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Dignity is Found When Paying it Forward: From a Traveler’s Perspective

High in the hills, in a village of Rwanda, Jeanie, Cheryl, Katherine and I sat in a small and tidy house listening to the stories of how four young men’s lives had been transformed through Zoe.  Samuel, Emmanuel, Daniel, and Ernest each took turns sharing how desperate their lives used to be. Similar themes of hunger, abuse, isolation, and desperation unfolded. They went on to recount how participation in Zoe’s three year empowerment program significantly improved their lives. By developing businesses which provide a steady income stream, each of these young men are able to support not only themselves, but also their siblings. Now they each have a home, plenty of food to eat and can comfortably afford the fees to send younger children to school. They each are well dressed, well groomed and appear confident and happy. We enjoyed watching them periodically check their cell phones, a behavior that reminded us all of our own adult kids. In that moment we felt a strong connection to these young men and felt great joy in all they had accomplished.

During our week in Rwanda we never tired of these stories. Over and over we celebrated with young men and women who proudly described their thriving businesses to us. Whether it was a barber shop, mini-market, tailor shop or bakery, we delighted in the success of these young adults.

After hearing the stories of Samuel, Emmanuel, Daniel, and Ernest, we were surprised that two additional young men sitting in the back of the room asked to speak. Since we had been told they were not a part of the Zoe program, we assumed we were done and would move onto the next village. Instead, we listened as Bernard and Damascene shared how they had also benefited from Zoe despite never officially enrolling.

Bernard and Damascene are friends of the four young men that graduated from Zoe. Throughout the three year program, Samuel, Emmanuel, Daniel and Ernest regularly shared what they were learning with their friends. After Emmanuel returned from his carpentry training paid for by Zoe, he in turn taught his friends this valuable skill. Now this group of friends runs a successful carpentry business that provides the village with skillfully crafted furniture. As we prepared to leave, we asked who owned the home where we were sitting and Bernard smiled proudly and responded, “It’s my home.” Not only do all of the Zoe graduates have safe homes for their families, but so do their friends!

Samuel and his sister, Leonie

For $8,500 a year, Zoe Empowers transforms the lives  of roughly 100 orphans and vulnerable children through its’ empowerment model. That translates to only about $85 a year which is definitely impressive. But what is more impressive is that many additional children are benefiting.  Time and time again we heard stories about how empowered graduates are paying it forward. We may never know how many children are benefiting in this way, but just knowing that Bernard and Damascene benefited made our trip unforgettable.

380 million children living in extreme poverty will rely on charity forever.

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A monthly gift of $8 over 3 years empowers one orphan out of poverty. How many children like Bernard can you give lasting sustainable change?

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Submitted by Wendy Lee. Wendy is a freelance travel writer and blogger based in Orange County, California. She has traveled twice with Zoe Empowers to Rwanda and was deeply moved by the transformation experienced by children in the program. Her and husband, Jason, and two children, Jessica and Ryan, attend Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Tustin. You can read more about what to expect if you travel to Rwanda by visiting Wendy’s blog, Empty Nesters Hit the Road.


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