Community News
Go Back

Reaching out to orphans of Rwanda

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Three years ago Verne Wortman got a death sentence. "I was told I had six to nine months to live," the 74-year-old said. Today, Wortman spends the first couple of months of the year preparing tax returns in order to raise funds for a group of orphans in Rwanda. Then he travels to the heart of Africa to take an active role in their education.
"I had serious complications from diabetes," he said. "My organs were failing. My blood pressure was very high, and I had painful arthritis all over my body."
A local doctor told him about a new procedure that was having some success with diabetics - a full gastric bypass - and Wortman opted to go for it.
"Within five days following the surgery, I had no symptoms of diabetes, my blood pressure was normal. Gradually, I lost over 100 pounds and my arthritis is gone. Now I run and walk up and down the hills in Rwanda!"
Wortman, given a new lease on life, decided that God wanted him to do something with the time he had been given. "God told me 'Go and teach!'" he said.
Last May, he and his wife, Marcia, joined an eight-person two-week mission trip to a hospital established by Dr. Tim Berg of Kerrville in Kibagora, Rwanda. Kibagora is located on the western edge of Rwanda near Lake Kivu. While there, Wortman began to see a real need for education for a group of 85 to 90 orphans in the area. The orphans range in age from six to 14 years.
"There are no public schools in the country like we have here," Wortman explained. "In order to go to school, the children have to have a uniform and they have to provide their own supplies."
The kids that touched Wortman's heart lived on the streets or in primitive mud shelters, had no shoes and may have had a bowl of non-nutritional kasava root about every three days to eat.
Because of his experience in education, Wortman was urged by Berg to see what he could do to provide schooling for the orphans.
It didn't take long for Wortman to determine a long list of needs and develop a plan for achieving some goals. He returned to Rwanda for two months in September and got classes going for 25 of the kids.
"We provided the material for uniforms and the local women sewed them. We provided them with sweaters because mornings in the mountains can be chilly. Some of the children walk an hour and a half on muddy trails to get to school," he said.
Cook stoves and mattresses were provided for the children who had some kind of permanent shelter.
"I'm happy to report that they are now getting a full plate of rice and beans for their lunch every day at school," he said.
Wortman was also able to purchase medical insurance, at $5 a year, for the children so that they could get care in Berg's hospital. "One had severe diabetes, and a lot of them have infections in their feet," he said.
In the relatively brief time Wortman has spent in Rwanda, he has organized the remodeling of the orphans' classroom; providing a fresh coat of paint, electricity, lighting, white boards, a concrete floor, carrel desks; and - wonder of wonders - computers!
These children have never had the chance to go to school. Now they are going to have access to the world wide web.
Wortman is most excited about beginning a teacher training program. "About three years ago, the whole country [of Rwanda] switched from French to English, so we have taught four people how to teach English," he said. The plans are to teach even more. Wortman is himself working on his second Master's degree - in teaching English as a second language via the computer.
Although Rwanda is now considered one of the safest countries in Africa, the children Wortman wants so much to help are victims of the genocidal wars pitting the Hutus against the Tutsis that culminated in 1994. About two million Hutus fled into neighboring countries, where they faced more killing. Their children are now making their way back into Rwanda,
"Things are peaceful in Rwanda," said Wortman, but the Tutsis are in control of the government and it is difficult for Hutus to get education and good jobs. In the 20 years since the civil war, Rwanda has become stable with considerable economic growth. That economic growth, coupled with education and intermarriage between the two tribes, may lead to even more peace and fair treatment for the Hutus in the future.
Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa, with 13 million people living within 10 thousand square miles. That's about the same size as the state of Maryland, which has a population of 5.7 million. Hutus make up about 84 percent of the population. The Chinese are currently building good roads, but motorized transportation is limited. The country exports fruit, vegetables, coffee and tea.
Wortman continues to work and pray for his orphans. He will earn funds for his next trip by preparing as many tax returns as possible between now and the end of February. "All of the income I get from the tax preparations goes to this mission," he said.
Those who want to help, can send a tax deductible gift or monthly contribution to: Commission Ministers Network, with a note on the memo line "for Verne in Rwanda," PO Box 291002, Kerrville, TX 78029-1002.
To make an appointment for tax preparation, call Wortman at 830-955-2734. His office is located next to Bandera Ice House, but he will be happy to meet clients at their home or in the cozy atmosphere of Pap's Italian Grill in the strip mall!
There is much more about Verne Wortman's story and the orphans of Rwanda, but there simply was not room to include it all in this article.
Wortman is available to speak to interested groups about his mission in Africa and how anyone can help to give these children "a hand up, not a hand out!"