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Local ministry is shutting down Dec. 31

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By John Barnhart

    Rwandan Hugs, a local non-profit headed by Nancy Strachan, is calling it quits.

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    The organization will cease operations on Dec. 31. Rwandan Hugs has worked to provide a hand up to the people of the land-locked nation of Rwanda in East Africa.
    Strachan got accidentally drawn into this ministry.
    “I got involved in it very naively,” Strachan said.
    Strachan had read a book called “Left to Tell,” by Immaculée Ilibagiza. Ilibagiza, a Tutsi, survived the Rwandan genocide of 1994 because a Hutu pastor hid her and several other women, risking his own life in doing so.
    The genocide occurred over a 100-day period when one ethic group, the Hutus, attempted an ethic cleansing by killing Tutsis, another ethic group. Actual numbers of dead are hard to determine because the slaughter was on such a massive scale. Strachan said Bishop John Rucyahana, a Rwandan Anglican (Province de L’Eglise Anglicane au Rwanda) bishop  told her 1.71 million people were killed.
    The génnocidaires typically hacked their victims to death with machetes. Strachan has seen the Nyamata Genocide Memorial, near Kigali, and said it contains skeletal remains of 100,000 individuals who were killed.
    Strachan  had a chance to go to a conference and hear Ilibagiza speak. She got to talk to the young woman personally and Ilibagiza invited Strachan to go with her on a visit to Rwanda. That turned into multiple visits which, in turn, led to the forming of Rwandan Hugs, a 501 (c) 3 non profit.

    Hugs focused on a hand up rather than a hand out. The goal has been to help impoverished people work to better their lives. Hugs has given out mosquito nets to protect people from mosquitos that carry malaria. The organization provided vegetable seeds that would produce vegetables that rural Rwandans are familiar with. The non-profit also gave people goats.  Hugs gave out 1,700 goats in seven years.
    Hand up projects included providing school uniforms for children. Strachan said the Rwandan government provides schools, but parents must provide school uniforms for their children. Large numbers of parents do not have money to buy school uniforms — their children are literally in rags. The uniforms mean the children can go to school, which means they are getting an education that can lead them to a better life.
    Another hand up are Permagardens. These are kitchen gardens for a family that use permaculture. It’s a system of mounded beds surrounded by a berm. The system uses natural organic compost, something the rural Rwandans have plenty of and a rainwater runoff from roofs that is collected by the system to irrigate the garden.
    Once people are taught how to do it, it’s easy for them to build and maintain these gardens. Once folks are taught how to do it, they are supposed to teach their neighbors. They are also taught to grow green, red and orange vegetables to provide the family with a more balanced diet.
    Folks get two crops a year from these gardens due to Rwanda’s climate and Strachan said the people who have them have no problem finding people to teach. Neighbors see what’s growing in their gardens and want to know how they can do it.
    “It uses what they normally eat,” Strachan said.
    Strachan said that in some places, 78 percent of the people in the village suffer from malnutrition.
    Another hand up consists of biosand water filters. These are low-tech water filters that require no electric power. Rural Rwandans were taught to build these and encourage to teach others.
    This, along with catching rainwater runoff from roofs in rain barrels, solves the clean drinking water problem. Without these, people have to walk between one and two hours every day to collect dirty water. Then, they must collect sticks to make fires to boil it.
    “All of this has been possible because of countless people, churches and organizations,” she said of all that has been provided.
    Rwandan Hugs kept costs to a bare minimum. Neither Strachan nor any other staff member received a salary.  Strachan said every penny of donated money has gone to the Rwandans. Yard sales raised the money Hugs used for postage and fees that it must pay.
    “If you give $100, they [the Rwandans] get $100,” Strachan said.
    Some donations have been large. Strachan said one donor, who wished to remain anonymous, donated $90,000 over the years.
    Strachan said the decision to end the non-profit came because age is catching up to her and the others involved. There are also other organizations stepping up to do what Hugs has been doing. One example is the University of Nevada’s Global Health Studies Department. The school will take a group of up to eight students and faculty to Rwanda, twice a year, and work in Kigali and two other cities.
    While we have a lot of technical stuff to teach them, the Rwandans have something to teach us — radical forgiveness. As an example, Strachan cites Mathius and Janette (she knows them but doesn’t know their last names). They live in one of the several Peace Villages. These villages bring together génnocidaires and victims of the genocide. In the case of these two people, Mathius was a génnocidaire who killed 100 people. His victims included all of Janette’s immediate family. Janette has totally forgiven him and the two are friends. She’s forgiven him to the point where he babysits her children.
    Rwandan Hugs will continue to be able to accept donations until Dec. 20.