In this holiday season, when everyone is thinking about giving back, I'd like to share with you the story of how one Christmas gift transformed the life of a Rwandan family:
Juliet was only a child when the Rwandan genocide swept through her small African country. In the span of 100 days, close to one fifth of Rwanda's population was decimated by machetes, guns, and farming tools. Among them were many of Juliet's family members.
Like many young Rwandans who survived the massacre, Juliet was deprived of a proper education. She was never able to finish high school, and as the years went by she found herself stuck in poverty, even as Rwanda began implementing robust measures to improve the country's education system and economy.
Juliet's break finally came in the form of a black, gold-trimmed manual sewing machine. Through the generosity of a person she had never met, Juliet was given a $300 scholarship to attend a vocational school. She found she was a skilled seamstress, and after graduating she became the first person in her family to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Looking back, Juliet is amazed at how such a small gift could change her life in such drastic ways. Once a child identified by war and suffering, she has now become both a wife and a mother; she also bought a house with her income. She now owns a business that not only provides for her family, but also allows her to train women in her community to become seamstresses themselves and break out of poverty, too. She even has the means to take care of the children of her unemployed relatives, training Rwanda's next generation.
"These skills have really helped me," Juliet said recently when I visited her shop in Rwanda. "Now I have something that helps my family on a daily basis. Now, I feel like I have a bright future."
Stop and think about that for a second.
The small act of kindness of a generous person, a scholarship and a sewing machine — a gift that amounts to a fraction of what we spend on Christmas gifts for loved ones — transformed the lives of Juliet, her husband, her child, a half dozen women in her community, and her extended family. And not only that — it also gave them hope, reminding them that, no matter their past or present circumstances, their story is not over.
That's the exponential power of generosity: it multiplies over and over again, breathing hope into everyone who comes into contact with it.
As Christmas draws near, Juliet's story reminds us that, amidst all the traditions and festivities in which we will soon be immersed, what lies at the heart of this season is generosity.
We celebrate Christmas because 2,000 years ago, in a small village in the Middle East, God gave us the most extravagant gift in history: His Son, Jesus. This gift has transformed the lives of millions throughout history, and continues to breathe hope into people today, propelling us to also be generous with what we have.
While most of us have warm homes to welcome us and families to gather with this Christmas, there are men, women, and children across the world — in places like Rwanda — who have nothing and no one to celebrate with. Yet one act of kindness could be what separates them from poverty and the future they long for.
Vocational training might seem like an inconsequential gift to us, but it has the power to change a family, for generations. We can at least make that difference this Christmas.