In August 2011 George Snyman, Hands at Work founder, broke new ground in Goma, a war-torn area bordering Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He planted the seeds of the first Hands at Work-supported community-based organisation in an area where there is no help and no hope.
George had written whilst away that the locals had told him: In a corrupt deal the land belonging to internally displaced people (IDP) was sold by the government whilst the rightful owners were seeking refuge. They now returned to their properties only to be notified that they were to move off their land. George reported that 517 families were left with only 24 hectares of land to share. There was not enough room to live, let alone farm. Subsistence farming is the only hope for survival in the destitute area.
George kept a diary whilst in Goma. We'd like to share an extract with you:
Monday, 1 August
Some people are still moving off the land that was sold. They carry their belongings on their backs. They don't receive a warm welcome: There is no space for newcomers.
I met gogo Ombeni Helena: She is one of the people forced to relocate here from her former farm, sold before her very eyes. She sat in front of her hut made out of grass and there next to her were her African potatoes that she had pulled out the soil on her land. She was a wreck as she shared her story with me: “I have no place to plant my potatoes. How will I survive?” In my face! She was so vulnerable. This is the reality of a life without hope.
She has about four square metres of 'land' at the front of and behind her hut. “Bring me four hoes!” I cried. What an opportunity this was! Within minutes I had a hoe in hand and people watched as I started ripping up the ground around gogo Ombeni’s hut. People laughed at first, but they soon became quiet and stared at this visitor changing gogo Ombeni’s circumstances. A turning point came when a strong young lady joined me and started helping with a hoe. Soon, another young man jumped in. All of a sudden people had advice to give and others planted the potato plants in the ground that we'd prepared. What a glorious time!
When we finished everyone, including the spectators, came together. I took the opportunity to share: We don’t need to be strong as individuals, but we must each other. Today I might help you and tomorrow you might help me. After the story we sang a song. We all held hands. It changed the atmosphere.
After we helped gogo Ombeni Helena something very significant happened. She had a bucket with water ready for us to wash our hands. There was a small bar of soap lying on a piece of plastic. I didn't think much of it, but afterward I was told the bar of soap was her most precious possession: She would only use it on Sundays and even then as little as possible. But today she saw 'beautiful feet' and it did not only rip her ground open, but it ripped her heart open. She wanted to give! She experienced generosity and it was so attractive to her that she also wanted to be generous. As we tilled the ground at gogo Ombeni, I believe God opened the ground at Luhonga village for the good news of Jesus!
How beautiful on the mountains,
are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all's well,
proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
telling Zion, "Your God reigns!"
Isaiah 52:7 (The Message)