Wednesday, August 29, 2012


When I returned from Rwanda in November I knew there was more I wanted to do to help the children of that country. 800,000 orphans kept weighing on my heart. So I contacted ZOE ministry a non-profit that has an orphan empowerment program described in a previous blog.

I contacted them and made a commitment to support a working group of 60-80 orphans over 3 years. Several friends and acquaintances from different churches joined me to support something powerful happening in Rwanda. And this was it. Eleven households joined me to be a part of ZOE. And now we are supporting the Twiyubake Working Group of 58.

Their challenges: living on the streets, no food, no education and loneliness because of the stigma. Now they will
work together. With a grant they purchased a field to cultivate and harvest cassava. It will take a year before it can be harvested. After that harvest is 4 times a year. They will also have grants for kitchen gardens, animals and constructing homes.

Twiyubake means synergy, rebuilding community. They have no family and now they have a family of 58. They had no hope and now they have hope. They were homeless and now they are sharing and building homes. They had no way to support themselves and they will begin to cultivate land together and within 3 years have businesses.

I was told that it would be difficult to see the group as they were not doing well yet. They were just identified in April, 2 months after I made the commitment. A social worker worked in the Ruhango district to seek out orphans in 4 out of 9 sectors. We were seeing hundreds of orphans struggling. Now there was hope for a group we will be praying for.

As we met one group working on Timothy's house they promised to take care of all the support they will receive and to multiply it in order to have a good life in their future. They want to make us,their new family, proud. Hope has been restored in their hearts.


Our first home visit with the Twiyubake Working group (see description under Twiyubake blog entry) was with Felix 18 and his sister Ernestine 16 and brother Venuste 14. Their mother died in 2002 and father in 2005 both of HIV Aids. Their aunt came to take care of them but in 2007 she took everything they had in their house and left. All they had was their house and land. This house is in need of many repairs so they pray they will have a new house built in a year or two on their land.

Life has been very difficult since 2007 with this family barely surviving. He was 13, his sister 11 and brother 9. Yet they stayed together. Felix dropped out of school to focus entirely on finding food any way he could.

When ZOE came to their community April 2012 they were selected to join the group. He said ZOE has helped him fight the "spirit of loneliness in his heart" as they were completely isolated. Now they work with the group doing activities. Other orphans stop and visit them.

He shared his drawing. He dreams of a new house and that children will not have to carry such heavy loads for so little food. He is sad about the death of his parents but could not draw a coffin to represent their death.

His principles are to pray, respect others, be peaceful with others and to love his fellow community. He is also dealing with the fact his sister is HIV positive but through ZOE is receiving medicine.

He received a grant and bought a pig that someone else is helping him raise. He has land to cultivate but he cannot do it himself. The working group was just created in April 2012 so until they are more organized as a group he has his neighbors cultivate and he gets a portion. I can't wait to see them next year and the progress they will have made. It is by baby steps that they will
pull themselves out of their hopelessness to a new life. And they give all the thanks to ZOE and God. So inspiring.

When we arrived we were told they lived down the hill from the road. We soon realized we were in for a hike down, down, then across the valley to their home. You can see how isolated they are.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Our team visited a second home in the Twiyubake Working Group where Emmanuel and his younger brother shared their story. (To understand Twiyubake working group see that blog entry) Their parents died of HIV Aids in 2006 when he was 13 years old and his brother Jeride was a toddler. He dropped out of school and had to work for others for just a bit of food. They were starving and barely surviving for the past 6 years.

One of the first steps with ZOE is to share their feelings and dreams by drawing stories. He was so very sad about the death of his parents and that they left him hopeless. He is angry about the child abuse, the violence he sees towards many orphans. Now with ZOE he likes to pray and and have food to eat with his brother.

He dreams of having a new house and a cow. Currently he is renting a house and asked another boy and his sister to share their house. This way the second house can be rented for income. They will eventually farm or start a business.

Emmanuel's principle is "to love God and my neighbor."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Twa Pottery

The Twa community continues the tradition of pottery making. Here a 60 year old woman, after some hesitation about photography, decided to show her skill. Her hands tell the story. Years of work to create cooking pots.

After they are made, many pots are piled on top of each other and a very hot fire is set beneath to bake them.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Twa Community

Twa, a Pygmy people, are considered the original inhabitants of Rwanda. Over the years they have been driven from their lands and now only number 33,000. They comprise 1% of the population. During the genocide 30% of the Twa were killed.

This ethnic group lives in dire poverty and have become almost invisible. They are considered ignorant and uncivilized and most are living on the fringes. But Twa still try to maintain their rich tradition in pottery making.

They live in small communities eking out a frugal living. There is little healthcare with many children dying young. Few can afford school and when they do go they soon drop out due to being ostracized. The government has stepped in to help the Twa by providing grants for animals and building mud homes. If you are an adult you receive these benefits. If you are an orphan you do not.

Our first stop on Friday was to a Twa community to check in on Jacqueline, a 15 year old orphan. She shared her story.

Her mother died when she was just crawling. A different family took her in every day until she was 10 years old. She wanted to be on her own and be in one place, so community members build her a one room hut. It collapsed in the heavy rains so she moved to another community nearby. For the past 5 years her "home" has been a mat on the floor of a kitchen in a woman's house. She pays for that floor space by fetching water and firewood and cooking for this woman who then shares some food. For now she will remain in this community as she has a roof over her head.

Through ZOE she recently received a grant. She purchased a pig and invested the rest in avocados which she sells. She walks 30 minutes to the market then back to sell in her community. What she sells allows her to eat one meal a day. Recently she was able to buy 1/2 cup of beans with her profits. Usually she eats sweet potatoes and avocados. She is thankful to ZOE for giving her a sense of being and a business opportunity to help her build a better life.

Photos are of the children in the community. Notice in the second photo the little hands holding. And the last is Jacqueline. Words can not express what we saw but the photos definitely can tell a story. And even in the midst of such dire poverty we receive smiles and warm greetings.

Friday, August 24, 2012


The ZOE Orphan Empowerment Program seeks to empower orphans and vulnerable children to provide for themselves and grow into the men and women God would have them be - physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually. This program works towards ensuring that orphans, just like other children, realize their full potential. ~~ZOE Ministry

In 3 years, they have over 27,000 orphans on the program in Rwanda, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Working in a village or community, possibly over several miles, they identify the many vulnerable children that are suffering from malnutrition and are homeless. These are desperate children.

Sponsors make a 3 year commitment to support groups of varying sizes. A Working Group consists of of 60-80 children. And there are other larger groups.

ZOE focuses on 6 main areas, cultivating faith, food security, health and hygiene, small business training, providing homes, and restoring community and education. In three years or less these children are so empowered that they no longer need support.

In fact they are reaching out to help other orphans. Others that were just like them a year ago. They are not saying, I will help when I have all I need. Instead they are saying, I have what i need and am in a community. Now I can help others.

Zoe's theme verse says it all. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Photos are of a boy sharing his story of desperation and the working group with their new banana farm. They received shoots of banana trees from another group to begin this project.

Faces of ZOE

It is one thing to hear stories of orphan and vulnerable children all over the world, but another thing to be in their presence and look them in their eyes. To clasp their hands. And to hear their stories of survival and new life. These are mostly AIDs affected families meaning their parents died of Aids.

These photos are some of the children I met yesterday. Children in the Abakudana "Love" Working group. Many are only 14,15 and 16 years old and have been responsible for their siblings for years. They look like they are only 12 years old due to severe malnutrition over the years.

We heard stories of begging and stealing food just to survive and feed their siblings. Then being chased and beaten. Many stories of survival could not be shared as it was difficult for them to remember or want to remember.

But these have been the blessed ones. They have renewed their faith in God and show it by paying forward their blessings toward other orphans.

It is simply humbling to be standing in their presence. The children prayed with us and we are asked to pray for them. I volunteered to pray. As I began to pray the wind began to blow refreshing air as we stood in the hot sun. I thanked God for the wind as if it was his breath breathing life into each of us. His breath surrounding us with his love and comfort. When I finished the wind died down. Oh how he reaches out to inspire each of us and let us know he is with us always.

*A 14 year old raising cows.
*A 15 year old that grows bananas with the group.
*A row of teen head of households, some as young as 14 caring for several siblings.
*Brothers sharing their story of being homeless, starving and finally a new life through ZOE Ministry.
*Karen and Will that are sponsors of a Working Group meeting 2 brothers and a sister for the first time. They have a home, a cow and a bag of beans. The oldest said his proudest moment was buying his younger brother his first school uniform.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Nourishing Rains

**A quick note as the electricity was off and on all day yesterday and then all evening. I am not sure what wireless access I will have over the next 4 days as Dave and I will be joining a team with ZOE Ministry I hope to be able to continue with regular blogs. If not I will write when we return to Urukundo on Monday.

Please pray for safe travels for Robin, Kira, Greg, Kevin and Dan leaving today and arriving in DC Friday morning. Prayers for Pastor Lee as he visits his sister church in Zimbabwe.

The Rains.....Water has been very scarce during the 3 month dry season. It is so precious for many people throughout the world. We have come to appreciate how fortunate we are to have access to water whenever we need it at home.

Can the drought remind us of seasons of drought in our hearts and souls? Times we are apart from God? We are so thankful that God brings nourishing rains to remind us of his power and his love. And that is what he did 2 nights ago. We had heavy downpours several times throughout the evening. The first time in many weeks to have such nourishing rains. The land was nourished and our souls were nourished. And we all were filled with joy!

James 5:18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded it's harvest.

The lush mountain valleys and dry remote areas. The food that is harvested to feed the hungry.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teen Headed Household

Greg and Dan Petrick reporting...... Great day today working in a teen headed household near Urukundo. The house is occupied by an 18 year old who is in charge of his four younger brothers since their parents died 3 years previously.

We left at 6:30am for a 15 minute ride to the house. Kevin, Dan and I followed our translator, with Kevin driving the truck, on the crazy roads of Rwanda with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. One truck was loaded with tools to install a permanent cement floor. The home was 3 small rooms with dirt floors each about 90 sq feet. The building supplies, bags of cement, sand and bricks had been delivered the day before.

The technique is very different than what we use in the US. The dirt floor is first leveled with picks and axes. This proved a challenging task as the dirt was packed tight from years of boys trampling all over it. Next a level string was installed and we began laying pieces of brick as you would a patio to create the base. Cement with lots of sand was then troweled in and permitted to set a bit. Cement powder was continually sprinkled on the top, along with water and troweled to a smooth finish. On the first day the leveling process was completed as well as the laying of bricks and one room cemented. The second day we would be completing the other two rooms and a hallway.

For me the hardest part was carrying the water from the valley far below to the house in 5 gallon cans. Not only is the altitude an issue requiring numerous stops but, as a male we are often the brunt of much laughter from the local women who are responsible for water delivery. Apparently it is very unusual for an adult male and certainly a white adult male to carry water. We enjoyed their laughter and simply smiled knowing we had brought some joy to their day. Dan focused on the very dark and dusty interior brick laying process while Kevin moved lots of bricks and sand from the outside in and did a little brick laying. Concrete installation was left to the expertise of a local mason.

We will never forget the smell of the small dark interior, the constant audience of neighbors on the hill, chickens in the yard, and the smell of beans on the fire. Most importantly, we will not forget the help of the boys. The ones living in the home weren't the only ones to help. A couple of neighborhood kids would drop in and help for a bit before heading up the road. The sense of community was nothing short of inspiring. Of course we received joy from getting a chance to help out, but the memories are what we will take back with us to our homes and throughout our lives. They have provided us with a gift of appreciation for what we have, which we will continue to cherish.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Farm

Hello everyone! My name is Kira Hydock, a Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences student from Penn State University. As Carol mentioned in a previous blog post, I have been working with Dave Howell on the agricultural aspects to the Urukundo Foundation. And it has been an exciting mission trip indeed in terms of agricultural projects being accomplished.

Our first day on the job, Dave and I set out with Sam, the farm manager, to identify areas of improvement that could increase the production of the farm. We quickly learned that there were many projects to be tackled. First thing first was to get all the animals water. In the villages, goats are often not given water because they receive enough moisture from the grass. Unfortunately, not all the animals here were on pasture continually, and were therefore lacking water. As of today, all of the rabbits and goats have newly-made water cups or buckets.

Dave and I also wanted to work on improving the manner in which animals were receiving their food. Instead if placing food on the ground where it could quickly be soiled, we envisioned mangers in each animal enclosure. All of the rabbit hutches have been furnished with feeders that will supply a blend of food we comprised with Sam's assistance. The goats also have a wonderfully constructed manger, thanks to the help of Dan, Greg and Kevin. Since the male goat is tied separately from the female goats, Dave and I employed our craft skills in order to weave a feedbag. This bag is similar to that used to hold hay for horses and other livestock in the US.

Dealing with a skin rash on pigs was also on the list of tasks. The dry skin was caused by a lack of mud to roll in and constant exposure to the sun. Thanks to Dave's expertise, we solved this problem cheaply by purchasing a bottle of oil and massaging it onto the pigs with a rag. The pigs will continue to receive this treatment until the rash subsides.

Although there is still much to be done, I am so excited about what the future may hold for the animals here at Urukundo. The accomplishments are not only that of the team that is physically here, but of our supporters back home, including all of you blog readers.

Both Dave and I greatly appreciate the receptiveness of Sam and the other farm hands to our ideas, as well as the help we have received from other members on the team.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


In between our work projects there are those special moments with the little ones. Joy abounds with their energy, big smiles and curiosity. And they are always looking for a shoulder to ride on or a hand to hold.

These are the fortunate children that have a safe haven and educational opportunities. Forty five among the 1.2 million orphan and vulnerable children of Rwanda.