Grassroots Organizing in Africa
Faith in Action Rwanda leaders have leveraged $2 million in public improvements and services for 120,000 people. Projects include health clinics, water, electricity, three schools, a welding school, community center, new homes, a roofing tile business, reforestation and road construction.
Faith in Action Rwanda was formed by Pastor John Rutsindintwarane, a native Rwandan, who began organizing in Rwanda in 2006 after a one year internship with the U.S. with Faith in Action’s affiliate Oakland Community Organizations. For Pastor John, the devastating effects of the 1994 genocide and the overwhelming barriers faced by the survivors fueled his search for tools to rebuild his country, combining faith with action, and building from the ground up.
Faith in Action Rwanda was born in a small, all-but-forgotten part of southeast Rwanda called Mumeya, a stone’s throw from the Tanzanian border. Pastor John was invited to work in this village after he held a series of introductory workshops of the Faith in Action community-building/leadership development model.
He told Mumeya residents that he had no money to offer, but he was willing to give them his brain and his heart. Mumeya villagers from five different congregations began leadership training in a space that was open to everyone, a grassy area under a big tree.
Soon, community leaders began holding one-to-one conversations to identify the major needs in the community. After hundreds of these conversations took place, Mumeya residents decided that a health center was their top priority. They organized their own labor and resources, gained supplies and medical staff from public officials, and in 2009 after completion of three rooms, they opened their first fully functioning health center. Since then, Mumeyans have formed partnerships with local and national government to secure more than $6 million in improvement and services, including access to water and electricity, new roads, and two new public schools.
Over the past ten years, organizing has spread to other districts across Rwanda. PICO Rwanda leaders leveraged $2 million in public improvements and services for 120,000 people. Projects include health clinics, water, electricity, three schools, a community center, new homes, reforestation and road construction. Training in entrepreneurship has helped launch successful crafts, agricultural, roofing tile, and other cooperative enterprises.
Faith in Action Rwanda believes that lasting improvements are dependent upon Rwandans working side-by-side, developing capacity as they take on critical community needs.
We envision a future Rwanda where Rwandans are equipped with the skills to solve any and all problems they face; a Rwanda where people hold themselves accountable as well as their religious and public leaders; a Rwanda where people use power constructively to transform themselves and their institutions.
Leadership development is at the heart of our work. Through the guidance of Pastor John, ongoing training takes place that helps Rwandans turn faith into action, gaining skills in peace-building and sustainable civic, economic and social development.Training supports their leadership in negotiations with public officials leading to clinic construction, improved water/electricity access and environmental protection.
Faith and community leaders from other African countries are learning from the success of bottom-up grassroots organizing in Mumeya and across Rwanda. Pastor John and Father Innocent are providing training and coaching to new faith-based organizing efforts in Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya.
Faith in Action is helping the FAITH in Ghana Alliance reorganize to increase its impact on social conditions in Ghana and build multi-faith grassroots participation across the country. Muslim, Catholic, Pentecostal and Mainline Protestant religious leaders and lay people are embracing grassroots organizing to strengthen the ties that connect religious groups in Ghana and address critical local and national issues of youth employment, access to clean water, protecting the environment from mining and improving health and education services and investment in the poorest communities in the country.
In 2015, ahead of a national election, Ghanaian faith leaders from eight Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Pentecostal religious bodies joined together as the FAITH in Ghana Alliance to assure peaceful voting and that both major political parties would abide by the election results. Their success led to other joint projects to educate students about corruption, protect the environment, and combat land-grabbing. In 2019, members of the FAITH in Ghana Alliance began a conversation with Faith in Action International about partnering to promote greater grassroots leadership in the Alliance. After a planning process supported by Faith in Action, religious leaders made a decision to re-organize the FAITH in Ghana Alliance for greater impact and to support grassroots organizing in each of the 16 regions in the country.
At the invitation of Anglican Bishop Mbelwa Godfrey, Rev. John Rutsindintwarane, who leads Faith in Action International’s organizing in Africa, is helping to begin a multi-faith grassroots organizing effort in Muleba, Tanzania. Fifty-two lay leaders and clergy participated in a leadership and organizing training in fall 2022 and a smaller delegation traveled to Rwanda to learn first hand about how grassroots leaders are transforming their communities from the bottom up. For more information about our emerging work in Tanzania contact Rev. John Rutsindintwarne at jrutsi[@]gmail.com.
Fr. Innocent Rugaragu, the deputy director of Faith in Action/PICO in Rwanda has working with the Maasai Transformation Organization (MATRO) since 2021 to provide leadership development to community members, with a focus on women. With support from Faith in Action, and other partners, such Amref Health Africa, MATRO is adapting grassroots organizing methods and trainings to the unique cultural values and social challenges facing the Maasai people. MATRO is working to empower local leaders and residents in ten villages to combat gender-based violence and respond to drought and climate change. For more information contact Fr. Innocent Rugaragu at innoruga[@]yahoo.com.