Celebrating the first year of work in Rwanda

Our Response will host an event featuring singer Sara Groves on Saturday, Jan. 29 at the Performing Arts Center to celebrate its first anniversary

Luke Reiter
[email protected]

Chocolate chips were the final kicker for Steve Fredlund.

A few days after returning home from a humanitarian trip to Rwanda in November 2009, Fredlund was asked by his wife if he could pick up a bag of chocolate chips that she needed for a recipe.

Pictured: Children in Kivuruga, Rwanda perform during a visit by the board of Our Response in November, 2009 .

“So I go to the store and I’m looking at the chocolate chip section, and it’s overwhelming—first of all, I couldn’t figure out which chocolate chips I should get,” he recalled. “I didn’t know there was more than one kind of chocolate chip.”

But standing in an air-conditioned store packed with food in a section dedicated expressly to chocolate chips, Fredlund thought back to the people he had met in the village of Kivuruga, people who might go days without eating or gnaw on stalks of sugar cane for a treat.

Fredlund struggled to reconcile the hardships he’d witnessed in Rwanda with his present confectionery dilemma. At the time it seemed impossible to comprehend that both realities could be found on the same planet.

Fredlund had taken his trip to Rwanda with pastors Bob Jonsson of  First Baptist and Mark Radeke of River of Life, and the journey marked one of the final preparatory stages before they launched the organization Our Response. The men had been acquaintances for several years but they first discovered they shared a desire to work with AIDS victims in Africa after bumping into each at a Bethel University conference on that topic in 2007.  

That collective desire led the men  to found Our Response, a non-profit organization that seeks to partner the resources and compassion of people in the East Central region of Minnesota with the profound needs of the destitute throughout the world.

The men were aware that their fledgling non-profit would be most effective when paired with a larger organization that already had the resources and processes in place for international work, and after extensive research they decided on the group World Vision. World Vision is a Washington state-based Christian humanitarian organization that focuses on long term solutions. The organization estimates it provides assistance for approximately 100 million in 100 countries worldwide.

After the partnership was established, Fredlund and the others had to decide where to put Our Response to work. World Vision provided the group with a list of options, and the one all three agreed fit the mission of Our Response was the recently started Area Development Program (ADP) in the village of Kivuruga, Rwanda.

“We really wanted it to be around more of a community transformation model more than, ‘We’re going to send a team to go dig a well,’—even though that’s awesome work—we really wanted to say, ‘OK, how can we help this community turn around and thrive versus just helping meet end-stage needs,” Fredlund explained.

World Vision’s ADPs are intended to transform populations into self-sustainable communities without imposing Western culture. The goal is to establish an economic infrastructure and educate the people on nutrition and disease so that they’re no longer dependent on outside influence.

An Evening with Sara Groves

Our Response and World Vision will celebrate the work accomplished in the first year and look forward to the future with a Jan. 29 event featuring recording artist and author Sara Groves. The event, held at 7 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in the Cambridge-Isanti High School, is free and open to the public and seats will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

The visit from Groves is just one way the team at Our Response seeks to draw people in and show what can and needs to be accomplished. The ambition of Our Response is to not only to transform the lives of people in Kivuruga but also at home. The organization is designed to create a sense of responsibility and partnership for the people of East Central Minnesota when it comes to addressing problems.

Part of the benefit of teaming up with World Vision is the sponsorship program, through which local residents can financially support children in Kivuruga. The money received from a sponsor pays for a child’s health care, education and nutritious diet, and sponsors receive progress updates and letters from their children on a regular basis.

Fredlund is aware that the transformation of both communities will take work. Apathy and a lagging economy remain challenges for non-profits seeking assistance. Fredlund, who works in compensation at Medtronic, looks at the issue with an analytical lens.

“It’s kind of a numbers game, if you will,” he said. “Only a certain number of people are going to actually care—as much as we want everybody to—only a certain number of those that care are going to get involved.”

Fredlund described the recruiting process like a funnel: for everyone 100 people he reaches, perhaps only two will go on to help out in a meaningful way. But rather than let those percentages discourage him, Fredlund and company simply spread the message farther.

“If I talk to 10,000 people, now maybe I’ll get 200,” he explained.

Our Response set a goal of arranging sponsors for 50 children in Kivuruga in the first year. By the end of kickoff festivities they had already exceeded that number and raised the mark to 100. Fredlund said the organization ended the year with 89 children sponsored and $62,000 raised.

Success like that gives Fredlund bright dreams for the future of Our Response and Kivuruga. This year Our Response has committed to raise $40,000 for a nutrition program, which allows Minnesotans who could not afford the $35 per month sponsorship to donate now in any amount. The Our Response team will also make its second trip to Rwanda this November, and they are inviting area pastors to come along and share in the experience.

“My vision is that by the year 2025… we’re celebrating with World Vision the self-sustainability of Kivuruga,” Fredlund said. “So by that day we have a big party, we say ‘We did it;’ World Vision pulls all of their resources out of Kivuruga—they’re now self-sustainable—and we go and we move it somewhere else.”