A reality that is deeply moving – this is what master carpenter Jule Rombey, carpenter Mara Pischl and master church painter Maren Kogge experienced together with other young craftspeople in Rwanda.
Together, for one another
In autumn 2023, the three participants took part in the social and educational project for Rwanda, organised by the EURwanda Handcraft Foundation e.V.. There they were able to lend a hand and improve the lives of the local people.
The three young craftswomen got to know each other at a HAIX event in the summer. The chemistry between them was instant. Maren Kogge, the current Miss Craftswoman, finally brought up the idea of taking part in the aid project. Mara and Jule were immediately hooked. “I would do it again any time, it was such a great experience to do something good,” reports Mara. “It was a mega experience,” agrees Jule.
A total of 25 participants travelled to the country in East Africa at the end of October. Among others, painters, carpenters, interior decorators and an electrician were on board. The aim of the project is not only to actively help people to help themselves, but also to promote cultural exchange. This year, the young craftsmen and craftswomen once again supported a small HMP community (Historically Marginalised People) together with Rwandan vocational school students, who themselves lent a helping hand.
The circumstances on site were terrifying, reports Jule. “Having only what you wear on your body” was unimaginable for her before. It seemed to her as if the people there had been completely forgotten. When she arrived, the inhabitants had no electricity or water and had not had anything to eat for days. The project participants spontaneously organised a fundraising campaign and used the money to buy rice and food.
Passing on knowledge
The craftsmen and women were accommodated in a guest house with the most basic facilities. “Nobody complained about that,” says Mara. The participants mainly worked at the youth and community centre of the HMP community. This is still a 25-minute walk from the residential buildings. The local team from the EURwanda Handcraft Foundation prepared the project together with the HMP community and organised materials on site. The craftsmen and women also brought some materials and tools to Rwanda. This enabled the project participants to get started straight away.
Together with the vocational school students, the craftsmen and women renovated the youth and community centre. They built benches and bedsteads for the locals, who previously had to sleep on the cold floor. Many were battling pneumonia. People are used to sleeping close to each other. They therefore laid out the frames for six people. The beds were covered and padded with leaves – mattresses are a luxury that the community cannot afford. In the village itself, the helpers carried out important work such as painting or laying channels for electricity and water pipes.
The vocational students, who are not from the community themselves, were able to gain valuable knowledge so that the help can be continued on site. For example, Mara showed them how to install ceiling structures in the houses. “Our vocational school buddies can now do this themselves.” The helpers also want to take care of the electricity connection on site now that the cables are in place. The participants, on the other hand, have learnt to use the available resources even more sustainably. “For the people there, wasting materials was not an option at all,” says Jule.
An important experience
The fact that they now have their own benches and beds moved the villagers to tears. Like the other participants, Mara, Jule and Maren were inspired to reflect on their own problems. “It really makes you question whether the things we lack are really that bad,” says Jule. In the midst of poverty and hardship, the importance of solidarity and the power of help to permanently improve living conditions became clear.
Mara particularly remembers the children in the community. “They had such a sparkle in their eyes. We had soap bubbles with us, they were almost crying,” she remembers the joy that even such simple things can bring.
When she returned home, on the other hand, she felt overwhelmed by the prosperity, the oversupply. “Here, people make sure that the peppers don’t have a dent. In Rwanda, you’re happy if you have anything to eat at all.” She would like to see more awareness and appreciation for the things that people have. Because she has seen what it means when food and water, a bed and a roof over your head cannot be taken for granted.
A community on the margins of society
How does an entire community fall into poverty like this? The reason for this shocking situation: the HMP community originally lived in a forest area and supported themselves by hunting. As this area is home to gorillas, which in turn are considered a tourist attraction, the government declared the land a national park without further ado and forcibly relocated the inhabitants. They were given houses with four walls and a roof, but were not prepared to live in this way and participate in Rwandan society. They received almost no further support.
However, the people also lost their only source of food. Arable land is too expensive, picking fruit is considered theft and begging is forbidden in Rwanda. The inhabitants have hardly any opportunities to work as they have not learnt any trades. They sleep on the floor in simple houses without electricity or water. Many children suffer from pneumonia.
Witnessing these conditions was shocking for Jule, Mara and Maren. The three have found all the more hope in the project. Together with vocational school students from the region, they have helped to improve the situation on the ground in just a few days. Not even the vocational students were aware of the poverty in this community.