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Navigating one year of COVID

It’s been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe and changed everything. It has been a challenging twelve months, marked by loss, fear, and disruption. Despite the hardships, however, Hope for Life has endured and continued to provide necessary services to Rwandan families impacted by homelessness.
Our ability to survive this most challenging year was made possible by you, our dedicated community of partners. Thank you for sharing in our vision of youth and families empowered to holistically thrive. While the effects of COVID are long from over, let’s take a look back at what this “year of COVID” has meant for Hope for Life and those served.

School

One of the most immediate and longest-lasting effects of the pandemic has been the closure of Rwandan schools. Schools shut down in March 2020, and the vast majority have not yet reopened. In the Rehabilitation Program, we were able to temporarily expand our teaching staff and move classes to the center. For children in our community-based programs, however, this has meant the loss of formal education. Additionally, typically at least one meal is provided during the school day. With school closures, those meals and the costs associated with them fell to families or HFL.
Older youth who were enrolled in boarding school were sent home instead of remaining at school for the majority of the year. As parents with school-aged children know, school also provides a necessary reprieve for parents and guardians. This reprieve can be especially important for families who were recently reintegrated and are adjusting to new roles, expectations, and routines. As a result, some families experienced a harder period of transition than was expected. For others, the extra time together has strengthened family connection, and allowed children to learn new skills around the home. Several older youth were also helped to find internships in safe settings as a way to continue growing towards eventual employment.
School is still closed in most areas as COVID cases remain high. And while youth, staff, and families grow restless, they continue to prove the power of resilience and ingenuity to keep learning as best as they can during these challenging times.

Relief

Schools weren’t the only things to shut down in the pandemic. Nearly all local businesses were impacted by lockdowns as well as a recession. This was especially burdensome for HFL families and graduated youth, the majority of whom work as day-laborers or small business owners in non-essential industries. Under periods of strict lockdown, this meant that most of the families HFL serves were immediately out of work. Coupled with having children at home 24/7, their daily expenses quickly rose.
With your support, HFL was able to provide immediate relief to 1,325 individuals in the form of food, medical care, and rental assistance. This relief not only met immediate needs but was crucial in preventing children from experiencing or re-experiencing homelessness.
Sadly, the government also required us to indefinitely pause the Outreach Program for safety reasons. HFL staff quickly got to work finding safe places to transition this program’s youth, either into the rehabilitative center or with families who received follow-up care.

Construction

Construction on our second rehabilitative center and administrative facility were not safe from COVID’s reach. Periods of lockdown or restricted movements continue to impact the project’s timeline. Additionally, the economic fallout of the pandemic increased the price of building materials.
Construction on our second rehabilitative center and administrative facility were not safe from COVID’s reach. Periods of lockdown or restricted movements continue to impact the project’s timeline. Additionally, the economic fallout of the pandemic increased the price of building materials.
The buildings were scheduled to be completed by March 2021, but it is unclear exactly how the timeline will be affected given another recent round of lockdowns that halted construction progress again. We are grateful for the many ways our construction funders and partners have displayed flexibility, and for the construction team who has hired several HFL beneficiaries, providing them with valuable skills and income during this time of job loss and economic uncertainty.

Fundraising

The pandemic has certainly affected the U.S. team as well. Anticipating an economic recession, all non-essential expenses were immediately cut, reducing the operating budget by 25%. Included in these cuts was all travel to Rwanda and the rent of our U.S. team’s physical office space. Since March 2020, the U.S. team has been working 100% remotely. We also had to cancel our in-person Gala, which provides an opportunity for HFL partners to gather together in the spirit of fellowship and is responsible for nearly 30% of our annual revenue. Instead, a A Week of Hope was implemented, bringing daily videos and virtual fundraising to the HFL community.
While we originally planned for 2020 and the next few years to be years of growth, 2021 will be another year where sustainability is prioritized through lean spending, remote work, and virtual events.

Health

Of course, the most significant impact of the pandemic is the loss of health and life around the globe. Fortunately, the HFL team has been blessed with good health over the past year. Most of our youth and families have also remained healthy and safe. While vaccine rollout is underway in the U.S., it is not anticipated to arrive in Rwanda until April 2021 at the earliest.
This past year has been challenging to say the least and has required Hope for Life to pause, reevaluate priorities, and pivot in ways we had not anticipated. However, we have been constantly reminded of the power of community in all the ways that our partners have shown up. Whether in gifts, time, or prayer, you have given us all grace, hope, and encouragement. We know that we can continue to weather these challenges and hope this is the start of the end of this pandemic. Thank you for your dedication and continued support!

Resilience & Relief

After spending several years at HFL’s rehabilitative center healing from homelessness, brothers *Asha and *Yared were reunified with their mother, *Betty, in 2019. Their reintegration at home was going well, but then COVID hit. Betty is a single mother, and unfortunately lost her job due to the pandemic. Suddenly, Betty, Asha, and Yared were at risk of eviction and losing all the progress they have worked so hard towards.
With your support, their family was supported with rent, food, and utilities until Betty could find new employment, ensuring they could remain together safely in their home without the fear of having to experience homelessness again.
*Note: All names have been changed for youth confidentiality purposes.

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