This last week I have had the privilege of traveling with a delegation from PC(USA) visiting Rwanda. The group included Debbie Braaksma, the Africa Area Coordinator, Nancy Collins, the regional liaison for south central Africa, Christi Boyd, the facilitator of women’s and children’s interests in Congo, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, and South Sudan, and Meg Knight, a volunteer teaching English to staff of EPR here in Kigali. Our purpose was to introduce Christi to the women’s and children’s work of EPR (the Presbyterian Church in Rwanda). Over the next few blog articles, I hope to share some of those experiences with you.
|Worker displaying juic|
The first of our outings took us to a pineapple project in one of the rural parishes. The original project was begun in 1987 by a group of widows, but all of that was stopped by the Genocide. It was begun again in 2005 with three of the original members and now men as well as women, working to restart their lives. They have had training and are working to expand the operation. At present, everything is done by hand. The factor, such as it is, is housed in a building of the local church. They make both pineapple juice and passion fruit juice – all by hand. In one day they squeeze 60 pineapples to produce 200 liters of juice, boil it, sweeten it and bottle it. The juice is then transported to market on local mini-buses. There are no fancy vans or trucks with logos on the side. They use the cheapest, most available means of transportation. That’s how they get their supplies for bottling as well. That doesn't sound like much, and in the scope of an automated factor, it certainly is not. They are, however, able to sell their entire product and have requests for more than they can produce.
|Was a street boy|
|Can now support her child|
But what is great is the impact this small operation is having on the lives of the workers of the project. This is a cooperative, so all the workers share in the earning of the small operation. This is making a great difference in the lives of the workers who would not have employment otherwise. A young man told us his story of leaving the area at 12 years old because of difficulties in his family and going to Kigali, where he lived on the street with other children (a common problem in much of Africa). After six years of struggling, he came back to the area and through the influence of the church, began working with the cooperative. He proudly told us that now he was able to support himself, no more living on the street, and is even able to buy new shoes, which he delighted to show us. A young girl told of going to Kigali to find work, only to come back home pregnant and shamed. She, too, is working with the cooperative and is able to support herself and her baby. Her family, the church and her job have helped her to regain self-respect. A widow told of her joy at having clean clothes and a safe place to live. It is amazing the difference a few pineapples can make in people’s lives.