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UEA graduate from Africa opens heart and hands

Despite twice being a refugee from her home country, UEA Development graduate Erica Gateka found the boldness and strength to set up a charity helping young people in Rwanda. 

Originally from Burundi, Erica did a Masters degree in International Development at the University of East Anglia and graduated two years ago. It was a massive achievement for someone who twice had to flee her home country. 


However, the painful journey had taught her some powerful lessons. “Sometimes it’s not just about you,” she says. “You can be a blessing. Sometimes we feel we are the person that everyone should be helping. But God says that we have so much to offer.”


She was born in Burundi, but her parents had to flee when she was only one year old, and she grew up in Zambia. Then when she was 18, she decided to go back to Burundi for her university studies.


“There were so many things going wrong with my country,” she said, “and I thought someone ought to do something about it. But I was convinced it wasn’t going to be me.”


She had been born with an eye condition called strabismus, which meant that her eyes didn’t look in the same direction. As a result, people always made fun of her. “They made me feel I was not good enough, not worthy of love.” 


Although she grew up in a Christian family, her church put the emphasis on avoiding sin and did not address the inner struggles about her appearance. “I found myself hiding and feeling like God could not use me. I thought I was not beautiful.”


So when there were opportunities to serve, she only followed other people. “I never took the bold step for myself. Who would want me to be their leader? I’m not good enough,” she thought to herself. 


“However, God had been working on me, and finally gave me the boldness to step out.” Erica went to her headteacher and asked if she could host students from other schools and tell them what they could do to change the country. 


“I gathered 20 young people and we just talked about our passion for Burundi and what we could do to change our communities. I was surprised that people could listen to me.”


Around this time a medical missionary came to her village and did surgery on her eyes, which boosted her confidence. However, in 2015, a political crisis engulfed Burundi and she had to flee again, this time to Rwanda.


“I remember feeling overwhelmed, as if God had let me down, and I spent some time not praying. But God has His own way of doing things. He wants to work on you, and if takes a drastic move, He is going to do it.”


For the first months in Rwanda, she was depressed and struggled to fit in. 


“But God was speaking to me and opening my eyes. He reminded me that I had received opportunities, that I could speak English, and that now I could bless others by teaching them what I knew.”


She was looking for a job, but in the meantime started to teach children in her community who were out of school how to read and write English. 


“I had 25 children, then 50 children, and the project grew.”


Through the teaching she became exposed to challenges within the community. Some children had not eaten for two days. Others were sick because their parents could not afford health insurance, even though this was only three dollars. 


With volunteers from her church, she set up a centre where children could come and learn and connected with a Christian programme which taught her how to work better with communities. 


“Sometimes when we step into a community, we take away its space to act for itself. But it takes less resources to believe in someone than to invest all the money you don’t have.”


To describe her initiative, she came up with the name ‘Love and Hands’. “God showed me that everything should be done through love, and that He has put into our hands the gifts we need.”


The work and team has grown, she has trained other young people to work with their communities and has now even ventured back into Burundi. In all she has helped over 1500 people.


If you would like to support Erica with money, skills or prayer, you can contact her on [email protected] or find out more on www.loveandhands.com


Article extracts from testify2222.com/podcast


Pictured above is Erica Gateka.

Eldred Willey, 01/12/2022

Read the full article here

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