Not All Heroes Wear Capes
“I believe love is the seed put in my heart to give to others. If I don’t close my eyes to suffering, God will bless me.”
‒ Gentil, 2017 Graduate in Rwanda
What a time it would be if, instead of idolizing those with big muscles, fancy cars and expensive homes, we admired those who had the exact opposite. More specifically, people who didn’t want any of the aforementioned items. All they wanted was a way to survive. To overcome the horror of their reality to live a life they believed was worth living. What if we looked up to people like Gentil, a young Rwandan boy whom you’ve never met but likely won’t forget.
When Gentil’s mother passed away from complications delivering her fourth child, a daughter whom she named Delphine, Gentil was only 11 years old. His father’s death, mere months before Delphine was born, left him the eldest man of the house. Now, without his mother’s help, he quickly became full-time caretaker and provider for his three siblings: 5-year old twins, Jean Claude and Claudine, and newborn Delphine. A profound circumstance many adults would be hard-pressed to fathom.
With little direction but intense intuition, Gentil did what he needed to do to keep his household alive. He set out into the streets of his Rwandan village, wandering and begging to local community members. He pushed bikes of crops to market and often volunteered himself for labor intensive jobs on farms to bring home whatever he could to feed his family at least one meal a day. Luckily, during this time, a family friend stepped in to care for baby Delphine, but she returned her to Gentil after three years.
Although happy to have his sister with him again, he quickly became overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for a toddler, especially one who wouldn’t stop crying. It didn’t take long for Gentil to learn why: baby Delphine was sick. As a orphan without funds or access to proper medical care, Gentil felt useless. He inquired with others on how to maneuver the healthcare system with no avail and became desperate to help Delphine.
After years of living in poverty, Gentil joined the Zoe Empowers program in early 2015 and was immediately comforted by the community of children in his empowerment group who were just like him. For the first time in his life, he could relate with others and didn’t feel so painfully alone. His group called themselves “Intwari”, a Kinyarwanda word meaning hero.
In the first few months of the program, Gentil’s group gave him a pig to start him on his journey toward food security, the first major area of poverty Zoe Empowers covers. “I was so happy,” recalled Gentil. “I never dreamed I could have a pig.”
The Intwari group collectively purchased and traded animals amongst themselves, with help from a small grant from ZOE, which led Gentil to also acquire a hen. His hen laid eggs, which grew to be six chickens. Gentil began to sell his healthy farm animals at market and earned enough to buy new school uniforms for his siblings, in addition to supplying his family with more regular meals. And this was just four months into the Zoe Empowers program!
Surprised but motivated by his own success, Gentil took the next step in Zoe Empowers training which included classes on entrepreneurship. Running his own business would’ve seemed impossible and something only for those significantly more well-endowed than him just months before, but now, with the support of the Intwari group, he felt different. He was starting to believe in himself and his potential.
With optimism and hope, he signed up for a class teaching the skill of donut making. Using a few simple ingredients, Gentil learned he could make dozens of donuts, and the local community loved them. Profits from his donut business allowed him to invest in other commodities such as beans and rice. His small business training taught him the concept of “buy low, sell high”, so with his donut business cash, he stocked up on goods at the lowest price he could find, then he sold them for more when the demand was high.
Selling goods yielded more capital Gentil could put back into his donut business, and the cycle continued. He knew he was on to something. “It was at this time that I said goodbye to hunger,” Gentil proudly declared.
Three years after joining the Intwari group, Gentil is a 21-year old, self-sustained business owner whom four local children call “boss”. His food trading business grew exponentially over his time in the Zoe Empowers program, requiring him to hire employees to open his own supply store where beans, rice, corn meal, potatoes and sugar, amongst other items, are sold. Gentil also continues to run his donut business as well as grow vegetables to harvest and sell in his store and at the market.
“It makes me feel happy to be called ‘boss’”, explained Gentil. “It reminds me of God’s love. I use to feel neglected, but now I’m proud when I remember how far I’ve come. Being called ‘boss’ reminds me to do good regardless of what others may have done to me in the past.”
Beyond growing two businesses, Gentil has also successfully nurtured the growth of his three siblings, Claudine and Jean Claude (12) and Dalphine (7). He’s able to pay for their school fees and health insurance, two of ZOE’s major areas of focus. Together, the family eats well (3 meals per day) and actively helps other orphans in the community by paying for their medical insurance.
While Gentil has grown thousands of seeds since he started his journey to self-sufficiency, it’s the seed of love planted deeply in his heart and spirit that is perhaps the most important of them all. This seed is one Gentil has come to realize was planted by God and was always inside of him, he just couldn’t see it when he lived in the darkness of poverty. It’s this seed that has not only made him the hero of his own life, but a hero to countless others in his community.
Today, Gentil is living a life hundreds of millions of other orphans around the world believe is impossible to obtain. For just $8/month, you can help other children just like Gentil get started with a local Zoe Empowers empowerment group, so they, too, can grow their own seeds of hope, strength and love.
380 million children living in extreme poverty will rely on charity forever.
$8 a month can change that.
A monthly gift of $8 over 3 years empowers one orphan out of poverty. How many children can you give lasting sustainable change?