by Tasha Burgoyne
It was a Sunday in mid-August when we headed back to the City from the Cyimbili coffee plantation along the shores of Lake Kivu. Our 12 passenger van bumped it’s way through village after village until we reached paved roads that led us closer into the heart of Rwanda. My thoughts were still filled with moments from the past weekend: A local fisherman posing by holding up his daily catch for me to photograph, Anastasia’s smile as she stood over a simmering pot of fish that smelled like tomatoes and lemons preparing a meal for us, and Benjamin telling us stories of his Rwandan childhood as we later ate our fish dinner by candlelight. He said it was this very meal (his favorite) that his mom made for him, growing up. The local fisherman, Anastasia and Benjamin all had this distinct look of pride mixed with generosity as they offered their gifts to us, whether food, hospitality or a shared story. I would see that look again and again as we began to meet the women who were part of the WLTI over the next few days.
When we arrived in Ruhengehri, our last stop before heading back to Kigali for the conference, we veered onto a dirt road, lined with people. Our driver parked along the side street and we all climbed out waiting to be greeted by the ALARM Social Blessings microfinance women to join us.
As we waited, we learned that the person we were waiting for was running late, but not to worry we could try to go in the back way. The next thing I knew, we were following one of our local friends, as we entered a building that looked like something in between a small café restaurant and a home dining area. There were four or five small wooden tables, surrounded by people eating. It was dimly lit as we made our way through the crowded rooms and stares of the local customers. The scent of grilled meat and charcoal filled the room. We walked through the small space and out into a backyard area where a man washed a big pot with a hose. Soon we walked through a gate and onto a small patio that led to another building. The patio began to fill up with women. Soon the front entrance was unlocked and it didn't take long until the patio was a flurry of hugs, warmth, smiles and laughter. The chorus of voices filled the air. My ears will filled with the beauty of the Kinyarwandan language as we listened to them greeting each other.
After most of the women arrived, they took us into the building to sit in a circle on wooden benches. Each woman introduced herself and told us how she had come to be a part of the group and what she did to contribute to the group.
Each woman had the same look of pride when she shared about the skills she had and how she used it to not only impact her own life, but to also how her income allowed her to contribute to the collective funds of the women who surrounded her.
One of the women shared that she was unmarried and without children, her hands, her eyes and her voice held deep oceans of story and sadness as she spoke. She also told a story of acceptance and hope. She had been accepted into this group of women that lifted her up.
Loud and clear, the truth that we are better together rang out as she shared her story.
These women came from difficult and often challenging circumstances; yet they came together to rise up with linked arms. They have worked so hard by using their skills and gifts to help each other.
The pride I saw in their faces as they shared their part was beautiful. It was the same as the local fisherman smiling for my photograph with his fresh catch. It was the same as Anastasia’s face when we said Murakoze (thank you) to her for her meals and hospitality. It was the same when Benjamin shared about his mom and the food he had growing up: sharing a piece of his life story with us.
It is the look of one of God’s children offering up what they have, believing in their worth and stepping out into connection with others, even strange foreigners, like us.
Then, there was Josephine who not only shared a warm coke and her story of how she came to be part of the microfinance group, but would also come with us back to Kigali for the first of 6 WLTI conferences. She would represent the rest of the women who were part of the microfinance group.
The women in the ALARM microfinance group are businesswomen, examples of strength, and they are a unified front, despite many differences.
Their commitment to one another and their leadership in business and community is changing lives and families in Ruhengehri and beyond.
Josephine will be part of the WLTI for the next 3 years.
She is a burst of sunshine, and greeted us with such warmth every day. She is teachable and willing, smart and kind. During short breaks throughout our first conference last August, I would often see her sitting under an avocado tree at the ALARM center, with a Bible and her conference journal. She would be reading, writing or siting thoughtfully. I wondered then how often she had the opportunity to not only learn how to use the bible and grow in leadership through the sessions that were offered at the conference, but also how often she had the space to sit and reflect, process and dig deeper into her own story and ultimately, God’s story.
I can only imagine how the tools Josephine learned at the first conference have been implemented in the last 3 months with the women she’s connected to in the microfinance group, her own family, her church and the community she lives in. The thought of being a part of empowering someone like Josephine to lead more confidently and being a part of equipping her with the tools she needs to not only dig deeper into the Bible for herself but also as an example to others, is so encouraging.
We believe that this is what’s taking place in WOG partnership with ALARM through the WLTI. Women and entire communities around them are being transformed.
Investing in these women is investing in the world.
Miles away, I can still picture Josephine, sitting under an avocado tree, meeting with Jesus. I can also imagine her carrying that same look of pride and of generosity that I saw in Anastasia and Benjamin into every aspect of her servant leadership. Conference 2 is just a few months away, and we are eager to hear about all that God has done in and through Josephine and all of the other women involved.