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Rwanda hits poverty with family focus

05 February 2016

Samaritan’s Purse

Tour: the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali (left), and the Primate of Rwanda, Dr Onesphore Rwaje, speak to an audience during their UK tour to spread the message of the Raising Families project

Tour: the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali (left), and the Primate of Rwanda, Dr Onesphore Rwaje, speak to an audience during their...

A DEVELOPMENT scheme that has pulled thousands of families in Rwanda out of poverty without spending any foreign money has been praised in a UK tour by two African archbishops.

The scheme, Raising Families,  run by the Church of the Province of Rwanda in partnership with the aid agency Samaritan’s Purse, has had remarkable results across the country, and is now being expanded into neighbouring Uganda.

The Primate of Rwanda, Dr Onesphore Rwaje, was joined by the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali, on a tour of Britain last week to raise the profile of the scheme.

The project works by asking Anglican churches to pick 20 poor families in their parishes to focus on. The target families are then taught better farming practices, how to read and write, how to invest their limited cash better, and self-reliance, by members of the con­gregation.

Dr Rwaje said last week that the scheme used illustrations from
the Bible to encourage the target families not to look to outsiders for assistance, but to help themselves.

“When the Lord wanted to liberate the Israelites from Egypt, he called Moses to be his agent,” Dr Rwaje said. “He asked him: ‘What is that in your hands?’”

By asking the same question, and encouraging communities to work together, Raising Families had seen impressive outcomes.

In many areas, poor farmers come together in groups of ten to 12, and each brings 100 francs (about nine pence) a month. By pooling their resources, one of the group is given 1200 francs (about £1.11) to spend improving his land or investing in his farm.

The next month, another in the group is given the cash to spend. Children are encouraged to buy and raise rabbits as a cheap source of meat, and to use their pooled funds to buy corrugated-iron sheets to roof their homes.

“We are mobilising the com­munity, using our local churches as action groups to fight against pov­erty, illness, and their ignorance,” Dr Rwaje said. “It has been suc­­cessful because they help each other: they know each other’s needs, and how they can do it together. The Church is there [only] to facilitate.”

The 10,000 families targeted in Rwanda by Raising Families had seen huge improvements, Samari­tan’s Purse said. At the start of the scheme, three years ago, 63 per cent of the children from those families had been deemed to be safe from abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Now, the figure was 95 per cent.

Similarly, only 43 per cent of the target families’ children had had access to health care; now, it was 85 per cent. Originally, just 13 per cent of the families had been managing to put aside any money each month as savings; now, 41 per cent were able to do so.

“The Church has become the agent for spiritual, social, and eco­nomic development,” Dr Rwaje said. No money from abroad had been used to pull any of the families out of poverty: they had managed it themselves. “We are all bene­ficiaries, and there are no donors.”

This year, the Church of the Province of Uganda will begin its own Raising Families scheme, in­­spired by the success in Rwanda.

Archbishop Ntagali said that the scheme would focus on 9600 especially needy families in north-western Uganda, who had been affected by the  insurgency of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and  climate change, as the rains had repeatedly failed.

“We are improving farming tech­niques so people can have enough food to feed their children,” he said. “And, if they have enough to eat, they can have more to sell, and send their children to school and improve their health.”

Alan Cutting, of Samaritan’s Purse, said that the Archbishops had been invited to talk in the UK about Raising Families because of their support for it. “This programme depends on the key people and the leaders’ being behind it. They are really en­­gaged with it, and we are hugely grateful for that. When the vision comes from the Archbishops, it has got much more chance.”

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