Spinning hope, helping Rwandan Genocide victims

Two decades after the Rwandan Genocide, many still suffer from poverty, but San Marcos, Texas-based True Vineyard Ministries seeks to provide support through community development and aid to Rwandan widows.

Beginning in 2002, Diana Wiley had a vision to help the poorest in Africa after hearing about the poverty in many countries throughout the continent. After trying to raise money for a long-term mission project with her church, Wiley said the struggles of receiving outside support is what helped her decide to make it easier for those outside of the church to help.

In the beginning, Wiley sought assistance from American teams and hospitals to provide hospitals with medical equipment in Mozambique.

“I wanted all people to feel like they could contribute and help,” Wiley said. “I feel good because I feel like I’m doing the purpose that God has for me, but I realize it’s not me. It’s God who is pulling things together, and he put me in this place to lead the organization.”

Five years after Wiley began helping Mozambique hospitals, True Vineyard Ministries was created. TVM is a nonprofit Christian organization that provides holistic support to Africa’s poorest. With its start in 2007, Wiley created a team to empower and educate women in Rwanda through local churches, organizations and other resources to create economic sustainability and promote a better quality of life.

Due to massive waves of violence by the Hutu people against the Tutsi, the country and its people were left crippled after the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.

Perhaps the most noticeable scar in Rwanda is the number of widows. During the genocide, series of rapes were committed against the Tutsi women as a methodical plan to use HIV/AIDS to kill the Tutsi population after the murders. As a result, Rwanda was left with 600,000 widows, 67 percent of whom are now living with HIV/AIDS.

Through TVM, Wiley and her staff sponsor 42 women in Rwanda by providing jobs, education and encouragement. This also helps the women achieve economic self-sufficiency.

“All of our women are directly affected from the 1994 genocide where most of them are now widows, but all affected by genocide, HIV and the civil war in some way,” said Brooke Hooten, TVM’s assistant to the director.

Perhaps the biggest way that TVM helps the widows, Hooten said, is through a program called Handspun Hope.

Handspun Hope is a program in Rwanda that employs Rwandan women to spin wool from Merino sheep into yarn.  From a partnership with World Relief and with the help of many donors, TVM operates the land and sheep, and the genocide victims are employed to do the rest.

“We have a flock of sheep that get sheered by our farmers and the women spin the wool into yarn,” Hooten said. “We employ night guards and farm managers to manage the sheep and the land, and the women take care of the process from wool to yarn.”

The yarn is cleaned through a very thorough process then dyed organically using different local plants. Afterward, various buyers in the United States purchase the yarn.

Not only do the women now have somewhere to work but they can also afford to use transportation to get to their job and can support their family, seeing as most are the sole providers. Money from the donors as well as paychecks from TVM employment, give the 42 widows the ability to provide clothing, shelter and food to their families.

In addition to Handspun Hope, TVM also purchases products from other organizations across Africa to maximize the amount of support given to those who need it most.

“TVM purchases products made in Africa from 11 different countries, but we only go to Rwanda, Mozambique and Kenya,” Hooten said. “For example, we purchase from Amahoro in Rwanda which is a co-op of women like ourselves who take Rwandan fabric to make purses among a lot of different things.”

Bianca Medrano, TVM’s marketing manager, said the process to bring back products involves Wiley, other TVM members and empty bags.

“Diana goes shopping in Rwanda to different organizations and at the market places,” Medrano said. “She also travels to other countries like Madagascar, Kenya and Ethiopia and buys more products from there as well. Each person is generally allowed two 50-70 pound bags and brings back everything that is purchased that way.”

Local churches in Rwanda nominate the poorest widows to work for TVM to improve their economic standings. However, not only does TVM offer financial support, Wiley and her team have also created a counseling program to help the women emotionally and spiritually.

Empowerment, sustainability, creativity and collaboration are four core values instilled in all of TVM’s work and outreach. Wiley and her staff strongly believe that getting the community involved and working together in a creative manner through Christ is the most efficient and fulfilling way to maintain a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Uwimana Ruth, a widow living in Rwanda, said in a 2013 video produced by TVM that her life has changed since the genocide. And after losing her husband while trying to take refuge in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uwimana was left caring for three children and a grandson and desperately needed a change.

“I was very, very happy when I first came here (to TVM in Rwanda),” Uwimana said. “When I came here I met my fellow women. As I shared with my fellow women, I could not find the time to think about myself and my difficulties.”

Being HIV positive, Uwimana said before she started working for TVM she didn’t have enough money to buy food to take with her medicine, which was making her sick.

“I am grateful, now I can have porridge,” Uwimana said. “I am able to buy porridge, and I can be able to buy food. Now, I have peace in my heart”

Without God and Wiley and her team at TVM, Uwimana said she wouldn’t have the peace that she has now.

“My peace comes from nowhere but you people, of course together with God and of him sending you to me,” Uwimana said.

As far as the future for TVM, Wiley said it is unclear where things will go from here.

“My prayer is that we can move into different areas where we can give the ladies business training,” Wiley said. “I want the ladies to be able to build their own businesses and earn a salary because right now their salary at True Vineyard pays their bills but it doesn’t really put them in a position where they can save, invest and plan for the future.”

The products brought back from Africa are for sale at True Vineyard Ministries’ boutique called The Vineyard Marketplace. The store is located at 317 W. San Antonio St in San Marcos, TX and is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

For more information about how to get involved and help the widows and those affected by the genocide, call True Vineyard Ministries, 512-392-8463 or go online at www.truevineyard.org.

Chelsea Seifert is a journalism and sociology junior at Texas State University and can be contacted at cseifert@thevoiceboxmedia.org.

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