EDMONDS — Dick Huling was serving as an administrative pastor at a Shoreline church a few years ago when a tall man walked in and asked about using space for his nonprofit work in central Africa.
The man, it turns out, was Emmanuel Sitaki Kayinamura. He was from Rwanda, where about 800,000 people, mostly from his Tutsi ethnic group, were massacred over the course of few months in 1994.
“I got to know him over the years,” Huling said.
Sitaki survived — he was studying in another country for much of that horrible period. But 35 of his family members didn’t. Once Rwanda started to rebuild, he set out to help. At first, he tried to match widows with orphans.
“More and more, the emerging need seemed to be vocational training,” Huling said.
Sitaki made it to Portland, Oregon, and incorporated the nonprofit ERM Rwanda there in 2005. He lived several years in Washington state and remains in the U.S. The organization’s initials stand for Equipping, Restoring, Multiplying. It is Christian and faith-based, but opens its arms to anyone.
Fast-forward 12 years, and the nonprofit now has its U.S. offices in downtown Edmonds. There was a ribbon-cutting Nov. 1 outside the Harbor Building on Second Avenue S. Huling, now-retired from Aurora Community Church, started as ERM’s regional director a year ago.
“I had coffee with Emmanuel and he said, ‘Why don’t you come work for us?’” Huling recalled.
From an initial sewing program, they’ve expanded into five more vocational fields: masonry, carpentry, welding, hairdressing and the newest, culinary arts, which is set to graduate its first class in March. Each course lasts 10 months, followed by a two-month internship.
“We feel we’re right at the leading edge of what is really important to the country of Rwanda and their national goals,” Huling said.
There are more than 20 staffers in Rwanda and three in the states. In Edmonds, they handle fundraising as well as administration for the school.
The campus is located outside Kigali, the Rwandan capital. It covers almost 2 acres. They teach young adults, mostly of college age. There are about 230 students with hopes to double that number.
“Because Rwanda is such a tiny country geographically, we have a chance to do something,” Huling said. “We have a chance to make such a drastic difference from the outlook our students otherwise would have. We offer something that is so tangible that they can go from poverty to a living wage.”
Rwanda is still a poor country. Per capita income was estimated at just over $1,343 last year and 39.1 percent of the country lived in poverty, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
Most ERM students receive financial aid. A one-year course costs $600. To help pay for it, the organization receives a mixture of individual donations and grants.
Huling, 66, lives in Lynnwood. During his life, he had visited several continents, but made his first trip to Africa in May to visit ERM’s campus.
“Rwanda, for one — it’s such a beautiful country,” he said. “Everything is hills. It’s just green everywhere.”
About 12 million people live in the dense, land-locked country, bordered by Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Burundi.
The country has been working to rebuild since the genocide. Its government under President Paul Kagame has pursued initiatives to boost trade, technology and the hospitality industry. They hope to become a second-world economy by 2020.
“They might just get there,” Huling said.
ERM hopes to play a part in that transformation.
ERM Rwanda is a nonprofit with offices in Edmonds that helps provide vocational training for young, mostly college-age people in the central African nation of Rwanda. The organization’s initials stand for Equipping, Restoring, Multiplying.
More info: www.ermrwanda.org