We Journey TogetherOthers, Poverty
Contributed by: Canadian Baptist Ministries
I live in a country where many people lack the support and resources they need to thrive. Based in Rwanda as CBM Field Staff, I work among the most poor and vulnerable in our society. But I don’t like to think of them as “the poor” and those of us who help as “the benefactor.” We need a new way of thinking, a new attitude.
The poor are not empty-handed; they have much to offer. They do not wish to just sit there, waiting for someone to help. They have energy, skills and dreams. The only thing they may be missing is an opportunity to develop or explore their capabilities. Many face social injustices that deny them the chance or access to things that improve life, such as education or health care. Although “the poor” may lack some basic things, God has given each person gifts and talents to develop and share. In some cases, they also have natural resources that they can start with, to build upon.
In the Bible, God performed miracles using simple items that people had on hand. In the Old Testament, God used Moses’ staff to part the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16) and Elisha’s salt to purify the contaminated water (2 Kings 2:19-21). In the New Testament, we also see a similar pattern. Jesus used five loaves and two fish from a young boy to feed a multitude (John 6:9-11).
We are on a journey together – one where there is neither donor nor beneficiary. Instead, we are both at the table. We are both eager to learn, bringing something to offer. This approach empowers individuals and entire communities to become self-sufficient over time. It is about capacity-building – and help comes in ways that bring dignity. It can be access to education or skills training, or loans and materials to start businesses or improve farming; personal or family counselling; peacebuilding to solve conflicts; encouragement that boosts self-esteem. It is raising people up to where they can make improvements and sustain themselves for the long-term, impacting future generations. In this process, we need to be humble and loving as we walk alongside. But we also need to be patient, as it takes time for people to recover their dignity and become empowered.
Since 2004, CBM has partnered with the Association of Baptist Churches of Rwanda to walk alongside widows, orphans and other family members impacted by HIV and AIDS through the Guardians of Hope (GOH) project.
Before we launched this project, infected people were dying because they struggled to access anti-retroviral drugs, which can improve health and extend life. It was a time of hopelessness and much fear that caused a lot of stigma for those infected as well as their families. While great change has happened with more funding for treatment from the government and other agencies, people still suffer. In addition to medical treatment, they need the support of their communities, and the skills and resources needed to help improve their quality of life. This provides a sense of hope, peace of mind and encouragement.
GOH provides a source of strength and comfort – emotional, physical and spiritual. Together, we started support groups that meet at local churches and offer counsel, prayer and encouragement. We also provided specialized training on home-based care for caregivers helping people at the end of life phase of the disease, and educational support (such as school fees, books, uniforms, vocational skills training, and other resources) for the orphans whose parents died from the disease. We have now started a new phase – entrepreneurship and income-generation activities.
In June 2017, we introduced and trained GOH groups in the savings and loans model called VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association), where groups meet every week to save money and eventually give out small loans. They also have a social fund that each member contributes to, along with the shares that they buy as savings. This fund is used to help each other in times of great need, such as when a group member gets sick and needs to pay a hospital bill, or another family emergency occurs.
I want to introduce you to some of these Guardians of Hope who inspire me with their courage and perseverance.
Drocella is 55 years old. Her husband died five years ago, leaving her alone to care for their three children. Many become desperate in this kind of circumstance. Fortunately, Drocella lives in a region where one of our Baptist churches offers a GOH support group. There are 48 members in her group. They call themselves Girubuzima (“be healthier”).
They have started savings and loans. At their weekly meeting, they put their savings in the group’s metal box and record the amount each member contributes in the group’s book as well as in the individual’s booklet. But the impact of their savings and loans go beyond money.
“As a group, we feel now life has a direction [hope for the future],” says Drocella. “We have access to loans without facing the bank’s higher interest rate. And I have a dividend from the overall interest because my savings are also my shares. If we share out at the end of the year, I can afford to buy a pig [for future earnings] and I will have money to buy good food for my children on Christmas.”
Drocella grows tomatoes and other vegetables to earn money. She hopes to build her farm business. “Coming together in savings and loans increased the trust between us as group members. It helped me to be a good steward because I set up saving funds as a priority in my household weekly expenses. Hence, I think twice before spending any coin. Next year, I will increase my weekly saving [to invest more in my tomato farm business].”