Gainfully employed! Having a job, a regular income, is a privilege. It is also part of our birthright as Americans, isn’t it? Fill out the application, complete an interview, try to convince the boss to take a chance on you. If they do, you’ll have a paycheck, insurance and benefits, and generally a comfortable work environment.
It’s a very different picture in a small community in southern Rwanda, where the process is much more intensive. The story begins with John and Ann (names fictionalized), a young American couple who responded to the Lord’s call to invest their lives in this rural community. In the two years they have been there, they have developed influential friendships and connections with active humanitarian organizations. The results have included a clean water supply, electricity, and many goats and rabbits and cows to provide food and a source of income for the people.
The 1994 genocide war in Rwanda may be history, but the effects will be felt for many years to come. Young women have grown up without one or both parents. They could not afford the $25 to $50 per year for school supplies, so they have minimal education. They have cared for younger siblings, or become single parents. The welfare system consists of relatives who can help, but most have little to share.
Enter John and Ann, with the help of generous donors and a wealth of possibilities for the City of Joy. Add picks and shovels, rocks and mortar, and sewing machines.
Sewing machines? That’s right. Treadle sewing machines, the kind we had in America back in the dark ages before electricity. We call them antiques and turn them into décor. But they represent progress for the members of this community.
Result: the Women of Rwanda Sewing Association, a grass-roots effort to enable women to escape the poverty of their early lives.
Less than a year ago, the first sewing class began meeting on a concrete slab. Without electricity, treadle machines were the only logical choice. Each woman is sponsored for a one-year training program to become a fully qualified seamstress. They will soon complete the year of instruction, and become charter members of the Sewing Association, a trade organization. During this time, they have created handbags and other sellable craft items to help support the program, and have been commissioned to make school uniforms for those children fortunate enough to attend school.
The development of the Sewing Association has benefited the entire community. While the women have learned to use their machines to generate income, others in the community have been employed in the construction of a Women’s Center. They broke ground in November, providing much-needed jobs for more than 65 people. The work is done by pick and shovel, trowel and wheelbarrow. By stacking one rock or brick at a time. The walls have recently been completed, and work on the roof is started. This building will house the Sewing Association, another sewing classroom for a new group of women, and other vocational training rooms, as well as a community worship center. They also plan to hire a pastor.
Life is changing radically for the young women who are sponsored into the sewing association training program. Claudine’s father abandoned them, and her mother is HIV positive. Through the program, she has acquired new skills, along with growing friendships and mentoring relationships through the program. She hopes to teach other women what she’s learning.
Donatha’s father died in the 1994 genocide war. The family, which includes her mother and 4 siblings, depends on agriculture for a living. None could afford school. The sewing class has provided vocational training and fellowship with other women. She is grateful for the sponsorship which enables her to have her own machine to start a career.
Edisa has depended on her sister’s family since both parents died, her mother in 1991 and her father died in the 1994 genocide. Life has been very hard. Her sister has six children who all attend school. Edisa is proud of what she has learned in a short time, and of being able to help other students. She wants to help her community develop so many more will benefit.
One couple, obedient to the Call. A growing financial support base. The City of Joy is rising up to give employment, hope and a future in a land which has seen too much suffering and helplessness.
Jeremiah 29:11 - 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. (NASV)
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