In early August, a team of 11 people from East Central Minnesota travelled to Kivuruga, Rwanda, to continue to build relationships, bring encouragement, capture stories, and view the impact Our Response is having in this beautiful, remote corner of the world. It is extremely difficult to summarize our experiences, but I will try to touch on the main items and invite you to follow up with me, or any of the trip team members, for more details. We are expecting to hold our 4th Annual Celebration on January 26 at the high school in Cambridge, where we will be able to share some specific stories with you in person.
In 2010, Our Response funded the expansion of a Nutrition Center in Kivuruga by raising $40,000. In 2011, we visited that center and were able to feed the children the one meal per week they were able to receive. We met 30 children who were severely under and malnourished, which was both heartbreaking—but also exciting—to think that our community was actively being part of the solution. On this most recent trip, we were able to visit the center again and find out that all 30 of those children had survived and were now part of an agricultural cooperative raising nutritious food for their families.
It was immediately apparent, however, that we still have much work to do. We were introduced to an 18-month old, severely malnourished girl, who weighed only 11 pounds; she was just one of many children in the area struggling to get nutritious food. I have heard it said that Rwanda is a place where hope and despair run so closely together; this was never more apparent than at the Nutrition Center.
On the same site as the Nutrition Center is the Bushoka Health Center. While rooms have been added in the past two years to help separate the delivery area from the general sickness ward, there is still much work to be done. The delivery room (the only one in all of the Kivuruga area) is still very small (perhaps 10’ by 10’), has two beds, and continues to lack running water, a floor drain, or trained staff. We would like to see Our Response address these needs going forward.
We had a chance to visit a school and, despite the fact that schools were on break, hundreds of children showed up on their day off to greet us with singing and be part of our experience at the school. Two of the educators with us on our trip, Shawn and Shannon Kirkeide, had the opportunity to teach a lesson in U.S. geography to the class of Rwandan middle schoolers. It was a priceless moment for both them and those of us who were watching. We were so impressed by the respect, knowledge, and eagerness for learning displayed by these Rwandan children.
Personally, my most impactful moment came when we visited a home where a meeting was taking place with the leadership of the volunteer HIV and AIDS caregivers, a group headed by Florence, who I met in 2011. Florence and I quickly reconnected as we shared our excitement in seeing each other again. During the 2011 trip, we asked Florence what her team of 126 caregivers needed most. Florence said “raincoats” would make their job easier during the rainy season. Pastor Joel Preston of Pine City, who was on that trip and had his raincoat with him, quickly took it out and gave it to her. Florence was thrilled. On this most recent trip, Florence was sharing with the entire group and recalled that moment when she received a raincoat; she was overflowing with joy and came and gave me a big hug I will never forget. It was an amazing moment to then announce to her and the entire group that Pine City Evangelical Free Church had led an effort to collect raincoats; we shared that we brought with us nearly 100 rain jackets to help in their efforts to care for the many people living with HIV and AIDS in Kivuruga. The singing and joy that followed were overwhelming.
So many more things to talk about, but here are just the main highlights:
- Visiting all of the children sponsored by those on the trip, and having a chance to visit many of them in their homes. The families that were visited were as different as families in the U.S., but each experience was deeply meaningful to the child sponsors and the families of the children.
- Visiting a community of people and their new, closer source for clean water. This was a spring that was re-opened with construction to keep it open, as well as cement basins for laundry and drying. For this community, this means far less time spent walking to get water. When we asked them what else they need, they could only speak of their desire to pipeline the water to those living on the other side of the hill. The people of Rwanda are incredibly grateful for the little they have, and deeply selfless; they are far more focused on the “we” than the “I.”
- Going through the Genocide Memorial in Kigali to understand the impact that period in Rwanda’s history continues to have on the current culture.
- Meeting with the World Vision Rwanda national staff, including Director George Gitau, where we heard about the impressive work of the Rwandan government, and the ongoing transformation of Rwanda since the 1994 genocide.
- Attending a church service in Kivuruga and engaging in the singing and dancing on the hard-packed dirt floor. We also saw people bring offerings which included eggs, beans, bananas, and sugar cane.
- As we continue working in the area of economic development, we visited a small business started by women who are sewing dresses. We crammed into their small shop as they showed us their fabric, dresses, and how they do their work. Following that experience, we walked to another small business where women were weaving beautiful baskets and bowls. The larger baskets take nearly five days of work to create with a cost of approximately five U.S. dollars. We would love to get involved in helping them sell these beautiful baskets and increase their income.
Our entire team is still processing everything they experienced during their time in Rwanda. As I talk with those who were on the first two trips (2009, 2011), they are also still processing. The lessons continue to emerge as we live our “regular lives” back in the U.S. With that said, I think that there were two key lessons everyone learned:
- Gratitude – We take for granted that we will have clean water, nutritious food, electricity, a place to sleep, education, and a reasonable standard of living. This trip drives up our appreciation for these things, realizing that much of the world does not have access to many of these necessities.
- Passion for Life – Often we fall into the doldrums of life, despite having more materially than most Rwandans can ever dream of. We saw people with nothing have more joy and enthusiasm for life than most people we have ever met. It is inspiring and something that will burn inside each of us for the rest of our lives.
Our team was proud to represent all of East Central Minnesota and we made that clear with each person we met and with each group we addressed. We are hoping the trip will build even greater momentum within Our Response and open doors to new opportunities to raise awareness and funding for our friends in Kivuruga. We are not yet accepting applications for the next trip, but if anyone is interested, I recommend getting on the email distribution list so you will know when the process begins. Our Response is fueled by passionate individuals and over 40 organizational partners, including churches, schools, businesses, and other groups. If you would like to sponsor a child in Kivuruga, talk about being part of this movement, or discuss the benefits to your group or organization, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651.587.5435.
Thank you for your engagement and support in “our response” to a world in need.