The satisfaction that comes from working hard is deeply woven into who we are as God’s creation. In a small, rural town in western Rwanda, the local Church of the Nazarene has made a way for their community to experience this dignity of work.
In Nkuri village, about 28 kilometers from Gisenyi (Rwanda’s second largest town at about 100,000 people), a group of local church members are working together to provide jobs in their community. To facilitate income-generating projects, they created an organization called NCM/Abadacogora—meaning “people who persevere.” Through this organization, 300 people work in agriculture in Nkuri’s rolling mountains, providing a way for them to obtain food, shelter, and education for their families while also caring for the land.
More than 10 years ago, Celestin Habineza, pastor of the Nkuri Church of the Nazarene, had the vision to start a locally organized and locally run compassionate ministry project. At that time, many people in Nkuri could not afford basics, like shelter, adequate food, access to medical care, and education for their children. They desired umurimo (the Kinyarwanda word for “work”) as an honest way to provide for their families.
“There were many in this area who could not pay school fees for their children,” Pastor Habineza said.
Nyuraribagiza, a mother whose husband died in the violence following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, is an example. “Before the project, our children had limited nutrition in the food they ate,” she said. “Our family had a difficult time sending our children to school.”
The area around Nkuri has been marked by violence both during the infamous genocide, and even more so by the less well known violence in Rwanda’s rural areas during the rebel infiltration from 1996 to 2000.
The widowed women and orphaned children here are the community’s daily reminder that this violence has changed the area’s social and economic makeup.
Pastor Habineza and Rev. Simon Pierre Rwaramba dreamed of a reforestation project that would not only employ church and community members, but would also contribute to protecting their community’s river, the Sebeya. For many years, few trees had grown along the riverbed, allowing rains to erode the banks of the river, threatening its health—and the health of those living there. The congregation believed they could change that.
Deforestation and erosion are not unique to Nkuri. Population pressure has long been an issue for Rwanda, the “Land of a Thousand Hills” and the fourth smallest country in continental Africa. Some observers believe that Rwanda’s land limitations have contributed to the longstanding unrest and violence between Rwanda’s peoplegroups by forcing them to compete for limited resources.
Most people in Rwanda are subsistence farmers who meticulously cultivate small patches of the country’s steep hillsides. In almost every corner of Rwanda, these hillsides—from base to peak—resemble patchwork quilts of potatoes, maize, cassava, bananas, and other subsistence crops. To have land to produce these crops, rural families have had to cut down trees, leaving the land vulnerable to erosion.
The reforestation project started small. In 2001, the congregation began growing tree saplings that they sold at low prices to community members. People then planted the trees on barren areas of land all along the Sebeya River to its source.
NCM/Abadacogora hired church members for fulltime work to cultivate tree saplings and organize the workload— from plowing land to planting seeds, from transferring mature saplings to plastic bags for travel to transporting individual plants to the reforestation areas by foot (an eight kilometer radius).
Over the past 10 years, the church’s cooperation, organization and hard work have established an effective and respected reforestation program that is changing Nkuri’s land use. The project’s farmer have been growing tree varities that are compatible with food crops, a technique that lessens the chance that people will cut down the trees to plant. They also grow fruit trees – avocado, plum, papaya, and passion fruit – that they sell to the community at low prices as a way to promote more food production in the area.
“Now people here are able to pay school fees for their children,” Pastor Habineza said. “They are able to build houses and buy some cows. Each one who works in the project can also pay for their medical insurance.”
The opportunity to earn a viable wage has transformed the lives of the employees, their families, and their community. Many widowed women who are sole caregivers for their families now have the chance to provide. They have found through meaningful work – their umurimo – they have the joy and dignity that comes with what God created them to do.
Adapted from a story that originally appeared in NCM Magazine (summer 2011).