Q&A with Emmanuel Murangira, Country Director, Tearfund in Rwanda

Our series of Q&As with country directors continues with Emmanuel Murangira, who has worked for Tearfund in Rwanda since 2008. He shares his thoughts on what inspired him to take the job, major challenges facing the country and the key role of faith in his work.

Emmanuel Murangira, above, says that poverty and the effects of climate change are just two of the challenges facing people in Rwanda. Photo: Brian O’Neill

How and why did you start working for Tearfund? 

I was recruited by Tearfund while living in The Hague in the Netherlands. I had just started as a PhD researcher in Behavioural and Conflict Economics at the Erasmus University, International Institute of Social Studies, when I received a phone call from Tearfund’s HR manager. They were looking for a country representative for Rwanda and Burundi and wanted to know if I’d be interested. I did not know anything about Tearfund at the time, but I was fascinated to hear about their faith-driven work and the emphasis on their evangelical identity. 

I thought about it for a couple of days and felt God really calling me to serve him in Rwanda and Burundi. So I spoke to my supervisors and we agreed that I was able to do my research remotely and finish my studies. It felt like a continuation of why I had left another job eight years earlier in the business world to serve God in relief and development. More than ten years down this road, I still feel the same gentle voice affirming that this is where he has called me.

What are the key challenges you are facing in your work? 

Rwanda is a low-income country; the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Rwanda 158th out of 198 countries. This puts Rwanda in the least developed countries category. Poverty remains high and persistent, particularly in rural areas, where 48.7 percent of people live in poverty compared to 22.1 per cent in urban areas. Rwanda’s poverty profile indicates that women are more affected by poverty than men. Although inequality – as measured by the widely used Gini coefficient index – was reduced over the past five years to a level lower than in 2012/2013, it remains high when compared to other Sub-Saharan African countries. 

Rwanda is a landlocked country with a moderate climate and relatively high rainfall. But climate change has resulted in increased temperatures, intensified rainfall, and prolonged dry seasons. This has affected rain-fed subsistence agriculture which is the mainstay of about 85 percent of the population. The effects of climate change not only threaten the livelihoods of those vulnerable to poverty, but undermine benefits that build up from development interventions. 

Can you tell us more about your work in Rwanda? 

Our work focuses on supporting communities, households and individuals to achieve social, economic and spiritual transformation in order to overcome poverty and realise their God-given potential. We use the church-led community transformation approach to harness the influence and presence of the church in the community, resources and God-given mandate to bring hope and transformation to those in need. We have seen God’s hand at work in our self-help groups (SHGs) lifting people out of extreme poverty. 

We have learnt through our work with communities, households and individuals that faith has a significant correlation with individual wellbeing, not only for those who profess it, but also for those they reach out to and support. What really matters is not what people have, whether little or plenty. What matters is the trust that enables them to bring the little they have together for the greater good. This is really what changes their life, trusting and being there for one another.

A meeting of self-help groups in the drought-prone Murundi Sector, Kayonza District, Rwanda. Photo: Edward Woods

‘We have seen God’s hand at work in our self-help groups (SHGs) lifting people out of extreme poverty.’

Emmanuel Murangira

How has integral mission motivated or guided the growth of this work? 

Tearfund’s work in Rwanda has grown significantly in the past decade. This growth can be attributed to our work with the church using both integral mission and the church and community approach. Our Evangelical Christian identity, which informs our work ethic, has earned us respect and credibility with the church, national authorities and partners. This has created an enabling environment. 

What practical advice would you give to others who are starting out in this type of work? 

This is not just a job, it’s a calling. Prayer will see you through as everything is the Lord's. Psalm 24:1 says: ‘The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.’ Let him take control. 

What areas of potential do you see in your work and country? 

The country programme is still growing and with more resources we can grow beyond what we ever imagined. Rwanda has a good and favourable development framework that creates an enabling environment for work in this sector. 

Does new technology have a role to play in your work? 

Yes, we have been looking into a digital platform facility for our SHGs and we are developing an integrated value chain and climate change mitigation project. Pray for us and with us!

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