Behind the Bag- Sarah

I love these Behind the Bag posts so much. And I particularly love these girls here. Today’s post is beautifully written by Sarah, one of our recent interns at No.41. For the month of March, Winona, Tee, Brittany, and Sarah came out to stay with us. Brittany and Tee interned at Noel and Winona and Sarah worked with Alison and I at No.41 and with Elise at His Imbaraga. These girls did some work and we are so thankful! One day maybe we can get up a post about that. :) For now, enjoy Sarah’s experience…

Hello from Gisenyi, Rwanda! We have all been placed in our practicum sites scattered across the country, working with 5 different organizations and institutions. This is a time we have all anxiously anticipated; it’s a transformational part of the GoED program— an amazing opportunity to develop relationships, experience home stays, and be involved with the efforts of the locals. Any time spent in Gisenyi guarantees a refreshing break from the busyness and chaotic way of life— surrounded by beautiful hills, mountains, schools, small businesses, and people who are in no hurry to get anywhere.

The night we returned to Kigali from Kampala was spent unpacking and repacking to ready for our journeys to our practicum sites the next morning. After a short night’s sleep, Brittany, Tee, Winona, and I crowded in a matatu with our bags and Kat and Mitch and took a three hour drive through stunning scenery on roads which twisted us around and in and out of the thousand hills of Rwanda; after passing through several small, rural towns we arrived in Gisenyi in front of a cute brick house painted pink, purple, gold, and all the colors in between; this was the home for several women, the workplace for many, and the foundations of hope for even more.

Tara, Alison, and Elise warmly greeted us as we made our way inside. These three American women are the founders and visionaries for two organizations —No.41 and His Imbaraga. Our time would be spent with these young Americans who dared to dream BIG, leaving the comfort of everything familiar, to pursue the purposes God had set out for them in Rwanda.

The vision for No.41: an opportunity for young women to break from the all-too-familiar confines of the orphanage and integrate into society with a chance to provide for themselves. In March 2012, No.41 was launched. Alison soon joined Tara in Rwanda and together they have been faithfully running this program for a little over a year. Today, 32 women are employed at No.41 sewing burlap handbags and other products, including a new line of aprons and oven mitts. While No.41 has provided work for these amazing young women, and an opportunity to attend the University, the benefits have rippled outside the No.41 house. There is so much more to it. When one bag is purchased, one child at Kanama Catholic School is fed for an entire year! Talk about changing the world for a lot more than one!

Before the feeding program, the children did not eat lunch during their school day. Now, 870 children eat for 140 RWF (Rwandan francs) every day; that’s 25 cents in American money. That means an average $10 meal in the States would feed 40 children for ONE day! Crazy to think what a small sacrifice, the cost of one meal, could do to change the world for one, or rather hundreds of children! It blew my mind to see how just a little goes such a long way. At first these were simply numbers which pleaded to be enough for advocacy; it wasn’t until Winona and I visited Kanama Catholic School that these figures became faces of individual school children who were thankful for something as simple as a hot lunch.

We were able to spend the day with John d’Amour, the manager of the feeding program, at Kanama. John’s dedication and belief in this program overshadows his inexperience in management. During our visit, we discussed possible solutions for budgeting and different management techniques to ensure a successful future for the program. At one point in our conversation he leaned back in his chair and plainly asked, “What are some important things that someone needs to know to be a manager?” Winona and I exchanged a look of surprise. His humility to ask for different ideas from us, a Journalism and Math major, revealed his desire and willingness to learn from anyone, regardless of experience or expertise. It was so neat to talk through simple methods and tactics of management that John could implement into the feeding program, despite our lack of textbook knowledge on the matter.

The feeding program has only been running for a little over a month, and although the needs for materials were voiced, John did not complain once about what he did not have; he is choosing to run this program with the resources he has been given, ensuring that ultimately 870 children, 36 teachers, 3 cooks, and 1 guard are able to eat every day. We were able to see the laborious task and process the cooks undergo to feed 910 each day. Kaunga, (maize meal), beans, and vegetables are commonly cooked in HUGE metal pots over the coals in a small kitchen right behind the classrooms. Shovels are used to serve the food into smaller dishes. When lunchtime rolled around, three representatives from each classroom file into the kitchen and grab a basin of food to share with their class. Our time at the school was one of my favorite days here in Gisenyi. Visiting the school and seeing all the work that is put into this feeding program made the efforts of No.41 so tangible and real. Once you’ve been given eyes to see a specific need, and meet those who are involved and affected, statistics and figures turn into faces— faces of school children who greet you with handshakes and high fives; the reality of the need quickly becomes apparent in the eyes of individuals rather than statistics jotted down on paper. To see how the same vision which began with the intention of changing the world for ONE has now multiplied to benefit 900 school children is truly a testament of God’s ability to do far more than we ask or imagine!

Over the course of the last 3 weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spread the word about No.41 and His Imbaraga through various social media outlets, help develop a campus rep program, edit content for websites and social media sites, and create flyers and brochures to spread awareness about these two organizations. More than gaining experience for my Journalism degree, joining Tara, Alison, and Elise’s efforts has encouraged me to be a part of something greater than myself and “do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” (Andy Stanley)

Upon arriving in Gisenyi and meeting these girls I immediately saw their passion and enthusiasm for what they do in Rwanda. Hung amidst the array of burlap bags in the living room hangs a small canvas with the dreamer’s mantra painted in the silhouette of Africa, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” Age, doubts, and fears are not limitations to accomplishing dreams- they are agents to drive you ahead and remind you that realistic expectations are to be traversed through acknowledging your weaknesses and trusting in God’s power. Faith is a lifestyle allowing His power to shine through our inability. I can’t tell you how encouraging it has been to be able to spend this last month with Tara, Alison, and Elise, who just like me, dream to make a difference; they have challenged me not let to let my dreams die in the making; to live by faith so you’re able to fully experience and clearly see God at work in the midst of your own fear, weakness, and inexperience. They recognize that what they’re doing here has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with being willing to say “Yes” to what God has called them to be a part of. Throughout my time in Rwanda thus far I have been reminded time and time again, that my inexperience and inability are insignificant when I’m willing to say “Yes” to the plans God has set out before me.

To buy a bag, click here.

To check out His Imbaraga, click here.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” –Edward Everett Hale

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