Rock Community Church has been closely involved with Rwanda since our first visit in September 2008. We work closely with a number of partners both at home and abroad: Comfort Rwanda, a Scottish based charity set up in 1999 by Dr Callum Henderson from Kilsyth; Solace Ministries, based in Rwanda, was established in 1995 by Jean Gakwandi (who lost 99 members of his own family in the genocide) as a way to comfort widows and orphans who had endured the great tragedies of the 1994 genocide in which over 1 million people were murdered; l’Eglise Vivant (The Living Church) set up in 1994, following the dark months of the genocide by Pastor Paul Ndahigwa (who returned from exile in Uganda) and Good News International, set up in 2010 by Ben Kayumba. In more recent times we have seen the set up of Comfort Congo in 2011. Comfort Congo projects aim to benefit both the local and displaced communities in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and works towards the development of unity, stability and empowerment of vulnerable people.
Rock Community Church was been in partnership with the Jari community since our first visit in September 2008. Jari is a rural forested area located on a mountainside some 20 km out of Kigali. The people do not live in one location but live in small villages throughout the Jari area.
The Jari community was established in 2000 by Solace Ministries, one of our Rwandan partners. It comprises of 80 adult members with 60 children. Of these, there are 20 child headed households with these children having lost their parents during the 1994 genocide. In addition, there are also 12 orphans who live in the homes of community members. 70 out of the 80 community members have land in which they grow their own food. They grow beans, sweet potatoes cassava, carrots, courgettes, tomatoes, peas and various fruits. They also have 3 Friesian cows which have been given by Rock Community Church. Friesian cattle give a much higher milk yield (up to 20 litres per day), significantly more than the typical African cow which gives in the region of 2 litres each day. The owner of the cow can sell on what milk she and her family do not need, thereby creating some income for themselves. Each cow we purchase is in calf therefore the owner has the benefit of an additional cow!! If it is female, the calf is weaned and given on to another member of the community; if it gives birth to a male calf; the owner can sell it on, usually receiving in the region of about £90 each. From this, some of the women have been able to pay to have their mud homes rendered to protect them from the rain as well as having concrete floors laid in their homes.
Since our partnership began, Rock Community Church have been involved in financing a wide range of income generating activities, including the giving of 4 sewing machines to women in the village during a visit in September 2010. These women were identified as having skills in that area. We also paid rent for premises for one year so they could set up a workers cooperative. Shortly after doing this, they secured a contract to make uniforms for the local school. Following our visit in September 2013, we were advised that one of the women has moved away after she got married, but continues to earn a living making clothes, using the sewing machine she received, another has moved into Kigali where she is employed as a seamstress, again using the sewing machine she was given The two remaining women continue to live and work in Jari and we had the pleasure of seeing their workshop. Some of us even had shirts made, as pictured left!! (L – R - Billy Reid, Paul Glassford and Billy McClung).
Forty members of the community were given seeds, fertilisers and pesticides so that they could grow their own fruit and vegetables. The surplus they would sell off to others within the locale, again generating an income for themselves.
Rwandans do not consider putting their elderly members into what we would describe as ‘care homes’. Whilst a number of the elderly ‘mamas’ in the Jari community have the benefit of family support, some do not and they primarily rely on the goodwill of their friends and neighbours for food and sometimes even clothing. Consider the case of Annonciata who is 84 year of age. People in the community take turns to visit her every day with food. In addition, they also take it in turns to stay overnight in her house so she is not left on her own.
Jari is an area that is well known for its honey with a rather distinctive flavour from the many eucalyptus trees that surround it. Previous attempts to establish a bee hive project foundered. Instead, Solace Ministries put together a workers cooperative and we contributed both financially and physically towards the building of a brick bee hive shelter in 2010. Yield was relatively good until a problem with pesticide use in a neighbouring field caused the death of the majority of the bees. We are currently working with our Rwandan partners to determine the way forward, including the possibility of offering micro finance loans to interested villagers.
One of the primary areas of concern was that of housing. Typical African houses are made of compacted mud bricks within a framework of branches and are roofed with corrugated metal sheeting. We were invited to look at the houses of Colette and Pelagia during our trip in September 2010 and were asked to consider repairing these. Colette and Pelagia are both widows from the genocide with each of them having been left to look after their children on their own.. When we saw them, it became apparent that it was not cost effective to make any repairs. In addition, both of their houses were a considerable distance away from the rest of the community. Rwandan policy, since 2009, has been to move away from dispersed housing and create ‘umudugudu’ ‘villages’ instead. With this in mind, we agreed with the local government administrator in September 2010 that we would purchase a plot of land for £1000 on which we would build a number of houses for needy widows and genocide survivors. It was agreed by the local community that Colette and Pelagia would be the first recipients of these houses. We also decided that we would move away from the typical African construction and instead modelled our houses on another project overseen by Comfort Rwanda in Bugesera. We agreed to build semi-detached three bedroomed brick homes with internal cooking and toilet facilities, a first in the area. In addition, each house would have a solar panel which would enable Colette and Pelagia to earn an income by recharging mobile phone batteries. Colette and Pelagia and their respective families moved into their new houses in November 2011 following a typical Rwandan celebration of singing, dancing and many speeches. The ceremony was also attended by the new government administrator who offered his ongoing support to both Solace Ministries and Rock Community Church. The above photos show the ‘before’ and ‘after’ homes with Colette pictured outside her old house. We also installed guttering and downpipes which would feed rainwater into the 10 metric tonne water tank that we installed. All villagers are permitted to make use of this water which avoids a lengthy trek to the local water tank which is filled by the local authority every other day.
Following the successful build of these houses, it was agreed that a further two houses would be built for members of the community. It was agreed by the community that Mukansanga Veneranda, the Leader of Solace Community should benefit from one of the new houses. Veneranda lost her husband and her son in the genocide. She also lost her house. She and her two daughters had been living in the home of a young boy who was orphaned by the genocide. She brought him up as her own son. This young man suffered a head injury and associated trauma. He also had his testicles cut off. As he became older, his mood swings became more violent and he assaulted her on more than one occasion. He also asked her to leave his home on several occasions. Veneranda’s selfless nature allowed her to choose Colette and Pelagia for the first two houses; however the community decided that she should receive one of the new houses. Due to local circumstances, a single house was built instead of a semi-detached building. It still had three bedrooms and internal cooking and toilet facilities. Veneranda moved in with her two daughters during June 2013 and we had the privilege of being at the cutting the ribbon ceremony in September 2013. (Pictured above: L to R: Veneranda, Fiona McClung, Jean Gakwandi (Director of Solace Ministries), Robert (surname unknown) (Local Government Administrator), Billy McClung).
We were asked to consider building another house which would be adjoined to Veneranda’s house. This house would be for a 21 year old orphan, Umubyeyi Diane. Diane was diagnosed as HIV positive from birth due to her mother having the same status. Diane, with her sister Sandrine (25) and brother Fabrice (17) previously lived with their maternal grandparents following the death of their mother from HIV a number of years ago. Their grandmother died in a road accident in 2011 and their grandfather sent them away as he was unable to cope with them. They have been renting a house in Jari but it is too small for their needs. Their living conditions are described as alarming and they earn a living by fetching and carrying water for their neighbours. Diane has a qualification in tailoring following a brief period of sponsorship. We hope to be able to provide her with a sewing machine. Her older sister Sandrine has a 4 year old daughter from a previous relationship. She is also HIV positive. Both are in receipt of Anti-Retroviral Treatment at Solace Clinic. We began digging the foundations of their new home during our visit in September 2013. It is hoped that their new home will be completed early 2014. Sandrine (left) and Diane (right) are pictured above.
Following discussions with the local government administrator, he decided that we should be able to name the location of our housing project in recognition of the fact that we have already provided housing for 3 families and have committed ourselves to building a fourth house for another family. In addition, he stated that he has recognised both the financial and emotional commitment that Rock Community Church has evidenced over the past five years. We decided to call it DUMBARTON VILLAGE in recognition of our home town of Dumbarton where Rock Community Church is based. In partnership with the Vocational Training Centre, a project set up in partnership between Comfort Rwanda and l’Eglise Vivante to provide various types of training for young men and women, including welding, carpentry and building, a sign was made. The sign was erected on 2 October 2013 at the entrance to the area in which the houses have been built.
The picture shows the Rock Community Church team members with the sign. (Left to Right are: David Robertson, Alistair Macindoe, Christine Robertson, Karen Ross, Anne Reid, Fiona McClung, Billy McClung and Chic Reid).
Some of us intend to return to Rwanda next year where we hope to attend another celebration meeting when we hand the keys of their new house over to Diane and her family!!
The new house is going to cost in the region of £5000. In addition, we also hope to install guttering and downpipes and, at a later date, install a water tank as we have done in the other houses. This will cost in the region of £750 for both houses. We also intend to install solar panels in Diane’s homes and retrofit this into Veneranda’s house so they can have energy; a source of light in the dark Rwandan nights as well as being able to earn an income by recharging mobile phone batteries for their friends and neighbours. This will cost on the region of £600 for both houses, making an overall total of £6300. We intend approaching various supermarkets in the New Year for bag packing slots. If your readers are interested in supporting this worthwhile cause, I am happy to be contacted via my email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org.