Our local communities are full of dedicated nonprofits with inspiring missions. TS Prosperity Group wants to celebrate some of these nonprofits by featuring them in our Investing for Good blog series. First up in the series is Imana Kids: Orphan Care Ministry in Council Bluffs, Iowa and Kigali, Rwanda, where Ryan and Kara Higgins serves as Co-CEO. Read our interview with Kara Higgins below and stay tuned for additional inspiration from nonprofits serving our community.
Tell us about your nonprofit and its mission.
The mission of Imana Kids is for all vulnerable children to know that they are loved by their heavenly Father, that they have access to basic needs and that they are given the tools that they need to overcome poverty. We do this by matching orphans and vulnerable children with American families who then provide our students with school fees, medical care, foster care and community support. Our sponsor families are able to build lifelong relationships with their students through letter writing, emailing, trips to volunteer with their student and playing an active role in decision making. They also help guide their student through school and life.
Imana means “of God” in Kinyarwanda, the native language to Rwanda.
How and when did your entity get started?
We like to say that Imana Kids was planted in our hearts when we adopted two of our sons from Rwanda in 2009. We saw all of the hundreds of children left behind that would likely never have an earthly family. Shortly after our sons were brought home, Rwanda closed international adoptions with a goal to build up local foster to adopt programs. The reality of fostering in a country that was still recovering from a genocide is that there are thousands of kids abandoned and living on the streets.
In 2013, we led a group to work in an unregistered orphanage in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. There were over 100 kids there that didn't have a name, weren't in school and no one knew they existed. God made it very clear that we were called to be part of the solution for these kids. We really believed that if Americans knew their names and their faces, they would care. That everything could change for these kids. And it has.
Where are you at today and what are your future goals?
Today we have 173 kids in schools, trade programs or college. We even have one here at Creighton University! We are also in the early phase of building our Hope Village: a foster care community, trauma informed school, community center and worship space. It's a big undertaking, but the government has plans to close all boarding schools in the next two years, meaning that all of our primary and secondary students won't have a place to live.
Why should someone support your mission?
Our catch phrase is, "love one child, change the world," because we have seen it to be true. The number of orphans worldwide is staggering and it feels helpless. But when you choose to support one child, the life and the future of that child is totally changed, full of hope. Being a part of that is gratifying and humbling. Becoming connected to a kiddo on the other side of the globe, in meaningful ways, will make you grow. We always warn people that once you become a part of the Imana Kids family, you're all in and your life will be impacted.
What is one way your organization is helping improve the quality of life in our local area?
We didn't realize that the families and individuals that sponsor our students, or go and work with them for various programs, would be so impacted because of the relationships that they build. Connecting with a student in Rwanda, realizing how small the world is and how much all of us are really alike - we want to be seen, known and loved. It brings more purpose to those here at home. Feeling that you matter, that you are really impacting someone else, gives more meaning to everything that you do in your local community. We know that our community lives a bigger life and brings more to their family, their workplace, their church family.
What do you enjoy about serving in a nonprofit?
The adoption of our boys has been a sometimes-painful journey. Trauma and neglect leave a lot of scars on a child's heart. Until we launched Imana Kids, I could not always see the purpose in the struggles that my family went through. When we decided that we wanted to start Imana Kids, we decided as a family because we knew that once we started, we could never walk away. But as a family, we could also clearly see that our understanding of trauma, and how to love through it, was preparing us for loving a whole bunch of kids for the rest of our lives. These kids had the same story as our sons, except they didn't get a family. Having Imana Kids has helped us to see that our previous suffering was for a greater good. And now we get to be in the front row seats of miracles and joyous healing as these kids grow and learn and thrive!
How have your life experiences brought you to where you are today?
Besides being an adoptive mama and having gone through a lot of training in caring for vulnerable populations, I also work as a nurse practitioner and a midwife in a large community health center. My career with families from all over the world, with all kinds of belief systems, experiences and backgrounds has made it easier for me to manage Imana Kids cross-culturally.
What is your motivation? What drives you?
My motivation is seeing our kids get off the streets, feel safe and excel. Once they feel safe, we start to see their true personality and character.
What’s your secret to success?
We (my husband and I) know that we have our board of directors as well as more than 100 families all over the United States that love these kids like we do. We also know that our sponsor families consider all of the children in our program to be their children. There is a sense of ownership and a sense that we are all together in caring for these kids. That is a huge thing, having that many people behind us. We are so very blessed by that. We try to honor them by being as transparent as we can be with the decisions, the finances, the struggles and the wins.
How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
Prayer, alone time being still, exercising, and not doing any work of any kind after dinner.
What was your biggest life lesson?
There is purpose in suffering. God will bring glory to it. Beauty out of ashes.
What advice would you give other people who are interested in entering the nonprofit sector?
Find your people and have them join you. Bring along those who have skill sets that you don't have. Don't be afraid to reinvent the wheel. Just because something hasn't been done that way before doesn't mean it shouldn't be. Do a lot of homework, research and prep work before you decide to "go live." Make sure your mission statement is simple and that you can fight for it.
What are ways others can volunteer or get involved with your organization?
- Attend our gala series
- Sponsor a child
- Sponsor a classroom
- Go! Meet the kids and volunteer in one of our workshops.
Ryan and Kara Higgins are the founders and co-directors of Imana Kids: Orphan Care Ministry, a sponsorship program in Rwanda. Imana Kids provide education and trauma informed care to over 175 children and young adults in Rwanda. They are currently developing Hope Village, a foster care community, school and church with a focus on healing and trauma care. Ryan and Kara are parents to five children (two biological, one through foster care and two adopted). Ryan teaches high school engineering and Kara is a nurse practitioner, midwife and Navy Officer in her spare time.