Frontline Stories

Sewing Hope in Rwanda

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Today, an unprecedented 68.5 million people around the world have been forced from their homes due to conflicts, according to UNHCR. Stories about people driven from their homes, fleeing for their lives…… are not new to us. But what happens to some of them after the crisis?

Genocide in Rwanda

In 1994, during the genocide in Rwanda, a pregnant woman was making her way home when she ran into members of the militia. The young men threatened to cut her belly and rip out the baby she was carrying. Then another group of young men arrived. “She’s not very important,” they said. “We have some other jobs to do. Let’s go kill other people.”

That “not-very-important” woman was Beata, now 52. She and her husband, Vedaste, and their son Emmanuel were displaced for two months as violence spread across the country.

In Rwanda today, 24 years after the genocide, people have moved beyond trauma and mere survival. Now they are weaving hope through empathy and shared knowledge as they work together to improve the lives of current refugees, displaced people, and others in need.

Road to recovery

Beata’s journey to recovery was an arduous one, fraught with heartache.

When she and Vedaste first resettled, Vedaste started to farm, but only managing meagre harvests. During the dry season, he couldn’t get water to his crops. When it rained, torrential downpours washed their plants down to the valley below. “We were working in losses,” Vedaste says.

In 2010, Vedaste began learning new farming techniques from World Vision. He was selected in 2014 to participate in a new agricultural programme, which led him to become part of World Vision’s empowerment programme, THRIVE — Transforming Household Resilience in Vulnerable Environments, from which he learned advanced agricultural techniques. After the training, he applied the knowledge and planted a variety of crops, providing for his family with diversifying income sources.

Beata also started a tailoring business she had dreamed of for years. Beginning with a sewing machine rented from a friend, she then bought her own machine and connected with VisionFund, World Vision’s microfinance subsidiary, from which she took loans to expand the business.

Now, Beata has become a successful entrepreneur. She and Vedaste have secured a better future for their children. Never forgetting how it felt to lose everything in the genocide, they are also sharing their success with others in need.

Sewing hope

Beata believes she is saved for a purpose: to become an agent of change in her community. In 2011, government ministers from the repatriation programme approached Beata about providing sewing training to returning refugees. She jumped at the opportunity to help.

“Seeing [refugees] reminded me of how I lived, and that is why I wanted to help,” Beata says. So far, Beata has taught 82 people to sew, including 15 returnees who went on to open their own shops. Brigite was one of them.

Brigite returned to Rwanda in 2012 after years of living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as her family fled the genocide. Her brothers were killed, and her parents died in exile.

When Brigite and her husband returned to Rwanda, most of the family’s farmland were gone, so what little land remained only provided sustenance for them. They had no income.

Brigite was eager to try the sewing classes so she could earn money to support her family. In 2014, she took a five-month class from Beata and interned with her for a month.

“For me, [the training] is a gesture of love, and I am thankful to her because it has helped me a lot,” Brigite says of Beata. Brigite now owns a shop called Ejoheza — “bright future” — named for her renewed hope.

In 2015, the government asked Brigite to train a group from a marginalised minority tribe. Eager to learn sewing skills, this community quickly absorbed Brigite’s instructions. So far, Brigite has trained 14 people, following in the footsteps of her mentor, Beata. She is sewing a bright future not just for herself, but for the entire community.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:7, 9)

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