Growing up in Rwanda, Providence Rubingisa didn’t have toys.
While he survived the genocide in 1994, he remained in Rwanda until 2002 when he was forced to leave for political reasons. Rubingisa, now 50, crossed the border to Congo.
He had been working near the border and knew it was the safest place to go, although it meant he had to leave behind his wife and family.
It took him until 2006 to receive political asylum, and by then, he was living in the United States. When he finally returned to family, then living in Tanzania (they now have joined him in the U.S.), his youngest was 6 years old, a baby at a year and half when Rubingisa had left.
That gave him all the more incentive to buy two bicycles for his children — since he didn’t have toys growing up, he wanted to make sure his children did. Then something unexpected happened. Each morning when he took his children outside to ride, all the other children came running after them. They wanted to ride, too.
“When I saw that, after I came from the United States where children change bikes for a different color or model than what they have,” he said. “I knew I had to do something about it.”
However, he knew that buying bicycles for all these children wasn’t the answer.
“Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to give kids a bike when the day before they might not have eaten or gone to school because of lack of school fees,” he said.
He wanted to help children have a vision of hope for their futures.
But it also didn’t make sense to ship shoes and other articles of clothing to Africa because of the expense. Rubingisa said that almost everyone in Africa wears used clothing, so he found a broker who buys and sells shoes, giving him the funds he needs to support children there.
For this school year, his organization, Stuff for the Poor, already has sent school fees and supplies for 10 children. It’s not enough though; Rubingisa wants to help more children.
The organization is based in Villa Park, but by moving it to DuPage County, Rubingisa thinks they can raise more funds to help more children in Africa. Rubingisa wants to involve 300 schools in this effort, so students can help give an education and provide food to 250 kids each year.
No small task but one Rubingisa believes in because he did survive the genocide. About a million people were killed over 100 days during the mass murders. He knows he survived for a reason.
One way he is raising money is a soccer tournament at Benedictine University. Children get an opportunity to participate in a sport while also giving back. They need $10 and a pair of shoes to participate.
“Everyone has one pair of shoes in their closet that they aren’t using,” said Susan D’Alberti, the public relations manager for Stuff for the Poor.
Using Benedictine as host will bring Stuff for the Poor’s message to Naperville, where soccer is a way of life for many families.
“When Stuff for the Poor approached the university and told us about the work they do, it was immediately evident that this organization is one we would be very pleased to support,” said Louis Simios, director of auxiliary enterprises at Benedictine University.
While Rubingisa has fulfilled his own dream — his children have bikes and toys of their own — he wants to help other children become educated and dream bigger, too.