Mid way through the fall semester it seemed that the challenges of the pandemic were reaching many of my students at the African Leadership University. I sought to motivate them and at the same to increase their sense of connection to the wider world. I reached out to all of you, asking for donations for which my students could find charitable use. To my immense gratitude, you donated nearly $1700. I had set out to inspire my students, but I found myself inspired, as I would again and again throughout the life of this project. This was the first of many “multipliers” – situations in which one act returned multiple benefits.
I next sought volunteers among my students, and together we formed the Charitable Committee, composed of about ten students. These students were tasked with scouring the national and international environment for opportunities to maximize the use of this money – because I knew that this money could help transform lives; and I knew that our donors expected us to find the best possible use for their hard earned money.
We began meeting each Friday, moving from a dozen or more charitable organizations and service projects under consideration, to half that, to three, two, and finally the one which the Committee itself selected with my enthusiastic approval. The recipient is Integrated Development Action (IDA) Rwanda, and the funds, I could not be happier to report, are now being used to provide training and to seed the entrepreneurial ventures of 30 women with physical disabilities. In this way, the funds promote both gender equality and disability inclusion. In addition, the money is offered on a grant basis, and the returns are expected to generate yet further investments. Again, multipliers at work.
Perhaps the most exciting consequence is the multiplier effect that accrued to my students. While the beneficiaries are sponsored and supported by IDA, IDA has a partner in this venture: the Rotaract Club of the African Leadership University. This is the local branch of the International Rotary Club and is composed entirely of ALU students – including several members of my class and of the Charitable Committee.
As a result, the members of the Charitable Committee through this process learned about the many societal needs of Rwanda and the wider region, as well as the many organizations committed to providing services and support. What I did not envision, however, was that for some students the learning would continue yet further – in theory in perpetuity – as a result of this gift. Just last week, for instance, several of my students traveled three hours by bus to meet these women and begin preparations for the first disbursements. While I regretfully was not able to attend the site visit in rural Rwanda, the photos included are testament to the connections made on that trip. One of the student-leaders, indeed, has spoken to me, and explained that thanks in part to his work on this project he is inspired to devote his professional life to one of service. While I suspect that this student would have found his way to a life of service one way or another, to consider that this gift may have accelerated that process is yet another example of the multiplier effect at work.
Margaret Mead once said to never doubt that a small group of people can make a difference. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Although the quote may be cliché, it is remarkable to consider how many people have been touched by this single gift, and in such varied ways. It is a reminder that even if our efforts are just a drop or two in the bucket of life, those drops nourish those upon whom they land.
I tell you this so that you know where your gift has gone, and I will provide further updates as I learn more about the successes and setbacks that are sure to come. But whether you donated to this project or have given in other ways at other times in life, I share this with you first and foremost to return the inspiration to you, that came from you.
Let me leave you with some testimonials from the recipients to this project, and pictures from the recent field visit.
Testimonial 1: Before we were seen as a misfortune and lived in fear. I am happy today because even when my eyesight cannot support me to do many things for survival, my family and I are still able to get support from charitable people like you.
Testimonial 2: Being lame meant that I can hardly have the confidence to share knowledge or embark on something involving people outside my family. This training has taught me that I can use the knowledge and resources around me to create business opportunities. All I learn, I go back home and teach my children.