Stories of Transformation
AFJHAR supports Journey House Actions (JHA) in transforming the lives of children and families living in Gashora, Rwanda as well as those who work, volunteer, or visit JHA. Here are some of their stories.
Abdoul has lived at JHA since 2019. He was tossed out of his family at age 7, when his stepdad announced he was now old enough to look after himself. He lived on the streets of Kigali as a gang member for 4 years until he was taken in by a local organization and sent to school. He moved to JHA when the JHA leadership team opened their home to beneficiaries. This kind, quiet 16-year young man (mature beyond his years) has a calm elegance about him. His soft-spoken demeanor and his gentle way of being belies his difficult childhood.
During the COVID pandemic, Abdoul was upset that so many children and families did not have enough food and depended on JHA to support their nutritional needs. The JHA team worked hard on its newly acquired farm to add fresh greens, beets and onions to the bags of rice and porridge they were distributing. Abdoul loves working with the soil and enjoys farming. He asked JHA to give him some of the land JHA had purchased. His goal was to feed 500 families through his “Seeds of Love” farm, but to date he has fed over 1,100 families!
Iradukunda Jean Marie Vianney (The Ben)
The Ben is one of the youngest children living at Journey House Actions Rwanda (JHA). He and his brother Joshua lived alone in a house because their single mother had abandoned them. They slept on the streets all around Gashora. The Ben said that sometimes he and his brother would fight at midnight because they had no food.
He is called The Ben because when he was first seen by Robina, a JHA staff member, he was dancing to a song written by The Ben (Benjamin Mugisha), a Rwandan singer songwriter. When Rogers Kimuli, the Executive Director at JHA, heard about their story he went to see where the boys lived and it wasn’t good news. The Ben now lives with Rogers.
Rogers Kimuli said “The Ben lives with us now, specifically in my home. He is a BIG reason why I love what we do. I look at him and see myself.”
The Ben and Joshua are now enrolled in the JHA Child Sponsorship Program. These amazing young men are going to school at JHA’s Journey of Success Center and are already speaking some English. The boys are also enrolled in the JHA nutrition program. Their distended stomachs, because they were malnourished, are already starting to come down. They are doing much better and getting help at a local nutritional clinic.
Agnes | JHA School Teacher
“I am Nabatanzi Agnes Muweebwa, a 37-year-old Ugandan. I am a single mother of 3 children, two girls and one boy. My first born is Bernadette Joyce Nakaakawa. My second child is John Rocks on KAYONGO and my youngest child is Ann Carolyne NAKANDI.
Before I came to JHA, I was traumatized, hopeless, homeless, and poor with a heart full of bleeding wounds, crying every day.
I came to know JHA through my friend who works here. I was searching for a job. Rogers was looking for an English teacher and we talked. Later, after one week, Rogers invited me to join Journey House Actions. He welcomed me like a sister because he knew my bad story. Rogers told me to forget the past, start smiling, I am not alone and that my children will go to school.
Journey House Actions has changed my life and that of my children. I get a stipend each month, which I send to my mother in Uganda to help pay school fees and buy food for them. JHA is my hope, mentor, councilor, and family because I am really at home here. JHA has affected me in behaviors, mentors, loving and giving joy to others.”
Alex Brede | AFJHAR Board Member
“My wife, Megan, and I had the good fortune to spend several weeks in Rwanda, the bulk of which were spent in Gashora volunteering with Journey House Actions (JHA). After several years of learning about and supporting JHA from afar, it was absolutely wonderful to see the whole program in action firsthand, to contribute with my own time and labor, and to participate in the daily life of Gashora.
Our first day in Gashora, Rogers introduced us to many JHA staff and volunteers, and led us on a grand tour of the “Journey of Success” Early Childhood Development (ECD) Center, the Dairy Farm, and the basket weavers, painters and tailors in training. Visiting Teacher Agnes in her classroom with almost one hundred 5-year-old students, I saw how far we are making our contributions go. Having taught elementary school in the U.S. for more than 30 years, where a large class is 25 to 30 students, my understanding of the possible was turned on its head. I saw attentive and patient children awaiting their turn with pencil and paper while their classmates gave it their all, the entire class learning a new language (English) communally, and a masterful teacher, who knows every one of her student’s strengths and challenges, lifting them up.
Later that day, we participated in the lunch feeding. Three hundred children waited patiently while a team of volunteers efficiently worked as a unit distributing a bowl of rice and cabbage to every child.
That first visit to the ECD and other JHA departments was no specialty performance for the important visitors. During my lengthy stay, I blended in with the daily routines, and saw the same community building in action every day.
The highlight of my sojourn was working together with a crew of young men building the furniture for the ECD’s computer lab. I’ve spent much of my life teaching woodworking to both children and adult learners, and I had brought many hand tools with me. During the next four weeks, we built the work surfaces for the prospective computer lab at the ECD, furniture for the homes of the team members with some of the leftover lumber, and a workshop space for the team to continue building shelves, tables, chairs and other items for JHA. We spent most of every day together.
The crew learned a little bit of woodworking from me, and I learned a great deal about life in Gashora, as well as Kinyarwanda (their language), from them. Most importantly, we became fast friends. Entrusting each other with knowledge of our lives and hopes, sharing laughter and stories, we created more than furniture together. We became like family, often ending our workday with a long stroll that included some birdwatching, visiting with neighbors in the fields and villages, and lots of children running out to greet the “umuzungu,” and a promise to do it all again tomorrow.”
Evode Mazimpaka is 20 years old. As a younger child Evode lived on the streets without a home. Evode had no supplies for school, he would often struggle to find meals each day, and had to dig through trash cans and suffer physical abuse to find something to eat. At this time, it was hard for Evode to believe that anyone would ever lend him a helping hand, or that his life would ever change.
Then, in 2019, he found Journey House Actions. There he was given shelter, food, and education. He was taught how to use a computer, he was taught the English language, and most importantly he was taught how to love.
Now, Evode knows there is hope for children like him in the world. He is responsible for managing the JHA Piggery that has over 100 pigs. Evode hopes to be a role model for children younger than him, and show them the type of mercy and kindness that the people of Gashora showed him.
Mama Baab is the head cook at JHA’s “Journey of Success” Early Childhood Development Center. She was a young girl during the Rwandan genocide at which time one of her uncles threatened to kill her. Somehow, she managed to escape and years later she is now employed at JHA. Mama Baab is a remarkable lady. JHA not only transformed her life, but she has forgiven her uncle, who now lives with Mama Baab and her family.
Her uncle is also employed by JHA as a security guard at the JHA “Seeds of Love” house for homeless boys – another example of how JHA strives to build an inclusive and peaceful community. Her uncle is one of many genocide perpetrators working at JHA. Rogers often says,
“There nothing that is too big to be forgiven.”
During a visit to Mama Baab’s home, she describes how JHA transformed her life. “Now I am at the level of buying myself something to put on. I am no longer a beggar like I used to be. I have four children that I now support myself, thanks to JHA. My children go to school, and I don’t have to beg anymore. Thanks to JHA I have a job and am a respectable woman in the community. Through by job I can sustain myself and continue the transformation of my life and my family. I will strive hard to make sure I achieve my goals.”
Tracy Josetti | AFJHAR Board Member
“I had been considering ways to get involved in philanthropy internationally for a few years. I am a cabi clothing stylist, and cabi’s partnership with Opportunity International to support education in Rwanda inspires me. I also read the autobiography Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust. I was touched by Immaculee’s story of love, courage and perseverance in the face of suffering and despair. When asked to join the AFJHAR Board, I accepted, and I couldn’t feel more blessed to enhance my global perspective.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I learned that another board member, Gregory Herrle, was going back to assist with the playground project he put in motion thanks to the generosity of St. John Vianney parishioners. My family was supportive of my impulsive decision, and I quickly made plans to join him on this trip.
Fast forward… this visit was a 5-day whirlwind that has truly changed my life. Indeed, I was motivated to go and help the people of Gashora, but they left imprints on my heart far greater than I benefitted them. I was struck by how welcoming and authentic everyone was – from the smiles and hand holding to the in-depth, passionate conversations about education, economic reform, and community reconciliation post genocide.
There are so many people and experiences I’d like to highlight. The learning center’s kitchen staff are among the heroes I met, preparing a celebratory feast for more than 1,000 people, while also conducting their daily food-prep duties as usual. They had a very modest, dangerously small kitchen, including three wood-burning stoves and poor ventilation. This remains on my mind as I consider ways to support my Rwandan family going forward.
Re-entering my life back in the U.S. has been interesting. Of course, I am happy to return home to my supportive husband and teenagers and our full life together, yet I also want to reflect on and incorporate learnings from my time abroad. What I do know is that I’ve been given a gift of worldly connection and love, and I know my relationship with my friends from Gashora is just beginning.”
JHA’s Playground of Joy
During our trip to Gashora in September 2022, I had a conversation with Rogers Kimuli about enhancements he hoped to make to the current Early Childhood Development Center. One of the items he listed was the playground, which at that time was essentially a small open dirt lot with a few old tires. We had some great memories of kids dancing, a graduation ceremony, and introducing baseball in this empty lot during our visit. At the same time, it was easy to see how creating a broader play area with equipment would facilitate better student mental and physical health.
After returning to the US, it was very apparent to me how important play space is to my own kids and their friends. With that in mind, I reached out to about 25 fellow parents at St. John Vianney School in Brookfield, WI. We had already received strong support from this community who sent over 100 eyeglasses for our trip and also provided moral support to my wife when our basement flooded while I was over 7,500 miles away. So, I proposed the idea that this great community could sponsor a new playground for our friends halfway across the globe in Gashora.
Within a short time, this group raised $4,500 and we gave Rogers the “go ahead” to start purchasing materials and organizing the new playground. When Tracy Josetti (fellow AFJHAR board member) and I visited for the Thanksgiving celebration in November, nearly all the materials were purchased. While there, we helped clear trees and started painting the structures alongside local community members, many of whom were able to earn money by working on this initiative.
Tracy and I haven’t been back to see the finished playground in person yet, but the pictures and videos look great, and Rogers assures us that it is officially the largest playground in the district! The joy and smiles on the children’s faces are priceless. WATCH VIDEO
AFJHAR Board Member
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