Earlier this summer, TUMC sent a team to Munazi, Rwanda to meet the Umucyo (or “Daylight”) Empowerment Group that was fully funded with the leadership of last year’s Vacation Bible School children. The team was privileged to hear first-hand from members of the Umucyo group how ZOE had helped them leave charity behind for good, and they want to share some of those stories with you.
Meet the Superstar
Leontine is a member of the Umucyo (or Daylight) Empowerment Group in Munazi, Rwanda–the group that was fully funded with the leadership of VBS 2018. She’s one of 31 heads of household in the Umucyo group, which is made up of 98 vulnerable children. At nineteen, Leontine cares for five siblings.
Before she started ZOE’s three year empowerment program, Leontine said she was always hungry, relying on one meal every three days to survive. ZOE staff told the TUMC Rwanda team that she was underweight and malnourished. Leontine said, “I was a superstar of poor hygiene,” eliciting giggles from her groupmates.
For orphans and vulnerable children, ignorance about hand-washing practices and an inability to regularly bathe can lead to debilitating and painful stomach and skin illnesses.
Then She Met ZOE
After a year in ZOE’s empowerment program, Leontine has learned about health and hygiene, child rights and best business practices. She now earns enough money through her initial income generating businesses to eat every day.
Leontine pointed to her clothes, smiling, “Now I think I look clean and smart, and you can see I am no longer a hungry girl. I am no longer a superstar either.”
She may have great hygiene now, but we think she’s a superstar example of the transformation ZOE’s empowerment model brings to the most vulnerable young people!
Meet the Bosses
Amani, Emmanuel, Isadore and Naphtar live in the village of Kayenzi, Rwanda. Before ZOE, these young men, ages 18-20, had to beg and steal in order to eat. Between them, they care for ten younger siblings, a task that was nearly impossible. They said sometimes they would turn to drugs to numb the hunger and loneliness of their lives. They often hid from other members of the village, which compounded their sense of isolation.
“They used to call us beggars and thieves,” Amani told the TUMC Rwanda team in Kinyarwandan, his local language.
Then they met ZOE. Amani, Emmanuel, Isadore and Naphtar are all members of the Tuzamurane Empowerment group, which is one of the eight active empowerment groups TUMC supports across three countries. Tuzamurane is a name the group picked for itself and it means “lift one another.” And, that is just what they did.
When we met these four in June, they had just completed the first year of ZOE’s three year empowerment program. Together, they run a shop that sells roasted nuts and samosas. Thanks to the profits from that business, they could buy land and start a farming business, employing others to work the land and grow fruits and vegetables to sell at the market while these boys are run their snack shop. They are hoping to begin delivering produce to more rural villages soon.
These young people no longer feel singled out and isolated. The community they have built together has sustained their spirits as the businesses they’ve built together feed their bodies. More than that, they were once shunned by the village for begging and stealing and now they are respected business owners and employers.
When ZOE staff asked them, “what do they call you now?,” the four boys smiled and said in their succinct English: “bosses!”
Charlotte’s mother died when she was just five years old, leaving her alone to care for an infant brother. Despite their vulnerability to illness and exploitation, she kept her family together for twelve years, adding a daughter of her own, and they survived by begging for food and living under bridges. There was no time to dream when day-to-day life was a nightmare.
Charlotte met ZOE
ZOE’s intentional three year program of community building, asset mapping, business training, and micro lending begins with one question: what do you dream of? “ZOE became like a mother to me,” Charlotte said, “a mother who taught me how to make a better life.”
Over the last two years, Charlotte has worked hard to grow and sell vegetables. She’s sharing what she’s learned about sustainable business practices with her brother, and together, they live in a their own home where they take care of Charlotte’s daughter—and the family cow! Charlotte said, “Each time I achieve one dream, I add another.”
What will she dream of next?
Charlotte is sharing ZOE with others. Last year, she adopted an eight-year-old orphan living in her village. Charlotte welcomed this child into her home because she knows what it is like to be a vulnerable child, trying to survive without the means or skills or advocates to help. She opened her home and family to this young boy because she knows now how to make a safe place for him to dream, too.
Another member of Charlotte’s ZOE empowerment group, Selamani, initially dropped out of the empowerment group—a rare ZOE occurrence. But Selamani said that the first few months, when ZOE focuses on empowerment instead of relieving immediate needs, were difficult. Like Charlotte, Selamani had not ever had a permanent home or even regular daily meals. He wondered, “How can I eat dreams?”
Once she began to realize the benefits of ZOE’s three year program, Charlotte sought out Selamani. She convinced him that the time and effort were not wasted. Charlotte went to their group meeting with a plan. She knew that Selamani, whose life before ZOE was particularly desperate, needed help and encouragement. Together, the empowerment group helped to build Selamani a house using group funds and their own spare time. Now, Selamani lives down the road from Charlotte in a new house with a sanitary toilet and room for the rabbits he raises and sells. Because of ZOE and Charlotte, he is eating—and dreaming.