Farming For a Better Future

When we stand on our plots of rice, we feel resurrected. We thought we were going to die but now, we are alive.” -Samuel, 2017 Rwanda graduate, Ibyishimo Group.

From left to right: Nathaniel, Emmanuel, Daniel and Samuel.

Growing up in a family of six siblings without parents, Samuel often felt the pangs of hunger. On the streets of a small Rwandan village, the 22-year-old eldest child of six brothers and sisters would regularly beg for a single daily meal. Though an outsider likely wouldn’t consider a cup of mashed peas a meal, for them it was survival.

Not far from Samuel lived Emmanuel and his special needs sister, Janine. The two lived in a poorly constructed clay home that Emmanuel dreamed of escaping one day. Though he’d become accustomed to waking each morning to endure long hours of back-breaking labor in the scorching African sun, he often found himself overcome with anger and helplessness.

Like most orphans trying to survive in the complicated system of extreme poverty, these boys lived their lives day by day, meal by meal. After all, what was the point of looking forward when future days were seemingly just as grim?

Through the formation of a Zoe Empowers empowerment group in their community, Samuel and Emmanuel were united with Daniel and Nathaniel, two other local teenagers living in similar life-threatening circumstances. The foursome suddenly didn’t feel so painfully alone; they could relate to the hardships each other—and dozens of their peer group members—faced. Together, they became the Ibyishimo Group, and suddenly they began to have hope that tomorrow could be better then today.

With the help of a small micro-loan from Zoe Empowers, group members purchased rice seeds from a rural farmer and got to work – planting multiple plots of land they had acquired. Growing rice not only fulfilled their need for a staple food product, but it also served as a reliable source of income.

With each growing season came more confidence. And with more confidence came the ability for these young people to assert themselves into the community that once marginalized their existence. The community’s acceptance of their gifts and talents wasn’t instant, but as the rice farm continued to turn a profit and group members ventured into starting new businesses that catered to local needs, the concept of empowerment began to catch on. Respect for group members as leaders in the community began to take hold.

Today, the Ibyishimo Group’s rice farm operation employs more than 50 community members. Some of the Ibyishimo Group members still work their own plots, while others proudly hire out help for a fair wage.

When asked about the success of the rice farm project, Samuel said, “When we stand on our plots of rice, we feel resurrected. We thought we were going to die, but now, we are alive.”

Through the energetic demeanor and glittering eyes of Samuel and his group members, it’s clear the rice farm has produced much more than food, it has created purpose. And with purpose, has come both hope and expectation for an even better future.

Self-worth grew as group members began to utilize other skills learned through ZOE’s program. Emmanuel once worked 12-hour days to earn as little as $5 a week. With ZOE’s assistance, he attended vocational training classes and now steadily works as a carpenter, making him more than enough income to support himself, his sister, and her newborn baby. Emmanuel no longer wants to run away from his community like he once did. Today he is proud of the life he has built.

Rwanda boy in front of home
Emmanuel standing in front of his newly constructed home.

Daniel vividly remembers starving, standing on the street outside the store so he could beg for money or food from anyone who exited. Now, as a Zoe Empowers grad, he’s used the profits from his rice plots to help his brother, Ernest, open his own supply store. Daniel also works as a carpenter and proudly built a house for himself and his brother, something they both thought was a distant dream just three years ago. Next year, he hopes to marry his girlfriend, whom he describes as beautiful and brave with a big heart, and to build another house for their life together.

Daniel with his brother Ernest proudly standing in front of their grocery store.

Nathaniel hasn’t forgotten the nights he’d awake with gut-wrenching stomach pains due to hunger and dehydration. He’d daydream about the foods he assumedly would never get to taste because he’d never have enough money to buy them. His new reality is quite the contrary. Nathaniel has dramatically expanded his business by selling cassava, a starchy food similar to that of a potato. Cassava is in high demand because it’s not regularly available in his community. With the help of his carpenter friends, Daniel and Emmanuel, he was also able to build a home where he feels safe and confident.

Nathaniel stands in front of his home.

Unlike the other three boys, Samuel used his rice farm profits to enroll in courses at a university with the goal of becoming an electrician. As a boy who never thought he’d finish high school to being a university graduate who owns a farm and many animals, Samuel’s life, and subsequently the life of his five siblings, has radically changed.

And with it so have his beliefs. Living in a culture with deep-rooted ideas about women, Samuel has adopted a more diverse mindset since starting his journey with ZOE. “I now believe that women can do anything that men can do. They are smart like men,” he explained. “I have great respect for them. Their role in nurturing the family will have the largest impact on future generations and in the world.”

Nathaniel, Emmanuel, Daniel and Samuel proudly displaying a bag from their rice harvest.

In just three years, Samuel and his groupmates have become young adults who are socially, financially and spiritually strong. They made this transformation because of the training and resources provided through Zoe Empowers at the cost of only $280 per child. By joining our monthly giving community, you can bring additional youth and children into empowerment groups so that they can leave the suffering of poverty behind and look forward to experiencing ever increasing hope and success.

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

$8 a month can change that.

It only takes $8 a month for three years to bring a child from begging for food as a way to survive to never relying on charity again. How many children’s lives will you change?

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