History of ZOE
ZOE was founded in 2004 as a mission of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church as the Zimbabwe Orphans Endeavor. ZOE was originally built as a relief ministry, providing orphans with food, medical care, and educational assistance in Zimbabwe and Zambia. In 2007, supporters were extraordinarily generous and ZOE found itself with a surplus of funds. The ZOE board did not want to simply allow that money to sit in a bank when the need was so great, and so ZOE began searching for additional programs to fund. During their search, the ZOE staff and board were introduced to a Rwandan teacher named Epiphanie Mujawimana who was working on distinctive model for empowering the orphans and vulnerable children left in Rwanda by the genocide and HIV/AIDS pandemic.
For years, Mujawimana, a former school teacher and vulnerable child, looked for ways to help the children that were suffering in her country. She had experienced frustration working with Western aid organizations. “I watched as these generous people would come to my country, and give things to my people that my people desperately needed. Then I would watch as my people became so good at receiving that they forgot how to do anything. When a grant was completed, or focus shifted to a new area, my people were left worse off than before because they had learned to be dependent,” she explained.
In response to this situation, Mujawimana began working with a team of people at the YWCA in Rwanda through a partnership with Church World Service. Together, they were developing a radical empowerment program reaching orphans and vulnerable children. The program was called Giving Hope Orphan Empowerment. The orphans and vulnerable children themselves provided feedback on how to develop the program, and what emerged was a faithful and effective model for helping children to help themselves and come to know the love of God.
This mission entered communities with indigenous staff, speaking with pastors, government officials, village chiefs and other leaders. The program brought orphans and vulnerable children together in mutually supportive working groups. Social workers worked with these children, teaching them skills and providing them with the resources they needed to begin to care for themselves. The team at the YWCA found that for real change to occur, all of the challenges holding these children in poverty must be addressed simultaneously: food security, disease prevention, housing, income generation, vocational training, child rights, community reintegration, connection to God, and education. When these were all addressed at the same time, the results were both quick and life-changing. The empowerment program was developed as a three-year model where orphans and vulnerable children moved from abject poverty to complete self-sufficiency. These children came to know of God’s great love for them, and were able to serve each other and those living around them. At the end of the program, these young men and women, often labeled as a problem in the community, were becoming business owners, community leaders, and even adoptive parents of other orphans they saw in need around them.
ZOE became a major supporter of the Giving Hope Orphan Empowerment program in 2007. After seeing the incredible results of this program, the ZOE Board concluded that all of ZOE’s resources should be directed toward this work. Over the next three years, ZOE transitioned out of relief work and focused resources on the empowerment program. Soon, Mujawimana expanded the program to Kenya in partnership with Maua Methodist Hospital. Mujawimana later founded a separate ZOE NGO in Rwanda to further the empowerment work.
Since 2007, over 30,000 orphans and vulnerable children have transformed their lives through this empowerment program. After graduation, these supportive groups continue to work together, often empowering additional orphans and passing along the skills, knowledge, and resources they have received to others. ZOE is now active in Rwanda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Liberia, India and Guatemala.