Though many of our friends in the US head back to school in August, here in Canada we get to enjoy one more month of summer break. This month tends to be the best for summer weather where we are, and though we scramble around trying to fit in the last items on our bucket list, there’s also a great excitement as we wrap up preparations to start our new school year.
With school on my mind I can’t help but think of the great privilege we have here in North America to not only attend school for free, but to have the option to homeschool. In Africa, many parents struggle to afford to send one child to school, let alone providing a mid-day meal for them to eat while at school.
I take it so for granted what our government has made possible for us in the area of education – but the blessing of what we have been given for free reminds us to take the opportunity to use the resources we have and provide the same opportunities for others.
This is one of the goals of No. 41 – For One – an organization based out of Gisenyi, Rwanda.
In our village there are three secondary schools, grades 7-12, and these students go to school all day, most without eating. The schools, generally, offer a 20-minute break for lunch where children who live close enough or have money, may go home to go to the market to eat. Most do not.
“On a whim and a prayer” in March of 2012, Tara and her friend, Alison, taught 16 young women from the Noel Orphanage in Rwanda how to earn a living by sewing bags.
One woman took the resources, gifts and talents available to her and used them to change one life at a time.
Today, earnings from the bags provide hot meals to over 1,000 children every day– most of whom would not get to eat a meal until after school each day.
Did you know you can help provide basic education and a hot meal, the opportunity to learn a trade, the provision of a job, the blessing of a university education, and training in a specific skill set, all through the purchases of products made by these same students?
It starts with one. One student. One teacher. One bag. One meal. One life changed.
Here’s more of what you need to know about No. 41 in this interview with founder Tara.
No 41 – Changing the World One At a Time
Can you explain a bit about your organization No. 41?
The name No.41 came out of an Andy Stanley quote: “Do for one what you wish you could do for all”.
When I started No.41, I was living in an orphanage with 600+ children and young adults. With so much need, I wasn’t sure how I could make a difference, but I figured I could start with one….or 6, or 13, which turned into 16 and eventually 32…
We employ women, most of whom were aging out of the orphanage; we teach them to sew, pay them a fair wage and empower them to create change in their community through a school feeding program. The purchase of each handmade bag, not only provides sustainable employment for each woman, it also feeds a local secondary student a hot, healthy school lunch for an entire year.
We’ve had about 40 women in total come through our program, 19 have had the opportunity to enroll in university, and we currently feed about 1,200 students and teachers every day.
What is your mission and vision for the future of these girls?
Our mission at No. 41 is to inspire and empower young women to create change: in their lives, in their community, and in the world. Our vision is that these women would find hope at No. 41; that we could awaken dreams or passions that may have been lying dormant inside.
We want to build them up and send them out into the community, whole and empowered. Investing in women has countless benefits for families, the economy, and the nation. It is the fastest way to create change and we have seen it first hand.
Along with your school and training programs, you also provide a hot meal during the day. What is the impact that the provision of these meals has on these girls?
Many of the ladies in our first class at No.41 felt that they were at the bottom of the barrel. They had been dealt a very difficult hand, that was undeniable, but, I believe, every single one of us were created with a purpose; we all have gifts and talents and the ability (and responsibility) to give back.
To be really honest, the girls weren’t that excited about the feeding program when we first approached them about it.There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of explaining, and a lot of “trust me”s. With the anticipation of the the feeding program, enrollment at the school was at an all-time high, climbing right up until the first day of school.
On opening day, no one really knew what to expect; we had been told the final number of students was 750, it turned out, there were 870 students there that day! All of the girls came to the school to see, for the first time, what they had been able to accomplish. It was like a party, everyone was buzzing, and the students were ecstatic to be the only public school in our area eating lunch. The girls were heroes and were loving it.
As the lunch time drew to a close a few of the students came out to say thank you and were shocked to learn that we would be back the next day and for the rest of the year. Cheering, clapping, and hugging ensued, until someone mentioned not being able to pay and, in one of the very best moments ever, we got to tell them IT’S FREE!
No.41 changed the trajectory of these ladies’ lives and the work of their hands is truly changing a community. Students are being educated for the chance to eat a hot meal and that is generational change!
(Did you catch that? This is pretty huge. They’re coming for a hot meal and getting an education. Talk about changing the world!!!)
Can you share a story of impact in the life of one of your girls?
Xavera is one of two married mommas at No.41. She and her husband, Leo, both grew up at the Noel Orphanage and, now, they and their 3 kiddos are our next door neighbors! Xavera had already long moved on from Noel by the time I got there, so when I was gathering lists for who would be working at No.41, her name never came up.
As I moved into the new house and the project got underway, I started to become friends with Leo. (I think all of my neighbors had some kind of take-care-of-Tara pact.) Leo, who was self-employed, was in charge of handyman services. He would come over in the evenings and just start fixing things; changing lightbulbs, fixing a dripping faucet, hanging curtains…Leo did all. One day, he came to the house to ask for a job for his wife. I had never met Xavera and, at that time, things were growing at such a rapid rate. We had more than twice as many girls as we had machines and people were coming to the house every day to ask for a job. I had to say no, to so many, until we decided to start making paper bead jewelry.
Making paper beads required no extra space and very little in the way of materials. I immediately told Leo to ask Xavera if she could show up for training on Monday morning. She showed up, introduced herself to me, hugged on the girls, and she set about the task of meticulously cutting strips paper and turning them into beads. A quick study, Xavera became a teacher and eventually a manger. Not once has she looked back. With the addition of a new house and additional machines, Xavera eventually learned to sew and continues to manage with a high standard of excellence. She is not only up for any challenge, she challenges me. She is the voice of reason and everyone looks to her as an older sister; she knows the girls, knows their habits, and they respect her (even if they don’t always like what she has to say).
Xavera is a hero in my book. She leads our crew with a quiet confidence; she is willing to learn and unafraid to stand up for what’s right. With the income she earns at No.41, Xavera invests in multiple ventures to support her family and put her children through school, but Xavera also supports countless other families in her community by providing 1000s of school lunches to students who would normally go without. Momma, leader, sister, teacher, servant, friend. Xavera is world changer and an example to us all.
I hope by this time those who are reading this are as pumped as I am about getting involved with No. 41! How can we help?
If you would like to get involved, the easiest way is to shop the shop! Each woman is paid a fair wage for the work she does and, with every purchase, the ladies donate the profits back into the feeding program. We currently have 11 women and one man working full-time in the shop. Each item is handmade, locally sourced, and tagged with the photo and story of the artisan who made it.
Second, you can sponsor one of our students in the feeding program. We are bursting at the seams since we started serving lunch and taking calls everyday to expand to more schools. It’s $60/year or just $5/month!! You can donate one time or recurring.
$5 is the cost of one lunch here in Canada. Or one coffee drink, if you’re prone to going to Starbucks.
Taking that same $5 and giving it to No. 41 turns into 40 meals. 40! That’s $0.25 per meal.
A tote bag provides 68 meals, a stable job and sustainable income to a young woman transitioning into a life of independence.
A homeschooled student turned homeschooling mom of 5. Passionate about teaching my children the truth of God's word through his creation and his-tory, spending time as a family and outdoors, learning how to be more creative, and giving glory to God. Seeking to serve Christ and set a godly example for my children, to grow in love and encouragement, failing forward, learning to lean on God's grace and trust in his strength.