Nonprofit educating Rwandan youth moves office to Edmonds

ERM Rwanda at Harbor Building on 2nd Ave. S.
By Marie Haaland | Aug 04, 2017
Photo by: Marie Haaland Regional Director Dick Huling at ERM Rwanda's new Edmonds office during the organization's open house on Sunday, July 30.

Emmanuel Sitaki lost 35 relatives in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the ruling Hutu government killed a million Tutsi during a 100-day period.

Sitaki survived because he was studying for a graduate degree at a university in the Congo, there as a result of Rwandan laws prohibiting children of the Tutsi tribe from pursuing higher education.

Two years later, in 1996, he started Equipping, Resorting and Multiplying (ERM) Rwanda, a faith-based nonprofit organization focused on vocational education for youth in Rwanda.

The administrative side of ERM Rwanda is based in the U.S. It handles oversight, administrative duties and fundraising. Dick Huling has been the regional director for ERM Rwanda since December, and has known Sitaki for several years.

“Four years ago, I was administrative pastor at Aurora Community Church in Shoreline. Emmanuel walked in and was asking if the church might have any extra space where he could set up a desk, a place for his nonprofit,” Huling said. “They had recently moved out from another space they were in.”

The group moved into the Harbor Building at 100 Second Ave. S. in Edmonds six weeks ago. Huling said he loves the city and thinks it’ll be a great place for ERM Rwanda to grow.

The organization’s main focus is the Hope Vocational Training Center (HVTC), located in the greater metropolitan area of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

The school offers students the opportunity to learn and become certified in one of six trades: sewing, hairdressing, welding, carpentry, masonry or culinary arts. Graduating classes consist of 250 to 300 students.

“Our six trades are government-accredited by the WDA (Workforce Development Authority), which is the government accrediting association that gives them a very prestigious certificate,” Huling said.

It takes a year to earn a certification. Students also learn business entrepreneurship and computer skills every week. There are currently two groups of students, a day class with college-aged students and an afternoon class with those slightly older (25-35), but Huling said a third could be added if space becomes limited.

In May, Huling took his first trip to Rwanda to visit HVTC, and said he was deeply moved by what he saw.

“You see the pieces of what they have put in their culture to move away from hatred and chaos and from violence,” he said. “They are so serious about rebuilding a new society from what they used to be, with new values.”

Huling was also incredibly impressed by the students he met at the trade school.

“These are serious students,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of options; they will do whatever they can to get their skills. The demographic that we serve, they can’t afford to go to colleges or universities. Some of them travel – walk, bus, bicycle – two hours to get there each morning. But they’re highly motivated; they don’t have the options that we would have. If they don’t take advantage of the few options that they have, they’re on the street. That’s stark.”

Thirteen percent of the students receive financial aid. With classes taking up only half the day, many find time to get jobs and earn money.

Self-sustainability is highly valued in Rwanda. Indeed, with classes in welding, carpentry and masonry, the students themselves built the campus. Huling said that’s the spirit of the school.

“The sewers, one of their projects is to sew all of the uniforms for next year’s student body,” Huling said.

The uniform includes a sweater with the HVTC emblem, as well as blouses, shirts, skirts, pants and specialty items, depending on a student’s area of study.

The campus as a whole is working to be self-sustainable. Classes sell items, including tables made by carpentry students, to raise funds for the school.

The nonprofit has a fundraiser Saturday, Aug. 19, to raise money to pay instructors and provide aid to students. ERM Rwanda is also hoping to expand its programs.

Sitaki’s vision is to take this model and expand to other areas of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region of Africa. Currently, ERM Rwanda has one extension, a sewing trade in the remote village of Rugendabari.

“I feel that us here, are literally at the cusp … of rebuilding a big part of the nation of Rwanda,” Huling said. “It’s only 13 million. It’s a teeny, tiny little country in a geographical space. So we feel like we have a relatively significant part of that. We have the ability to actually, for good, have influence in a nation.”

 

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