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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.