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Lakehead University Magazine Spring/Summer 2005

Building Hope in Rwanda

Martin and Evalyn Rusanga are rebuilding their country with supporting partners in Canada and the United States

By Frances Harding


Lakehead graduates working with Nu-Vision Ministry are helping to rebuild RWANDA, a country ravaged by genocide

MARTIN, EVALYN, ERIC, EVON, and ANGELA RUSANGAIt’s not often that you meet people who are living out the Bible story of the Good Samaritan, but two Canadian citizens are doing just that.

Martin and Evalyn Rusanga are the driving force behind Nu-Vision Ministry, a Christian organization supported by local and international partners, that is helping to rebuild Rwanda.

Martin was born in Rwanda but spent his formative years living as a refugee in Uganda. By the time he was 18, he had become a lay minister with the Gospel Church in Uganda and had met his future wife Evalyn, also a Rwandan living in exile.
In 1992, Martin secured a sponsorship from the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) to study at Lakehead University. Later, Evalyn joined him and enrolled in the Business Administration program.

While in Thunder Bay, Martin became involved in the activities of several local churches, including Knox United Church on Shuniah Street. Eleanor Dunn (BA’76, BEd’84) recalls how the idea of the Nu-Vision Ministry developed: “Martin had been invited to speak at our church on several occasions and had made quite an impact. It was during this time he developed the idea of acquiring a practical skill, like optometry, that could provide the funds to support an outreach ministry.”
While studying at Lakehead, Martin began to work as a volunteer with a Thunder Bay optometrist. He went on to complete an Optician Program through the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, and a Refracting Optician Program at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute. This training gave him the skills he needed to establish a modern optical dispensary in Kigali – Nu-Vision Optical – when he and Evalyn returned home in 1999.

The dispensary generates enough revenue to cover the Rusangas’ living expenses and to subsidize a mobile optical unit that provides screening services and eye exams to the rural community. In the last six years, Nu-Vision Ministry has distributed over 4,000 pairs of used eyeglasses!

“During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the world witnessed horrific killings of defenceless men, women, and children,” says Martin. “The target of extermination was the Tutsi ethnic group. The exclusively Hutu government, along with the Hutu militia, set out to wipe out the Tutsi from Rwanda. In the space of 100 days, more than 1 million ethnic Tutsi (and moderate Hutu) had been slaughtered.” Hundreds of thousands of children were left behind as orphans. Society was completely dislocated and the economy was shattered.

Nu-Vision Ministry is a non-denominational Christian organization based in Kigali with supporting partners in Canada and the United States. In addition to providing optometry and rural eye care clinics, the Ministry supports the provision of vocational training, giving young men and women practical skills like tailoring, auto mechanics, carpentry, and computer training. In conjunction with its partners, Nu-Vision is now building a vocational training school in Kabuga, on the outskirts of Kigali, which is expected to admit its first students in January 2007. To top it off, Nu-Vision administers a student sponsorship program that currently provides 90 students with the funds necessary to study at local schools at a cost of $360 per student per year.

“Our decision to enhance educational opportunities in Rwanda is motivated by a strong desire to improve the welfare of the youth,” says Martin. “Rwanda has very few schools and, as a result, there are many dropouts. Many young people leave school early in life and end up as street children, prostitutes, and drug addicts. Rwanda also has many orphans as a direct result of the 1994 conflict.”

In the summer of 2004, and again in the winter of 2005, Eleanor Dunn and her husband Ray led three separate teams of 15 volunteers on a three-week tour to Rwanda to see the country and help build the vocational school.

Among them were Jackie Dojack, Chair of the Lakehead University Board of Governors, and eight Lakehead graduates: Tom Silliman (HBComm’01); Mary Anne Fossum (BA’86); Sue Simonsen (BEd’74); Mary Anderson (BA’66) (HBSW’82); Len Anderson (BA’65); Lyn Aldrich (BA’75); Nancy Phillips (BA’69, LIS’99); and Darren Ng (BSc’04, HBOR’04).

Building Hope in RwandaDarren Ng was one of the youngest members of the team. The trip had a profound effect, he says. “It grounded my faith. It made me appreciate what I have here in Thunder Bay, and it helped me to focus on my next step in applying to medical school.”

Amy Silliman, currently enrolled in the Masters of Public Health program at Lakehead, was most impressed by the optimism of the people she met. “Ten years after the genocide, they are getting on with their lives,” she says. Her trip to Rwanda was her first experience in a developing country, and she wants to go back.

As for Martin and Evalyn, they remain true to their vocation and are widening their horizons.
“In the next five years, we plan to seek more partners to support us in our programs,” says Martin. “Nu-Vision Ministry will also introduce new projects like the Trauma Recovery Program, whose aim is to help ease the suffering of the thousands of trauma victims resulting from the genocide.
“We stay motivated by the knowledge that we are helping people change their lives forever. The impact of our work can be seen, and the results are overwhelming. Many people who previously had vision problems have had their sight restored, cost free. Orphans and other poor children who have had no chance of attending school whatsoever are now in school through our sponsorship programs. They are full of hope for the future. “We also know that there are many Rwandans who still need our help. We have a calling to reach out and offer them some kind of assistance when we can.”

For more information contact Nu-Vision Ministry c/o Knox
United Church, 1 Shuniah Street, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Telephone: (807) 345-5065. A E-mail: knoxshun@tbaytel.net

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