Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Feeding Program Turns ONE

Well, hey there! I interrupt your regularly scheduled 'wednesday's whatnot' to bring to a very special announcement: 

I know I haven't talked much about 41 in quite a while and I, generally, don't make it a habit to type in all caps (aka, online yelling) but this is something worth screaming about. One year ago, today, 870 students were fed a hot, healthy lunch, at school, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, because of you. Because of your belief in me and because of your belief in a group of young women, whom the world had seemingly cast aside, we were able to raise their heads and show them that they were created for a purpose. God not only saw them, He loved them, He knew them, and He needed them. He needed their unique gifts and talents to contribute to this crazy, beautiful tapestry He was weaving in a tiny little village, in a tiny little country, with a ragtag group of people, from all over the world, who had chosen to say 'yes'. 

I don't think I have ever written down the full story about the formation of the feeding program. I truly believe that what happened, what IS happening, is a true move of God, nothing short of a miracle, and I would like to honor Him with the full story today.

Just for some background, y'all know our sweet ladies are paid a fair wage to work at No.41. They are taught to sew bags, and we sell the bags, with 100% of the profits going to feed students. (I'm not going to talk a ton about the girls today, their 2nd birthday is next month and they will get the spotlight then.) Before No.41 started, and when I was running around asking the whole town for permission, the initial number we got from the school was 250 students. The girls began learning to sew in March 2012 and, in my mind, I wanted to shoot for the feeding program to launch January 2013, giving us enough time to make and sell 250 bags and, also, January is the official start of the school year, in Rwanda. 

In August, we began looking for an English teacher at No.41. It was proving to be difficult, as most things were, until one afternoon a man showed up on our porch. I, reluctantly, went out to greet him and he very plainly said, "Hello. I am Jean d'Amour. I have heard you are requiring an English teacher." We don't, and certainly at the time didn't, have a ton of English floating around our area, so this alone was pretty praise worthy. Jean d'Amour was an English teacher at another local school and we hired him that day to teach the girls, 4 hours a week. He very quickly earned my respect and the respect of the girls, but it wasn't until October, when we started to put some concrete ideas on paper about the feeding program, that Jean d'Amour proved himself absolutely invaluable at No.41.

A mutual friend of ours called and told me that JD had some experience with another feeding program and would probably know a bit about suppliers, food costs, and whatnot. I asked him about it and he said he was willing to help, so we set up our first meeting with the school to get planning for January. The school had forgotten about ever meeting with me; they are very accustomed to empty or broken promises and hadn't taken my first inquiry seriously. When I assured them that we were serious and we were ready to feed the students, they were overjoyed and wanted to let me know that there were, in fact, 650 students currently enrolled. Oh. (insert internal freakout.)

We went ahead and started work on converting an old building behind the school into a kitchen and when JD and I left the school that day we told the headmaster, we hadn't sold enough bags yet to feed 650 students but, we were still shooting for January. We got our booties in gear, ended up hiring JD to join our team full-time as our Program Director, and couple of generous teams and donations later, we were ready to get back to school. Not fully funded, but full of faith. 

And now it's the end December, we are having, what I believe is, our last meeting with the headmaster before school starts. We are all standing around the newly renovated kitchen, surrounded by stacks of bowls and basins, pans, and serving ware, talking about financial sums that I didn't realize would ever come out of my mouth, and the headmaster, casually, mentions that there will more than likely be 750+ students. (insert external freakout.) School is starting in two weeks and the headmaster is telling us the number of students could still vary by the hundreds. I'm not proud of the way I reacted that day. 

We left the school that afternoon, choosing to believe that God would finish what He had started. However, I felt, I had now made it very clear to the headmaster that we would not be able to follow through with our promise to feed every child, for the entire year, if he continued to enroll more students. What I didn't realize, at the time, was that families were hearing about the new feeding program and were coming, in droves, to enroll their children in the only public school in the area that could feed them a meal. And who could blame them.

In true, laid-back, Africa fashion, we started the feeding program a full month late, on February 12th, 2013. The entire No.41 crew showed up at the school that day to see what all their hard work over the last 11 months had accomplished. It was a huge day, for all of us. JD has been at the school, with the cooks and the food supplier, since 5am and he was waiting for me at the gate when we arrived. He said, "There is something I must tell you, I am really not happy, and really the headmaster is in fear of what you will say.... Today, the students are totaling 870." (                    )....

The girls went scrambling for extra plates and silverware and that day, and all 240 school days since then, we fed 870 students. You fed 870 students. God fed 870 students. I say all of this to say, He is faithful. He was faithful when I faltered. He was faithful when I couldn't see. He was faithful when I didn't believe. He is faithful. When he calls us, He equips us, and even then He still blows our plans out of the water. Every thing we needed fell into place, somehow. Every person He knew would be a part of this team showed up, somehow. Every dollar we needed came in, somehow.

And one year later, God is still on the move. This year we are feeding 1,200 students and teachers every single day! Enrollment is up, attendance is up, grades are up, and I just recently got a letter from the headmaster saying that our school had the highest National Examination scores in the district. 

Education. Empowerment. Sustainability. Hope. That's how you change the world for one.

If you would like to partner with us, we have all kinds of ways to do that. You can make a purchase. You can sponsor a student. You can make a donation. You can host a trunk show. You can become a Campus Rep. You can share our story with your friends. We are always accepting prayers. And we are always thankful. Just thankful.

** all photos by the lovely and talented Alison Holcomb

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