"I envisioned maybe 100 people living in a small village with a well and a few buildings," Willis said, "but Rwimbogo turned out to be a major sector of Rwanda with thousands of people, and we found ourselves in an operation of a much larger scale than I'd ever anticipated. There were people everywhere, and despite the state of extreme poverty in Rwimbogo, there was an undeniable air of communal pride."
No stranger to international travel, Willis took on an opportunity to document our SheKnows partnership with Food for the Hungry with an eager heart and a willing hand. It was an opportunity for Willis to represent SheKnows and extend our mission to empower our readers and strengthen community on a global scale.
"I learned quickly that the women of Rwimbogo are survivors, steadfast and relentlessly welcoming. They've lived through the tremendous hardships of genocide, and the village, unfortunately, has many orphans and widows. The people of Rwimbogo are truly fighting for one another and want to see their community flourish, so it's not uncommon to witness public displays of embrace and support — physical embrace with no hesitancy — because the entire community has stepped up, together."
"Food for the Hungry primarily impacts through child sponsorship, but the funding and donations are channeled throughout the entire community for the betterment of the whole. Goats and other livestock we helped purchase, for instance, empower a sense of individual and communal ownership." Willis said. "It's difficult to place the dynamic into an American perspective, but this is a four-legged vehicle for financial, emotional, nutritional and social benefit and for present and future benefit. It's perhaps comparable to setting up someone in need with a quality part-time job."
Willis went on to explain that Food for the Hungry aims to help communities help themselves. It's more than a "handout" operation, he said. On the contrary, Food for the Hungry strives to pull communities out of the many forms of modern poverty and into a posture of self-sustainability and self-sufficiency.
"These goats were not just an animal, a pet or a chore," he said. "The goats weren't a food box that was flown in, eaten and disposed of. They're equity and an investment."
Donovan Christian, another volunteer on the trip from Expedition Church in Payson, Arizona, couldn't agree more.
"These goats are easy to care for, and I love what Food for the Hungry does in terms of 'Hey, this goat will eventually have a baby, and you don't get to keep the baby because you've got to give it away, and now somebody else's life is going to be changed.' It's a goat — you know — but it really is going to make their life better in a substantial way."
The pay-it-forward approach is something we can stand behind. SheKnows was especially thankful for our chance to empower the youth of Rwimbogo in their continued education.
"One of the greatest moments was certainly handing out over 75 SheKnows backpacks. Food for the Hungry identified the children with the greatest need for the supplies, and there was so much excitement in the classroom," Willis said. "We passed out these bright bags full of pens, pencils, notebooks and more — just simple bags with a drawstring and some straps — but in a culture where individuals walk nearly everywhere and children aren't used to receiving gifts, it was a huge gesture of encouragement, and those kids truly value their education. This was a big, big deal and an incredible exchange."
Because education, positive relationships, encouragement and dedication are vital to prevailing over poverty in Rwanda and the world beyond, we're challenging our SheKnows readers to engage in the wonderful opportunity of child sponsorship.
According to the Food for the Hungry programs director in Rwanda, Trisha Okenge, "Finances that come in are pooled together in the center so that the child and the impact of our combined resources result in community-based development — things like building schools and infrastructure such as water tanks and latrines to improve sanitation and hygiene. We're able to buy school desks and initiate programming that affects the entire community with income-generating activities. The scope of our funding goes far beyond the children, although they're assuredly feeling the impact."
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