Rwanda had long been a dream of our founder, Mary Martin Niepold. Haunted by news of the suffering from the 1994 genocide there, Niepold made it a priority to visit Rwanda in 2009 to see if there might be a way for TNP to help grandmothers raising grandchildren orphaned by AIDS there.
She knew of the amazing crafts coming out of Rwanda under the leadership of visionary and entrepreneur Joy Ndungtse at a crafts center called Gahaya Links. She knew that Gahaya Links also made the amazing O bracelets featured in O magazine. Niepold wanted to find Gahaya to see if they would train grandmothers in Rwanda.
First, Board member, Gretchen Effgen, reached out to her contacts and found a very impressive ngo called Orphans of Rwanda (now called Generation Rwanda). Through the suggestion of its director, Michael Brotchner, TNP held a written contest for genocide orphans studying at universities through scholarships that his organization provided, and two students won the positions of being paid coordinators for us in Rwanda. Simon and Timothee then found 15 grandmothers raising AIDS orphans high in the Jabana hills outside of Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
TNP had now located the recipients of our training, and one small miracle after another put Niepold in Gahaya’s offices a few months later. Joy was delighted to lend her expertise to our grandmothers after already training thousands and thousands of marginalized Rwandan women for her own organization.
In Spring, 2010, these grandmothers became the first group of grandmothers to be trained in Rwanda. They continue to make paper beads that Gahaya turns into exquisite bracelets and necklaces, and their families now have new clothes, school fees, clinic visits and food – necessities that weren’t affordable before our training.
A few months later – in the summer of 2010 – another series of miracles put Niepold in touch with Pastor Deo Gashagaza, Executive Director of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. This ngo has built five “Reconciliation Villages” throughout the countryside of Rwanda. Niepold and two volunteers visited one of the villages in Mbyo, about a 90-minute drive outside of Kigali. Here, former Hutu genocidiers and surviving Tutsis live side by side in a village composed of some 45 families.
These villages are living testimonies to the power of love and forgiveness.
Niepold talked to the villagers. “You live pretty far out here in the countryside,” she said. “What is your biggest challenge being so far away from the city?”
The villagers didn’t hesitate: “We need a preschool.”
Just that simple. Niepold now knew that the preschool model TNP has been operating in the Nairobi slums could be adapted into a sustainable rural model.
And so, today, one of TNP’s biggest missions is to raise $73,000 to buy land and build a TNP preschool for the Reconciliation Village in Mbyo. This amount also includes buying land for farming vegetables and training grandmothers how to farm vegetables that will be used to feed the children and to generate income. It also includes buying another plot of land and two cows – which will likewise be used to feed the school children and to sell for income to sustain the preschool.
When the TNP Preschool is built in Mbyo, Rwanda – we hope by summer 2014 – it will be a model for other preschools throughout rural Africa, and grandmothers raising AIDS orphans, wherever they are, will be the beneficiaries and will once again show the world that success comes from determination and love, not age.
We are extremely thankful for our partners and staff in Rwanda – they have enormous hearts, and we learn from them day after day. We are especially grateful to Simon Mvunabandi, who operates our programs in Rwanda, to Bishop John Ruchyana for introducing us to Prison Fellowship Rwanda and to Joy Ndungtse for extending her heart and expertise to our grandmothers.