While my body is officially back home in Fresno, California today, my heart and mind remain torn between this place and the green hills of Rwanda, half a world away. Over the next few weeks, I will continue to share my reactions to the experience I’ve enjoyed as a Catholic Relief Services Egan Fellow. Today though, I wanted to share with you the final installment of the last few days in Rwanda. Today, we’ll pick up on last Friday’s memories and take you through our trip home over the weekend.
SILC World Savings Day Celebration
After spending a few nights away from our very comfortable accommodations at the East African Villas, it was a joy to wake up in Kigali once more. We piled into the CRS van that was our shuttle for the week and proceeded to Zaza Parish for a celebration of World Savings Day and overview of CRS’ SILC program. “SILC” is shorthand for Savings and Internal Lending Communities:
Catholic Relief Services works through the Saving and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) approach. SILC mobilizes very poor people in saving and lending activities. They invest in small businesses with the objective of allowing them to increase lifelong livelihood opportunities and improve household revenue through income generating activities. CRS also works through a model called Private Service Provider (PSP), which is based on a fee-for-service structure. After becoming certified, field agents help new groups get started or existing groups become more advanced. Currently, CRS is implementing SILC and PSP projects with 8 partners in 17 of Rwanda’s 30 districts. To date 3,092 SILC groups have been formed with 72,673 members in total. Active members—16,160—mobilize $141,401 in savings.
We had seen a youth SILC group earlier in week on our visit to Rurango Parish in Huye, but Friday’s look at the remarkably transformative power of SILCs was indeed a celebration. After a dirt road drive that lasted nearly two hours, our van pulled into the courtyard of a Catholic Church. A stroll down a dirt path brought us into a clearing amidst scores of banana trees, where a few hundred men, women and children were preparing for a party. We were invited to sit on special benches which gave us a terrific vantage point for the event that ensued. Speeches, songs and dances, tributes and even a savings and lending themed original poem marked the success of SILCs. A highlight — which likely looked as hilarious as it felt — was an impromptu party that broke out when the performing dance troop grabbed each of the CRS team and invited us to join them in dance. Sadly, no video footage was captured but I do have this amazing little snippet of those same dancers a few moments earlier.
Having had the opportunity to learn about CRS’ SILC program, it was terrific to hear testimonials from two individuals whose lives have been vastly enhanced by the program. Indeed, witnessing what a “culture of savings” has done in this small community in Rwanda, I would say that many of us living in the United States could benefit from the principles taught in SILC.
All too soon, the Savings celebration drew to a close and it was time for us to say goodbye to yet another new group of friends.
Church Strategic Support
After the party, we enjoyed a terrific lunch at the offices of the Diocese of Kibungo. Joining us was Father Viateur, the Treasurer General of the Diocese. Following lunch, Father Viateur and CRS staffers provided us with an overview of CRS’ strategic partnership with the Kibungo Diocese to provide institutional strengthening in the wake of the diocese’s financial crisis. With over 1.5 billion Rwandan Francs in debt and reeling from the resignation of their previous Bishop, the diocese recognized the critical need to assess and revamp existing management structures. They partnered in this endeavor with Catholic Relief Services to implement strategies and management tools which have had a near-immediate impact upon both the financial strength and the administrative efficiency of the parishes in this diocese. Some (but by no means all) of the results of this strategic partnership include:
- Existence and implementation of management tools in all parishes in the diocese, including thorough inventories having been conducted in half of the parishes
- Organization of Finance Committees in all parishes in the diocese and qualified accountants in place in all parishes
- Monthly financial reports by parishes
- Bank accounts established in all parishes
- Employment contracts for all newly hired employees
Most of us who hear “Catholic Relief Services” think about food and shelter relief for the most basic of human needs, but this level of Church Strategic Support in Rwanda reminds me that CRS has an impact not only upon immediate base needs, but additionally upon long-term processes that build efficiency and self-reliance in both individuals and larger organizations, including the Church herself.
Final Night in Kigali
After a final drive through the Rwandan countryside, we were able to stop in for a quick visit at Paroisse Regina Pacis. Even on a Friday night, the parish was vibrant with groups meeting and the faithful inside praying quietly. A very large structure, the parish is home to a tabernacle in the traditional shape of an African basket. The silent atmosphere in the very large church was the perfect place to give thanks for the amazing week we had experienced in Rwanda.
Our Friday night dinner out on the town in Kigali was a goodbye of sorts to our new CRS Rwanda friends. At a large banquet table, we sat interspersed with the entire team, getting to know them individually and sharing stories of our week of discovery.
At moments like these, it seems impossible to ponder the fact that you’ve only been in a place like this for less than a week, and yet your heart is so fully taken with the country and her people. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye — I think I speak for the rest of my fellow Egan travelers when I say that this is a place that has transfixed us and that will forever change the way we see the world around us. This is thanks in large part to LeAnn Hagar and her team of dedicated professionals, including our guide for the week – Joseph.
On Saturday, we took advantage of the lack of scheduled activities to rest up for our major travel days ahead. In Rwanda, there is a mandatory community service day from 8:00am to 11:00am, on the last Saturday of each month. This day is referred to as “Umaganda” and is as much a day of community building as it is a communal labor effort. When you traverse the public areas in Rwanda, you see the impact of Umaganda as the country is pristinely kept. Moreover, observing the community spirit of Rwanda’s families helps you to see the role that this service program has had in bringing her people closer to each other as they emerge from the devastation of their all too recent history of genocide.
As I write this recap of our last few days in Rwanda, I am home again in Fresno. The trip home was uneventful but prolonged, involving four separate flights and over thirty consecutive hours of travel. As I type this, I am dealing with a bit of physical exhaustion, but more so a heart full of emotions. Since this post is already too long and my bed is beckoning, I will plan a post for tomorrow that will be a recap of some of the feelings and emotions that are overwhelming me today. Suffice it to say that I am smitten with Rwanda, with my new friends from Africa and also my Egan fellow-friends, and that I’m committed to using this experience to continue to transform myself and my service to the world around me.
I’d like to say a word of thanks to Catholic Relief Services for having made this trip the opportunity of a lifetime. To CRS staffers Kim Pozniak, Helen Blakesley, Ryutaro Mizuno, Leann Hagar and the entire team in Rwanda, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you did for us this past week. You exemplify CRS’ mission — motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to cherish, preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, foster charity and justice, and embody Catholic social and moral teaching.
Copyright 2013 Lisa M. Hendey