BRATTLEBORO—Rubavu, Rwanda, is almost on the opposite side of the globe from Brattleboro.
However, through her work as executive director of Inshuti of Rwanda, Lauren Rose Marino is bringing residents of both places closer together.
Inshuti of Rwanda, the Brattleboro-based nonprofit organization Marino founded, raises money to build homes for residents of Rubavu Sector.
“We have constructed 21 homes since 2014,” she told The Commons. “Last year we built 10 houses, helping 14 adult and 42 children have a brighter future by living in a new Inshuti home.”
Marino was inspired to develop the organization on a trip to Rubavu in November, 2012, when she was working with Rwanda Sustainable Families, a micro-loan organization. She and her translator, Rudasingwa Felix, met Ayinkamiye Solome and her family during a home visit.
Solome received a loan from RSF to purchase rabbits to breed and sell. Her plans were to use the income to build a proper home for herself, her husband Kiyoge Issac, and their four daughters.
Replacing a tarp roof
As Marino explains on the Inshuti of Rwanda website, “Solome and her family had been living for more than a year in a patched together, corrugated metal structure with a tarp roof. Before that the hillside village in which they lived had been washed away by a landslide. The government had moved the people to a safer location in Kanembwe Village and provided each family with land. However, most people, including Solome’s family, could not afford to build a proper home.”
After the home visit, Marino and Felix discussed the family’s hardships. According to Marino, Felix turned to her and said, “You should come back next year and build them a house.” Although at first she doubted her ability to do that, less than two years later Marino had raised enough money to build a home for Solome and her family.
Inshuti — which means “friend” in Kinyarwanda — has steadily grown since then, Marino said. Each year they build more houses and increase their fundraising goal and, she pointed out, “we have always reached that goal and most years even surpassed it.”
When Inshuti exceeded its fundraising goal in March 2016, it used the extra money to purchase beds, bedding, and mosquito nets for its families in Rubavu Sector.
Inshuti’s funding comes from large and small donations from individuals, and some businesses. “To date, we have not received money in any other way,” Marino said.
According to Marino, “95 percent of donations go directly into our house building projects with little administration costs,” and the staff, based in the Western Hemisphere, is, “100 percent volunteer-based, while we employ a 100 percent Rwandan staff on the ground ... Our building materials are 100 percent Rwandan-sourced with most being sustainable.”
It costs $2,600 to build a family a home in Rubavu, Marino said. She is actively seeking individuals, schools, or church groups to start campaigns to raise money for one of Inshuti’s families.
“We will provide the person or group with information about the family; including their names, their story, and pictures of their current living situation,” Marino said. “The fundraising group will then have its own link on our website to share with friends, family members, and co-workers.
“We will provide the fundraising group with social media profile pictures, banners, and links to help spread the word. On our website, people can donate directly to the house campaigns. Slowly the fundraising group would see the amount grow, until finally a house could be built for their family.”
A sense of connection
During construction, Inshuti volunteers will send photos and updates to the sponsoring group, Marino said. Once the house is finished, she added, “the fundraising organizer will receive a picture of their family standing in front of their new house.”
The Inshuti 2018 fundraising goal is $38,000, which will pay for the construction of 10 new homes in Rubavu, provide raises to construction workers, and fund a new initiative: the Abasaza House.
“Working in collaboration with [officials in the] Rubavu Sector, we plan on building a home for aging adults with no families. The Rwandan government is providing land for the project while Inshuti will finance and build Abasaza House,” Marino said.
When asked how a Long Island-born Brattleboro resident chose Rwanda as the recipient of her efforts, Marino told The Commons, “I’m not sure if I picked Rwanda or Rwanda picked me.”
“I have always been impressed with the sense of community I found while living in [Brattleboro],” Marino said. “I am now a part of two communities, one in Brattleboro as well as my community in Rwanda. I hope in some way to merge [the two] by showing how much we can support those struggling in Rwanda to find proper housing.
“When I explain to house recipients where the money comes from to fund their home, often times, they can not believe that people in America care enough about them to help. The cross-global, human-to-human connection that this project can make is deeper than most people realize,” Marino said. “I am the fortunate one to see this first-hand and it is what I hope to share with my Brattleboro community.”