with an opportunity to change their lives share that blessing with a group of other orphans in their community. The graduates had worked in conjunction with community leaders to identify children who would receive gifts of goats, school materials, and school uniforms, a gift totaling more than 600,000 Rwandan francs (~$700). It was such a joyful moment to see these presentations made to the children.

The chairperson of the graduating class told us that through ZOE, they had learned to be generous. Their graduation day was evidence that they have been shaped not only for their own success but for the well-being of others. The ripples that go out from this group of young people may be immeasurable.    

    

Rev. Steven M. Price

Co-Pastor, Trinity UMC
Big Hearted | Spirit Led | Christ Minded | Bound by Love
Twitter: @stevenmprice86
Instagram: @stevenmprice86

“Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, focus your thoughts on these things.” Philippians 4:8

Milk

It plays an important social role in Rwandan culture. To have access to milk is a sign of well-being and vitality. Up and down countryside roads, numerous bicyclists can be seen transporting giant steel containers of it, almost always a pair of them dangling over the back wheel. They’ll get delivered to restaurants and canteens and even roadside vendors who will gladly draw some out with a ladle for customers willing to pay a small price. In the capital city of Kigali, milk bars are popular places to enjoy a frothy glass of it along with a samosa or muffin or other breakfast treat.

This painting was a gift received today by some of my fellow ZOE travelers from a village group they are supporting in Rwamiko. The milk flows freely from the bountiful bowl above into two containers, but does not all stay there. Some is allowed to continue the journey through openings in these vessels into the bowl below.

Jean-Claude, one of the village group leaders who was 20 when he entered the ZOE program just over two years ago, explained the message behind the gift: “Through your support, you have given us milk…and now because of what you did, we are able to give it to others.”

The stories we heard today from several ZOE group members were inspiring and provided an abundance of evidence that they are indeed passing the blessing they have received on to others.

Consider Louise (age 23), who bore the stigma of being homeless and a thief (stealing food to survive) just over two years ago. She now co-operates a canteen which she opened with a ZOE grant and also owns a tract of land where she grows produce. She is turning enough profit not only to care for herself and her younger siblings but also to hire other members of her community and pay them a fair wage. Among those she hires are persons who used to make fun of her when she was begging.

Sarah (age 20), her business partner, is thriving as a bread baker. ZOE financially supported her participation in a cooking school where she learned her craft, one that no one else in her village had. The canteen is her retail venture, but she also sells wholesale to other vendors. Now able to provide for herself and her siblings, she has taken an additional 12-year-old child into her home who was homeless and hungry, like she was not so long ago, and made it possible for that child to go back to school.     

Gilbert (age 18) chose learning how to make and sell samosas (delicious stuffed pastries that are well-loved in Rwanda) as his initial ZOE business venture. ZOE provided the initial grant and two years later, he has opened a restaurant where he sells not only his samosas but also vegetables and potatoes he is growing on a tract of land he owns. As his business has grown, he has employed two other members of the community.

Milk. It strengthens the bones of our bodies. And in Rwanda, the milk that is being provided through the ZOE empowerment model is strengthening entire communities as a generation of young entrepreneurs is being raised up to care not only for themselves but also for others.

Holistically Empowered

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.jpeg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0423-2.jpg

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_0424.jpg

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.