Occasionally you have the opportunity to change a life, but only rarely do you have the opportunity to see an entire people group transformed. That’s the opportunity that Olive Branch has with its Rwanda initiative.
Located just to the southwest of Uganda, Rwanda is a country of nearly 11 million people and a land mass about the size of Maryland. In 1994, tribal warfare broke out and in approximately 100 days, an estimated one million people were brutally massacred, leaving hundred’s of thousands of children orphaned and a country devastated. Even though today Rwanda is one of the fastest developing African countries, the needs of the people, particularly in the rural area, are enormous.
OBM is thoroughly engaged in intensive spiritual and economic development of two tribes of wonderful people, the poorest of the poor, in the southern most part of Rwanda and that effort is transforming a people group!
These two Twa Tribes (pygmy) are living in the southern most province of Rwanda – population, 75 families, 350 lives. They are a severely marginalized, discriminated, forgotten and ignored people who are the poorest of the poor in all of Rwanda. Because of the extent of their poverty, their children don’t go to school; they lack medical care; they are malnourished, and they live in deplorable conditions. However, they are a very peaceful and joyful tribe who are extremely talented in music, dance and in making traditional Rwandan pottery. They seem to have had very little biblical teaching or Christian influence over their history. Thus they are in deep poverty both economically and spiritually. We are addressing both of these poverties with long lasting sustainable initiatives. As far as we can tell, Olive Branch Ministries is the only organization in decades that has come alongside these very deserving people committed to offering real and lasting answers.
Water: The only source of drinking water was a shallow river several kilometers away—the water was not good, and at times it would go dry. The lack of fresh, clean drinking water was the cause of some significant health issues. We were able to provide a source of fresh, clean water that is less than 50 meters away. For the first time in the history of the village, they have clean, fresh water.
Medical care: Many of their children were sick. Along the way, infants and older adults had died because they had no medical care. We were able to connect them with professional medical care for the entire village that is readily available and at no cost to them.
Education: In 2013, we put all of their children (about 85 kids) in school. This was the first time anyone in their tribe had ever been to school—both tribes have been illiterate for generations. That same year, we began a literacy program for the adults. As these adults are learning to read and write, their since of confidence and self empowerment has been amazing.
Poverty: For generations they have been in deep, deep poverty with no reasonable way out due to the marginalization and discrimination of their group. Except for hiring out to dig, collect firewood or carry bricks, there was a total lack of opportunity and economic resources. There were times that we visited and the village had not eaten in over a day. Our objective is to create a means of sustainable income … we are going to “teach them to fish”! (See the plan below)
Spiritually: They seem to have a core knowledge of God but have had no direct spiritual, biblical influence or teaching. We have connected with them spiritually and have begun to share the love of Christ with them.
The following is our plan to build on what we have already begun. The objective of this economic development plan is to create a sustainable income so that very little, if any, investment will be needed in subsequent years as we “teach them to fish!”
Economic Development Plan: Our early efforts at creating sustainable income to reduce their poverty were very frustrating and ineffective. Through a series of very wonderful, God-orchestrated events in June of 2014, we were able to launch a farm program that has been successful beyond any of our hopes and dreams. The government has set aside plots of land for the poor to farm if they meet certain organizational requirements. We worked hard for two months to meet and exceed those requirements and they allocated a wonderful piece of property for farming just down the hill from their village. From the end of July to the end of January, in preparing the ground, planting seeds, nurturing and caring for the crops, we witnessed the beginning of a total transformation among these people. For the first time, they have purpose and meaning. There is a reason other than pure survival for them to get up each morning. They have a pride of ownership and a sense of responsibility that is all brand new to them. The end of January saw the harvest of the first crops. Much of it was sold, and some was consumed by the people of the village. The decision had been made early on to plant eucalyptus trees. We planted approximately 60,000 trees in all. Early in January, a contractor who does massive reforestation projects contacted us and committed to buying all of the trees we had and as many as we could produce. Right place, right time, with the right product – amazing!!! Providing resources and opportunity to those who have neither … to the glory of God.
What an exciting prospect it is to be able to engage in the lives of these folks and know that the you are changing generations of poverty for generations to come!
Walk any street in most any African country and you will see them, mostly boys and young men. You will recognize them by their very worn, dirty and tattered clothing and usually bare feet. You might meet them personally when they walk up to you with one hand outstretched the other rubbing their tummy begging for money for food. Who are they? They are children who, for various reasons, have taken to the streets to live. Orphaned? Some of them are, but not all. Many of these children are victims of domestic chaos and or violence that can involve drugs, alcohol or just a single mom with way too many kids. For these children, life on the street, fending for themselves, is far more desirable than the tumultuous life with their family. In Rwanda, there are thousands of them, mostly just referred to as “Street Children.” I like to call them Rwanda’s greatest untapped resource. Think about it: what does it take to survive on the streets? It takes courage, creativity, resourcefulness, resilience… the very thing that it takes to be a leader, an entrepreneur. What an amazing untapped resource walking around right there on the streets! One of the primary challenges for anyone wanting to help these children is that they are not in touch with their need for help. They are independent, they have no rules, no chores, no homework, nor anyone telling them to do anything. To some degree, by stealing and begging, they have also become self-sustaining. It is this challenge that has caused many governments, as well as private programs, to have failed, and many have given up trying to reach this important group of children.
In 2010, I fell in love with this group of children and began asking God to show me how we can effectively reach them. On one of my exploratory visits to Rwanda, for this very purpose, I met David Wald. I first saw David in a restaurant reading his Bible. Intrigued, I approached him and said, “Excuse me, my name is Gary, I’m from the U.S.” He said, “Hello, my name is David, I’m from the U.K.” I said “David, what do you do?” He said, “I have a ministry with street children.” I said, “Do tell!” What has grown out of that divine encounter is a wonderful partnership of effectively meeting the needs of a small group of street children.
Olive Branch is very fortunate to be partnered with David and the Wermer Kalka Foundation in this terribly exciting program that will transform the lives of these young men who might not otherwise have a chance in life… bringing resource and opportunity to those who have neither!