A Letter from the Founder
In 2011, I wrote a blog post titled, simply, “Yes.” I had recently stumbled into an opportunity and had impulsively said ‘yes’ to follow my heart, and what I believe was God, and to move to Rwanda. I was overwhelmingly naïve; I had grand, idealistic ideas about what my time and experiences would look like, but far less plans about what I actually hoped to accomplish. In the blog post I wrote, “I feel like part of my journey is to show people what God can do with the smallest 'yes'.” What I didn’t know then was just how many more opportunities I would be given to offer up one small yes after another, and just how grand His plans were for this journey we were embarking on.
That summer, I moved into the Noel Orphanage, in Gisenyi, Rwanda, home to 600+ children ranging in age from a few weeks to their late 20’s. My No-Plan game was strong. I spent my days holding babies, facilitating art classes, and watching Justin Bieber's Never Say Never on a constant loop. Six months in, with a growing list of areas I thought maybe I could help, I decided to zero in on two: the oldest girls and the local school lunch program (or lack thereof).
There were, roughly, 100 young adults over the age of 18 living in the orphanage. With no family and limited resources, the prospect of university or becoming gainfully employed was low. Along with that, especially when it came to the girls, confidence was low, dreams were small, and hope was almost non-existent. I wasn’t sure what “skills” I could bring to the table for these ladies, but I did know (because I was actively learning it myself) that each one of us was created for a great purpose, by an even greater God. We all have been uniquely crafted with gifts and talents and, once realized, we should spend those helping others. I felt if I could create some kind of product, and they could learn some kind of skill, we could give these ladies a means to earn a sustainable income, and could probably sell their product for a profit allowing them to give back to the local community in some way. So, that is where the feeding program came in.
In our community, there are four secondary schools, grades 7-12, where students [went] to school, all day, with no break for lunch. We all felt this personally because around 150 of our orphanage crew attended those schools and many walked up to an hour, one-way, to get there and back. They would leave before breakfast and return home in time for dinner, their only meal of the day. I would later learn this scenario was one of the kinder ones; basically, the norm.
Faith to Believe
In March 2012, on a whim and a prayer, No.41 was born. The name came out of a quote, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all.” In theory, the ladies would be earning a fair wage sewing bags and selling them, mostly in the US, and using the profits to feed students at a local school. The idea was: For one child. For one meal. For one year. For just $75, a young woman would earn a sustainable income and sow back into her community by providing a child with a hot, healthy lunch every day at school.
Our first day of work was one for the books. The hope in the air was palpable and so was the awkwardness: a room full of young women who had never sewn a stitch in their life (including myself), showing up for the first day, at their first job, working for a ‘boss’ who didn’t speak their language. Fierce prayers had been thrown up over this little project, believing that God would tie a pretty red bow on six beautiful girls and drop them on my doorstep. Per the usual, He blew my plans out of the water and when sixteen eager beavers showed up, we hit the ground running. As word about the new project and possible new job opportunity spread, our group swelled to 32 women.
The ladies were thrilled with a job and a sustainable income, but one of the reasons I wanted to work with them is because it was apparent they didn’t know their worth as a child of the King. Life had lead them to believe that they were less than: unwanted, unloved, unworthy. “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. (John 15:16 MSG) So, as the ladies gained skills and began to create products, we began to sell their products, with built in profits, that we would eventually use to feed students in their community.
Grace to Evolve
No.41 was started out of smallness, out of a willingness to be used, and a desire to see change as a community. Over the years, No.41 has employed more than 40 full-time artisans, along with 15 additional full-time employees, in various capacities, and for 5 years fed 1,200 students and teachers, from their own community, every day. Out of our original artisan group of 32 women, all moved themselves out of the orphanage and 17 graduated from university in 2017. In the same year, after prayerful consideration, the leadership of No.41 along with school leadership and the parents committee, decided that it was time to close our school feeding program. You can read more here. As the ladies continue to expand their skills and their product lines, No.41 is committed to community involvement and we are excited and expectant to see what unfolds next.
All that has transpired at No.41 is beyond my wildest dreams. I never believed this couldn’t happen, but I never imagined it would happen like this. Marianne Williamson said, "As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same." and I would say that's exactly what is happening in our little tiny village, in a little tiny country, all the way on the other side of the world. Some of the brightest lights I've ever had the privilege of knowing, are learning what it means to shine and fire is spreading.