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Each year, HOPE celebrates a client who demonstrates HOPE’s values of perseverance, compassion, character, and creativity by announcing the Thurman Award winner. Established in honor of HOPE’s first CEO and his wife, the Thurman Award celebrates clients who have not only experienced change in their own lives but have also extended that transformation to others in their community. Over the next couple of weeks, we will be posting the stories of this year’s honorable mentions and overall winner.

Apophie Nyirabaziga is a mother to the motherless, a respected leader in her community, and a sharp businesswoman. Caring for five young children, three of whom she adopted when their own mother died, Apophie is proud to support her family with love and creativity in action.

A perceptive entrepreneur

In 2009, Urwego Opportunity Bank, HOPE’s partner in Rwanda, came alongside Apophie with a loan totaling just $88, which she used to strengthen her business selling cow and goat hides. A perceptive entrepreneur, Apophie realized there was greater demand for live goats, so she used subsequent loans to expand.

As her business grew, Apophie turned her attention to another industry: spare auto parts. Not only was it more profitable, it also allowed Apophie to more effectively leverage her husband’s own God-given talents as a mechanic. Through her 12 loan cycles, Apophie has modeled wise stewardship, saving half of each loan and investing the other portion back into her business.

Though her family used to live in a mud house without doors, windows, or toilets, Apophie now owns two homes, providing additional rental income. She has also used her profits to purchase two cows, a forest, six banana plantations, and a water tank for her family. Through her farm, Apophie employs eight others in the community. In addition, she serves in her local government and as a member of a cooperative committee formed to distribute water.

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In her eyes was deep pain and loss. There was a strength about her, a certain inexcusable confidence, and yet behind it lay an undeniable burden. She smiled a smile that exuded love and sincere delight in welcoming me and my friends into her home. I knew she was going to tell us the story of her experience during the genocide in April of 1994, but I had no comprehension of the drastic impact it would have on me, nor the strength it would require her to simply share.

Her story was graphic. The details feel almost too horrific to recount or to write down, and yet she declared to us as she closed: “Please tell my story because I know it will help someone else in their life; we have to learn from each other.” And so, I will share a bit of her journey in the hopes that retelling it will move my heart and the hearts of those that read it towards deeper compassion.

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January 13, 2012, 1:17 EST – Byumba, Rwanda

Our day started bright and early this morning. We met Jeffrey Lee, the CEO of Urwego Opportunity Bank, for breakfast. Urwego is one of the largest MFIs in the HOPE network, and under Jeffrey’s leadership it has managed to grow very quickly while keeping credit risk at reasonable levels. There are many best practices at Urwego that can be applied elsewhere in our network. Jeffrey and the entire Urwego staff live out their Christian faith every day while serving roughly 100,000 clients across Rwanda.

Following breakfast we went to Urwego’s offices for morning devotions. There was wonderful music and singing from the Urwego staff. Peter Greer, the president of HOPE International, was the guest speaker for the day’s devotions. Peter lived in Rwanda for three years, and is the only muzungu (affectionate term for “white guy”) I’ve come across in Rwanda who is fluent in Kinyarwanda, the local language. Peter and I are traveling together in Rwanda and will fly to the Republic of Congo tomorrow morning. Continue Reading…