Rwandan Children Now Thrive in United Methodist Tent Village
Contact: Linda Bloom
A UMNS News Feature by Dean Snyder*
When he was greeted recently by healthy Rwandan refugee children at a camp in Zaire, United Methodist Bishop Felton E. May of Harrisburg, Pa., was full of emotion.
"The last children I saw in Goma were near death," said May, who was there Jan. 8 to dedicate a "children's village" for orphans. "To return 17 months later and see the village in operation -- 10 Quonset-like tents arranged like a college campus -- was like a miracle."
The Goma Children's Village is part of the United Methodist Church's response to the plight of more than 100,000 children who were lost, abandoned or orphaned as more than two million refugees from violent tribal wars in Rwanda crossed the border into Zaire.
When May visited Zaire's refugee camps in 1994 as part of a United Methodist fact-finding team, children were not receiving adequate care. "They were languishing in the camps -- near death," he recalled. "Many did die."
Since then, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries coordinated an effort to design and manufacture tents suitable for use as living quarters in Zaire's high heat and build foundations and an infrastructure for the tent village. The agency also enlisted personnel -- teachers, nurses, child care workers or surrogate parents and cooks -- and facilitated cooperation with the United Methodist Church of Zaire, the government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
More than 300 Volunteers-in-Mission (VIM) have served in Zaire during the past 17 months and they, as well as local United Methodists, participated in every aspect of the village's development, according to May. Construction continued even throughout the forced expulsion of thousands of Rwandan refugees from Zaire last summer.
About a third of the 100 children who will be raised in this first children's village already live there. The remainder will move in gradually during the next few months, the bishop said. The village also is open to Zairian street children.
"I am thankful to God for putting into our hearts and minds the will to do something rather than just bemoan the children's plight," May said. He expressed appreciation to Board of Global Ministries staff "for their willingness to go outside our normal missional policies."
Besides the Goma Children's Village, May joined Bishop Onema Fama, United Methodist Church in Zaire, at dedication ceremonies for a clinic in Bukavu and for a church in Uvira.
The clinic has two doctors, nurses and a pharmacy. It serves refugees from Rwanda and Burundi as well as Zairians and is supported by the United Methodist Committee on Relief and UNICEF.
The Uvira church, built with the help of VIMs, has the capacity to seat 1,000 people and house a school for refugee children.
May said that Fama would like children's villages established in Bukavu and Uvira as well if the necessary funds can be raised. The cost of manufacturing tents, laying foundations and erecting a village is about $33,000.
* Dean Snyder is editor of The Link of the Central Pennsylvania Conference.
Photos are available upon request from the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries by calling Bogdan Mischiu at (212) 870-3780.
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