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Hope in Rwanda: State College Nonprofit to Host Open House

on October 13, 2010 11:15 AM

It was a stark realization for Matthew Heinz:

He did nothing, he said, to deserve the life he got.

He was born to a fortunate family in a fortunate country. He was born into opportunities.

Now the State College man -- raised in the area -- is leading a new nonprofit to bring some similar opportunities to Rwanda, among the poorest countries in the world. The group, Global Capacity, is aiming to raise $27,000 by December and foot the education bills for 30 grade-school Rwandan students in 2011.

Heinz said Global Capacity is already funding four students this year and is angling to continue its growth for years to come.

"In extreme poverty, education is how you change the cycle of someone's life," said Heinz, who is executive director at Global Capacity.

But in Rwanda, where most people live on less than $2 a day, "you can't really afford to live and go to school at the same time," said Jonathan Hetler, the group president.

He said basic schooling costs about $300 to $350 a year in Rwanda. And that's before you count additional expenses such as health insurance and books.

Heinz, a State College Area High School graduate who earned a master's degree in theology, first saw the Rwandan landscape in 2006. He found a nation still struggling to recover from the 1994 genocide that claimed one million lives in 100 days.

The tragedy left behind an estimated 860,000 orphans, many of whom have yet to be educated. An estimated one in 10 Rwandans between the ages of 13 and 18 is enrolled in secondary school.

And so when Heinz's father, Steven Heinz -- the owner of software company EnergyCAP Inc. -- asked him to develop and launch a start-up to benefit the developing world, Matthew returned to Rwanda.

So far, he has spent more than nine months there, learning the culture and its nuances. Global Capacity has slowly emerged over the past year or so as a formal 501(c)3 organization, backed and supported by EnergyCAP. (Matthew Heinz also oversees customer service and corporate social responsibility for EnergyCAP.)

For now, Global Capacity has focused its education efforts on the Rwandan village of Akindege, population 2,100. Half of the people there are jobless.

Hetler, the nonprofit's president, said the core idea is help equip and position Akindege -- and, later, more villages -- for the future, to help enable Rwandans to pull themselves out of poverty and live sustainably.

But "the last thing I want us to do," Heinz said, is to give the impression to Rwandans that "we think we have all the answers."

Instead, he said, Global Capacity wants to help empower them to chart their own fate, and to cultivate a sense of accountability. "This is not a hand-out."

The State College community will have a chance to see the Global Capacity work and mission up close on Thursday. A public open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Downsbrough Community Room at Schlow Centre Region Library, at South Allen Street and East Beaver Avenue.

Heinz said the overall program is being developed so that donors carefully can track the progress of the Rwandan beneficiaries. (Donations are entirely tax-deductible, and 63 percent of monetary gifts go to fund programming after administrative and other overhead expenses are covered, he said.)

And the group isn't looking just for big donations; even smaller gifts, Heinz said, can help with items like school supplies and other supplemental items.

"A little can go a very long way," Hetler said.

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