In the spring of 2007 my wife and I took a decision to turn our lives to Christian mission work overseas. This was an idea which had been ruminating at the back of our minds for some years and we realised that if it was ever to happen we had to do something about it other than dream.
We spent the next few months looking at possible options until a Rwandan friend of ours with contacts in the Rwandan Presbyterian Church suggested that we consider going there. We received an invitation to visit and spent some time in the country over the 2007/08 New Year.
While we knew something of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and could imagine the impact on a small country of a million deaths, we were not prepared for what we found. We learnt that the truth behind the killings was a lot more complex than had been reported in the western media. We learnt also that to a very large extent, the genocide was a consequence of European colonialism and a systematic failure of western governments to address the policies of the Rwandan authorities after independence.
The Rwanda we found, fourteen years after the genocide, is recovering slowly. But slowly is the word. Poverty is widespred and the vast majority of the population exist in a subsistence economy. According to UNICEF, 52% live on less than $1 per day. The adult literacy rate is only 64%. Life expectancy is 44 years. (UNICEF country statistics).
When we went out to Rwanda, we had an idea of working with ‘street children’. As ever, reality is never quite as you imagine it. We found many children begging on the streets. Some, young girls with infants strapped to their backs, others of primary school age. We learnt that many of these probably had homes but are sent out by their parents each day to beg for what they can get. The country has thousands of what are termed ‘Child-Headed Households’ where older childen look after siblings and cousins.
We knew that in our short visit we had to make an assessment of whether Rwanda was a realistic destination for us. Our original preconception of gangs of children living in concrete pipes had long since been dispelled. We realised that there is very little that can be done about ‘street children’ directly. Also, we began to understand that there is a lot that needs to be done about the reasons for children growing up without security, shelter or food. In Rwanda these reasons are complex and not all obvious to the visitor. There are significant cultural issues involved in two Europeans coming to a country such as this. But the welcome we received, the eagerness with which people encouraged us, persuaded Bronwen and I that there is work for us here.
Ultimately, our decision was easy. Rwanda is a country which needs and deserves help. You can read about how we are doing that elsewhere in this blog. We came home armed with a list of contacts and have been busy linking up with others in Scotland who have more experience than we have of what is needed. Project Rwanda is the result.
In July 2009, the two of us set out by Land Rover to drive the 8,532 miles from Dunfermline to Kigali. You can read the story of our trip at trek.missionrwanda.net
We are keeping a blog of our work in Rwanda at www.missionrwanda.net