For 15 years now, the people of Kibali in Gicumbi district and members of a community in Colorado Springs, U.S, have been united by one thing -running the race of life together, literally.
Located in Byumba sector, Gicumbi district in Northern Province, Kibali, like many villages in rural parts of the country, face a number of challenges, ranging from poverty in some households to lack of basic infrastructure and health facilities.
Sixteen years ago, the Anglican Church of Rwanda (EAR), Byumba Diocese established a relationship with the International Anglican Church of America in Colorado and they agreed to join forces to change the lives of the people of Kibali.
As Bishop Emmanuel Ngendahayo, the Head of the Anglican Church of Rwanda (EAR), Byumba Diocese, puts it, the church through its means and connections can contribute to national development and the social wellbeing of the people, to complement what the government is doing.
That is exactly what they have been doing, for the past 15 years, with the members of the Anglican church in Colorado Springs, U.S, through their annual initiative ‘Run for Rwanda’, which seeks to raise money to establish community development projects in Kibali.
‘Run for Rwanda’ is an initiative of the Byumba EAR Diocese and the Anglican Church in Colorado Springs, U.S. The run is held annually in both countries. This year’s edition, the 15th, was held on August 6.
“The word of God tells us that when people share the same faith and beliefs, they can do and achieve a lot together. This is what united us with our friends in Colorado and agreed to work together for the good of our people,”
“Our engagement is guided by the principles of the Anglican church which include ministry, improving people’s lives and health. Every year we come together on the first Sunday of August to do our annual run,” Bishop Ngendahayo says.
With the support of friends and partners, they have been able to build a health centre in Kabali, which serves over 12,000 people and most recently they built a football pitch while a community hall, where people will be convening for different activities, is under construction.
“Through the health centre, many people are able to access treatment of different ailments and conditions. With the sports facility, we believe that we can actually prevent the diseases if people can exercise and stay healthy and fit,” the clergyman adds.
Previously they have distributed cows under Girinka programme, paid health insurance for hundreds of people and build houses for vulnerable households. Bishop Ngendahayo says the partnership has been a life changing one for the people of Kigali.
This year, the diocese has also been involved in campaigns to fight drug abuse among the youth and teenage pregnancies as well as supporting children from vulnerable families to go to school, among other activities.
As part of the social change campaign among the youth, the church has organised a football tournament for girls and boys’ teams where the winning team will receive Rwf500,000 while the first runner-up will get Rwf300, 000 for the finalists.
It is through the tournament that young people are sensitised and equipped with positive messages. Bishop Ngendahayo adds that the church runs health awareness campaigns against non-communicable diseases and on mental health.
A close relationship
Peggy Henjum, the coordinator of ‘Run for Rwanda’, says the initiative has brought their two communities closer and they intend to do even more together, inspired by what they’ve already achieved.
“This is our 15th year in running, 16 years together and this community has built this hospital and they’re building the KICTC. They teach us so much. It is exciting,” Henjum says of the relationship they’ve built with their friends in Northern Province.
“Every morning we are talking with each other on WhatsApp. It is a very close relationship. I cannot tell you how important it is that we come together as communities, we get to know and love each other,” she adds.
Indeed, Henjum says the world is a better place because of the relationship they’ve built with the people of Kibali in particular and Byumba Diocese.
Henjum says that they work closely with the Diocese to identify areas of priority to engage and they fundraise on their end. She has been involved in the initiative full time, having come to Rwanda for the first time in 2005. The partnership started in 2007.
She believes the relationship between the communities will continue for a long time, despite those who started it now being of advanced age like herself. They are now training young people in Colorado, to whom they will hand over the baton.
Stephanie Nyiranzoga, one of the beneficiaries in Kibali, says their lives were transformed by the initiatives the two communities have implemented together.
“The health centre really came at the right time. We used to walk long distances to get treatment but now we get it nearby,” says Nyiranzoga, who was also among the people who got houses.
Jean Damascène Nsengimana, the head of Education Department at Gicumbi district, who represented the district leadership at the run, said the partnership between the diocese and the people of Colorado is having a positive impact on the people.
“There is a run itself but also there are other activities they do that contribute to the development of the district and social cohesion. They have done a lot over the years and as a district we appreciate their contribution,” Nsengimana said.
Apart from building a health centre and a playground, Nsengimana said that through the partnership a vocational school will be built and many children have been helped to go to school, thanks to the collaboration between two communities in two different continents brought together by their faith and beliefs.
“These are the kind of partnerships the government encourages and our wish is that these activities are expanded further because they benefit citizens and contribute to national development,” he added.
Bishop Ngendahayo says that through the initiative, they have been able to participate in government programmes using the platform they have, including the fight against Covid-19 pandemic, a campaign against NCDs and fighting teenage pregnancies.
He said that the diocese will encourage congregants to take the second booster dose in the roll out recently announced by the Ministry of Health.