MAKING A DIFFERENCE – LELIA FOREMAN
Lelia is a retired medical technologist and active author. She first went to Rwanda with her husband and brother-in-law and sister-in-law in 2007. She met Pastor David Nahayo and shared his burden to help the poor widows struggling to support themselves and their children. She also saw that literacy and books could contribute to ways out of poverty. But she found only one library in south Rwanda; at the university.Over the next three years she kept in regular email contact with Pastor David. She returned in 2008 and further discussed her ideas with David. Upon her return home, she started purchasing and storing over two tons of books to create school libraries in south Rwanda. In coordination with a group called, Books for Africa, she shipped these books to CASA. In 2009 Lelia returned again and helped prepare David to categorize and label the donated books. Over the next year David organized and distributed the books for “micro-libraries” to the schools in the area. He checks regularly on the care and use of the books donated. Those schools that proved capable of maintaining and utilizing the books received more.
Pastor David’s passion is to find new, sustainable food sources for the local widow’s cooperatives. Lelia partnered with him on these projects also. Raising mushrooms was a micro-enterprise that had worked for poor women in other countries. David wanted to see if it could work in Rwanda also. But he had problems finding sources of the mushroom “tubes” that contained the spores. Lelia researched how mushroom micro-enterprises succeeded in other
countries and sources for the tubes.
The project stalled for several years as attempts at enterprises proved frustratingly difficult to maintain within the widow cooperative system. But when Lelia’s husband returned to Rwanda in 2013 David was pleased to take him to a mushroom growing enterprise that had opened for business the year before. This coop included 35 women and their over 200 children. These were all “widows” and many were sick with HIV. In a Rwandan context, widow means single mother; with the fathers of the children either dead or out of the picture. They support themselves and their children by earning about one dollar a day as “diggers”. They generally work about 6 hours a day; hoeing, planting, and harvesting small plots on the public lands set apart for them. These women coops receive support from the government and through many secular NGO’s. As such they have reporting requirements to the government. Additional funds are released to the coops as they show that the funds are being managed well. For 35 illiterate, exhausted, and often ill woman, this is the major challenge. And this is Pastor David’s primary contribution. Many coops fail to work together and with the government. But David gets to know the individual woman and their leadership abilities and intelligence. Navigating the personalities and conflicting agendas of the struggling families and helping to make the coops truly “cooperative” is his daily challenges. So he keeps their accounts, helps them report to the government, and works through the constantly fluid situations that arise.
In January of 2013 he took Lelia’s husband, Frank, to the mushroom shack about 200 meters from the back door of the Lighthouse Ministry Center.There two widows met them and explained how the mushroom micro-enterprise affected their lives. About six months before they finally found the right combination of spore tubes, soil, and structure to begin the daily harvest. Each morning the mushrooms were watered, harvested, and taken to the market. The income from this one hour of light work increased their income 50%. The increase made the difference in their ability to purchase shoes and uniforms for their children to attend school and have a future.
But that’s not the end of the story. True compassion ministry to the poor requires local follow-up. In March of 2015, David took Frank back to the mushroom shed. He was sad to report that it had stopped functioning about 6 months prior. Thieves had broken into the vulnerable widows locked shed and stolen their tools and books. The combination roof of tarp and thatch had weakened from the sun and caved in. Frank asked David about how much money would be required to restart the enterprise. Frank donated the $300 required for a new roof, spore tubes, and tools. The first harvests were being sold in the market within three months.
In Rwanda, so little can do so much. Three junior high classes at a Christian school in Lubbock, Texas raised $400 to give to David to purchase a cow for the widows’ coop. It will provide milk, manure, and calves to continue to support the coop with David’s supervision. Many of these cooperatives fail without such support. CASR is truly blessed to have a “pastor with dirty hands” to provide for both the spiritual and physical needs of those inside and outside his church.
For individuals or groups with just a little imagination and funds, the local network of CASR can make real, continuing, and significant differences to the poor. For those willing to follow the leading of Christ to Africa and south Rwanda, the opportunities to bless and be blessed are open through the doors of Lighthouse.