The first thing that struck Matthew Hope, a 33-year-old builder from Sydney, when he arrived in Rwanda last year was the positive spirit of the people.

“I’d thought I would have seen a lot more more intense poverty and pain but we really found a bunch of people that were quite upbeat about life - incredible people, really, for what they’ve been through,” he says. “It was not that long ago.”

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MEETING THE LOCALS: Australian Matthew Hope with some of the widows and children he's been involved in building houses for.

 

“I’d thought I would have seen a lot more more intense poverty and pain but we really found a bunch of people that were quite upbeat about life - incredible people, really, for what they’ve been through,” says Matthew Hope. “It was not that long ago.”

‘It’ is a reference to the genocide that tore the country apart in 1994 when, during a 100 day period, more than 800,000 people were killed in ethnic violence.

Hope first went to Rwanda on a scouting mission about 12 months ago after Mark and Darlene Zschech asked him whether he’d like to be involved in Hope: Rwanda - an Australian-led global effort to replace the 100 days of horror that the country experienced during in 1994 with 100 days of hope.

As well as national rallies and conferences involving the likes of US evangelist Joyce Meyer and bands such as Hillsong United, Planet Shakers, and Delirious?, scores of volunteers have poured into the country to lend a hand in numerous humanitarian projects since the Hope: Rwanda initiative, which is set to finish on 15th July, started on 7th April.

Alongside New Zealanders, Canadians, Britons and South Africans, as many as 250 Australians have taken part in the humanitarian projects. They have included a team of 35 medical staff, a team of 23 teachers and a team of 50 builders and tradesmen.

Hope says the building team had gone to Rwanda with the particular intention of helping children and widows by providing them with some shelter. To that end, as well as visiting Rwanda during their scouting trip last year, he and others had stopped in Uganda to see the children’s villages run by Watoto Child Care Ministries.

Founded in the early 1990s by Canadian missionaries Gary and Marilyn Skinner to care for children in Uganda orphaned as a result of AIDS and war, the villages now provide housing for more than 1,000 children.

Hope says that it was after visiting Watoto that the team decided to build a village for orphans and and widows in Rwanda.

“We knew what we wanted to do in Rwanda after we left Uganda but we didn’t know who with, how we’d go about and who’d pay for it,” he recalls.

That all changed when they were introduced to Nicholas Hitimana - a Rwandan who had studied agriculture in the UK and had returned to his home country to help develop the nation’s agriculture industry. He had been working with widows in an area west of the nation’s capital of Kigali, helping them to grow geraniums from which oil is extracted and sold to South Africa where it’s used to make perfume. Their houses, however, remained ramshackle and Hitimana wanted to do something about it.

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A SHELTERED FUTURE: Rwandans work on one of the new mud-brick houses that are being built for widows and children.


“The idea is that we train them in how to do the work...” says Matthew Hope, an Australian builder. “It’s been great for the village and has given many families an income when they might not have had it.”

“He had a heart to build houses for them and to give the kids in the village somewhere to live in a family environment,” recalls Hope. “So he asked us whether we wanted to get involved and we said yes. It was a case of two world’s colliding - he couldn’t see how he could afford to do this and who would help him do it, and we were hoping we could find somebody we could trust.”

Hitimana was given some land by the local council and in April this year, the first team of Australians arrived to begin supervising the work. Drawing on funds provided from Hillsong Church, New Zealand’s Parachute Music and donations from individuals, they have employed about 36 local people who will build 20 two and three bedroom mudbrick houses on the site.

“The idea is that we train them in how to do the work...” says Hope. “It’s been great for the village and has given many families an income when they might not have had it.”

The houses - which will accommodate up to eight children and a widow - are expected to cost around $US7,500 each to build. Around half the houses should be finished by the end of the 100 days but Hope says the work with continue beyond that.

For Hope, the greatest blessing is in seeing the response of the widows, who he says are “totally blown away that anyone would want to do this for them”, and the way the children have responded to them.

“The other thing that has encouraged me greatly is amount of people who have gone over there and found it life-changing and said they’ll definitely be going back.”

Hope, who was about to embark on another trip Rwanda when he spoke to Sight recently, this time accompanied by his wife Melinda, their three children - five-year-old Isaac, three-year-old Lachlan, and seven-month-old Jamon - and his mother and father-in-law, says that Rwanda is part of his life now.

“We’re thinking a few years down the track, what we’re going to do next and how we’re going to set up ways of fundraising and those sorts of things,” he says. “I said to Mark at the start ‘I’m not there for 100 days - this is long term for us’.”

~ www.hoperwanda.org