Local organization visits Rwanda to see how their work is transforming a community

Gina Harcey and Pastor Joel Preston with the children at the Bulanga Primary School.


By Elizabeth Sias

For children in Kivuruga, Rwanda, the concept of clean, running water is relatively new.

But thanks to a group of people from east central Minnesota, the availability is becoming more and more common.

This past October, a group of representatives from Our Response made the trip to Kivuruga, Rwanda, to see firsthand how their sponsorship dollars are at work transforming the lives of children and the community of Kivuruga.

Our Response is a local non-profit organization formed two years ago in Cambridge. As partners with World Vision, their purpose is to transform the community of Kivuruga and to unite the people of east central Minnesota in the fight against global poverty.

Janie Pearson with children at the primary school.

The group, lead by Our Response Executive Director Steve Fredlund, consisted of people representing six local churches, as well as representatives from World Vision.

“The impact we’ve had over there the first two years is just staggering,” Fredlund said. “To see the impact and see something tangible out of it was very important for me personally and for the organization of Our Response.”

They financially support the community of Kivuruga primarily through child sponsorships. For $35 per month, a sponsor is able to build a relationship with their sponsored child while the money provides things like clean water, nutritious food, health care (including AIDS prevention) and education. World Vision provides the infrastructure and staff in Rwanda and Our Response provides the financial support to do the work.

Shannon Lynch with her sponsored child Sifa and her dad.

The recent 10-day trip provided Our Response members the opportunity to see where sponsorship dollars are at work. They were able to see the nutrition center where sponsorship dollars are providing meals for malnourished children and clean water.

“We’re not trying to westernize them,” Fredlund said. “There are so many things there about their culture that are beautiful that we don’t want to change.”

The group spent five days in the community of Kivuruga, Fredlund said. One of the first things they did upon their arrival was meet their sponsor children and spend a day with them and their families.

Joel Preston feeding children at the nutrition center. Our Response is currently funding the nutrition project here.

They also had the opportunity to visit the primary school, where some of their dollars are at work building additional classrooms. Right now, there are 70 students per teacher, and the new classrooms will have windows instead of shutters to help during the rainy season. There’s also a new water-collection system at the school to provide clean water.

Fredlund said the group spent time at the nutrition center, an emerging area people can use as an education center to learn about nutrition. Part of the center is the nutrition projectl solely funded by Our Response, the project allows children ages 6 months to 5 years to come once a day to get milk from a cow and a meal once a week.

“For some of the children, this is the only full meal they’ll get every week,” Fredlund said.

An ongoing transformation

The group was also able to see the things that are still lacking. In its beginning stages, the nutrition center is currently only able to provide meals to the children once a week, a project Our Response is hoping to expand.

The medical facility lacks running water, electricity and trained medical staff. For Fredlund, one of the most moving parts of the trip was seeing the maternity ward, which is a single room with two beds run by a nurse with no medical training, who single-handedly delivers babies in a population of 30,000.

Eric and Nicole Forbes playing the tire game with the children at the primary school.

“That was incredibly moving looking at what they have there,” he said. “The maternity ward is on the radar for a future project we may undertake.”

There’s a lot of work to be done, Fredlund said. When Our Response started two years ago, over 50 percent of  Kivuruga’s population was considered malnourished or undernourished. The organization’s goal is to drop that 5 percent per year with the nutrition project.

“The core of this deep poverty is this cycle,” he said. “They’re farming just enough to get by and buying enough seeds for the next round, whereas if they can grow their infrastructure they could improve the standard of living for everyone.”

Steve Fredlund and Trent Pepper talking with children in the village.

They’re trying to work with the Rwandan government, Fredlund explained, which has a vision for every family to have a cow for milk and income, as well as the manure for crops. There’s no electricity there at all, and a vision of the government is to get electricity throughout the country.

“The only difference between us and them is where we were born, and it seems unjust,” Fredlund said.

Over 250 children are sponsored in Kivuruga through Our Response. The organization’s goal for the end of the year was 130, and Fredlund is thrilled with the support of the community. There are over a thousand children yet to be sponsored.

To partner with Our Response and sponsor a child in Kivuruga, Rwanda, contact Steve Fredlund at [email protected] for more information. The upcoming Our Response Annual Celebration will be held on Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. at the Richard G. Hardy Performing Arts Center, featuring musical guest Sara Groves. It’s a free event, but they expect it to be full so people are encouraged to arrive early. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Left to right, back row: Steve Fredlund, Shannon Lynch, Eric Forbes; middle: Trent Pepper, Mark Coughlin, Joel Preston, Millie Vanderpool, Nicole Forbes, Janie Pearson; front: Gina Harcey and Carol Anderson.