Newsoms native leads charge to help Rwandans
Published 10:45 am Saturday, August 22, 2015
“I’ve always had a heart for Africa, even since I was a child,” said Nancy Strachan shortly after arriving home from a two-week trip to Rwanda.
Strachan is the president and founder of Rwandan HUGS. The organization is dedicated to providing emergency assistance, improving education and encouraging agricultural and small business development to Rwandan citizens.
In 2006, Strachan attended a lecture given by Immaculee Ilibagiza, a Rwandan author and motivational speaker who survived the countrty’s genocide of 1994.
“I prayed to God that I find someone to inspire me at that event … and I sat down right next to a woman who had a similar response to Immaculee as a I did,” she said. “We mutually decided that we were going to Rwanda, and then when we got to meet Immaculee, she invited us to go with her.”
Strachan began her yearly trips to Rwanda in 2007.
In 2010, Strachan founded Rwandan HUGS, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization.
“The great thing about HUGS is that we don’t have employees. We don’t pay salaries or keep up office spaces. Every single thing that is donated goes right to the people,” Strachan said, “and it really shows how drastically small donations can change people’s lives.”
In one example, Strachan and her team used donations to give two rabbits to a widow with two small children. By breeding the rabbits and selling their offspring, the woman was able to pay for her children’s schooling, clothing and put a new roof on their home.
“We do everything from selling bracelets and jewelry to livestock distribution,” Strachan said. “We’ve given away thousands of goats, hundreds of chickens, a few cows and of course those rabbits.”
Strachan’s trips to Rwanda mostly consist of checking in on partnerships made in the region and hearing testimony from project leaders.
“A lot of my work consists of overseeing projects and making sure things run smoothly,” she explained. “This is the first time I’ve been where it feels like we are finally seeing the fruits of our labor.”
In addition to livestock, Rwandan HUGS also supplied villagers with gardening supplies, funding for the village of Mbyo’s schools and money for two small businesses, a restaurant and a sewing shop.
Mbyo, a peace and reconciliation village in which victims of the genocide live cooperatively alongside the killing’s perpetrators, is a source of inspiration for Strachan.
“The story of how the victims who lost 30 or 40 family members to the genocide could forgive the perpetrators was a story that I felt like had to be told around the world,” she said.
“I’ve become very embedded in the community [of Mybo]. It’s just a joy to see things getting better here.”
Strachan encourages others who feel called to do missionary work to make their own unique contributions.
“There’s no sense in anybody trying to learn a new skill—if you’re not a seamstress don’t go teach sewing,” she said with a laugh. “To quote Picasso, ‘The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.’”
“But you don’t have to go overseas to be a missionary,” she added. “You can do that anywhere God calls you. I often say, ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.’
“The bottom line is, I love Rwanda. We laugh and dance and sing and pray and cry. It’s a real family there.”
For those interested in learning more about Strachan’s work, she will speak on Aug. 31 at Courtland Baptist Church at 6:00 p.m.