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.