It’s now July 2021, which marks just a little over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic really hit Rwanda in stride for the first time in March 2020.
By now, many communities in the Western world, including Texas where our U.S. office is based, have begun to experience a decline in cases and a gradual return to “normalcy.” Nationwide testing access and vaccine rollouts have allowed them to slowly roll back on their restrictions, and millions have begun to return to their new day-to-day routines.
Meanwhile, many other countries are experiencing a resurgence of COVID due to lack of access to resources, as well as other environmental factors. Rwanda, where our Handspun Hope center is located, is among these.
As of today, July 1, Rwanda has reinstated a complete lockdown of the Musanze district where our ladies work, which includes restrictions like curfew, cessation of travel, closure of businesses and more. Unfortunately, in accordance with government measures and for the safety of our staff, this announcement means that we will have to close our center for the next two weeks.
Due to these recent changes, we wanted to share an update on what’s happening in Rwanda and with our center, including helpful background information, how this is impacting our ladies and ways you can pray with us.
What’s Happening Now
Today, most of Rwanda officially reentered complete lockdown due to a recent resurgence in COVID. This means that, for at least the next two weeks, our center will be completely closed. Some specifics of the lockdown include:
Movements prohibited between 6 p.m. - 4 a.m. All businesses must close by 5 p.m.
Social gatherings including gatherings held in homes and family visits are prohibited.
Offices (public and private) are closed. Staff shall work from home, except those providing essential services.
Schools, higher education institutions and places of worship are closed.
Traditional, civil and religious weddings are suspended.
Movements between districts are not allowed, except for medical reasons and other essential services.
We are thankful for the government’s swift response to keep our community safe in light of the pandemic, though these measures do come with challenges.
For example, over the past few months, the Lord has blessed us with some of our largest wholesale yarn orders ever! At Handspun Hope, we rely on both charitable contributions and product sales to sustain our impact, so these orders have been a huge financial blessing to us.
Our ladies have been working very hard over the past few months to keep up with this demand, especially because our organic, hand spun yarn production process takes intentional time and effort. Thus, while necessary, the closure of our center means that we will have supply challenges and need to delay several of our orders. Our Rwandan staff is quickly pivoting to keep our ladies safe while also strategizing how we will navigate this closure and minimize our order gap.
Some Background on COVID in Rwanda
When the pandemic first came to Rwanda, the country was swiftly put into a strict lockdown. Thankfully, this quick action on the behalf of the government significantly helped the spread of the pandemic. In fact, Rwanda was praised as having one of the strongest and most complete responses to slowing the spread of COVID, with many other East African countries following its lead.
Once the lockdown was lifted, we saw numbers start to slow. Over the past few months, business began to return to normal, although masks, sanitation and limited capacities have still been enforced.
Today’s lockdown represents a significant shift in this recent progress and is reminiscent of the original mandate in March 2020.
What’s Causing the Spread?
Although strict and careful measures were being taken in Rwanda to prevent the spread of COVID, a recent natural disaster is suspected to have influenced a second wave of infections.
Rwanda is a landlocked country in the heart of East Africa. It is bordered in the northwest by Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Through this shared border run the Virunga Mountains, a mountain range comprised of a chain of eight major volcanoes. The village where our center is based lies within a volcanic valley, surrounded by five of these remarkable landmarks.
A little over a month ago, Mt. Nyiragongo, one of the volcanoes in DRC, erupted without warning. The eruption caused mass destruction and sparked a humanitarian crisis in Goma, DRC, a city located at the volcano’s base and only about 40 miles from our center.
Heartbreakingly, dozens of lives were lost with thousands more fleeing the area for survival. As an act of emergency relief, Rwanda opened its northern borders to allow displaced persons from Goma to seek refuge, granting them access to temporary passage and provision. Along with these groups, though, it’s suspected that COVID also crossed through the border, leading to a resurgence of cases in Rwanda. Given the close proximity of Nyiragongo to the Musanze region where our ladies work, the spike in COVID and resulting restrictions are greatly affecting our immediate community.
Precaution and Hope
Overall, despite being in a largely infected area, the Lord has really protected the Handspun Hope family, and we trust that He will continue to do so.
We are hopeful that these recent precautions by the government will help slow the spread of the virus. We have also been taking our own measures, including sanitation and providing incentives for all of our ladies to get tested.
Additionally, we believe that the Lord has provided us with amazing partners and customers who have been accommodating, patient and supportive of our organization during this time. It’s this kind of generosity that will allow our full-time artisans to continue receiving their regular salary, despite the closure of our center.
Regarding vaccines, the lack of access and resources have made vaccinations more delayed in Rwanda than other parts of the world, though they have started rolling out to specific populations. Three of our ladies with HIV have already received their first dose, which is great news! We are grateful for this first step, which is essential for those who are HIV positive and may be adversely affected by compromised immune systems. However, it may take some time before vaccines are more widely available to all.
Although we are not without hope, our community is experiencing real hardship as a result of this most recent lockdown.
While our full-time employees will continue receiving income, we have also been employing a group of casual (temporary) employees to assist with our high production season. Unfortunately, due to financial constraints and the nature of this work, we will be unable to provide income for these women while our center remains closed. This will undoubtedly place an additional financial burden on them and their families, a majority of whom come from at-risk backgrounds.
Additionally, the nature of the lockdown holds tremendous weight in light of the history of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide Against the Tutsis. During this time, many Rwandans were forced into hiding and isolation for weeks. Members of our community have expressed that the limitations and isolation experienced during the pandemic elicit memories of trauma from the past.
How to Pray
As we continue to monitor the situation in Rwanda, we ask you to join us in prayer for our community! Here are some prayer points:
Complete protection from COVID for our ladies, our center and our communities.
Wisdom and discernment of the Rwanda authorities, that they would continue to pursue the best interests to keep their people safe and healthy.
For all those affected not only by health, but also the financial burden of the recent lockdown and closure of businesses. This has also been an ongoing concern among vulnerable and underserved communities throughout the pandemic.
Wisdom and understanding as leadership to best care for and protect our ladies during this time.
For the people of Goma, who have experienced so much loss and displacement over the past few weeks. Especially in an area of the world that has already been impacted by trauma and tragedy in recent decades.
Continued healing, comfort and peace for a region who has already been through so much. That our counseling services would be used to continue to provide relief and support for all those with trauma history.
Grace and patience from our customers and business partners who will also be affected by our production delays.
Thank you for your ongoing support and taking the time to learn more about the pandemic in Rwanda. We will continue to keep you updated through regular updates to this blog post. If you’d like to learn more about how you can help us sustain life-changing work and mental health resources our ladies during this season, please visit our website for more detail on our COVID-19 Relief Fund. (Note, to express our gratitude, donations of $30 or more will receive a FREE Handspun Hope drawstring bag!)