Thank God for Women is a blog series rooted in gratitude for the strength, courage, and incredible capacity women demonstrate.
Rhona Murungi was born and raised in rural western Ugandan by a single mother—who, Rhona says, was her biggest cheerleader while she pursued an education. After finishing graduate school at Vanderbilt, Rhona was looking to begin her career in economic and country development. With a passion to address the needs in her home country, she was connected to World Relief, where she now serves as Program Officer for the organization’s Developing Countries Unit. Recently, Cassidy Stratton, World Relief’s Marketing Coordinator, spoke with Rhona about her story and her passion for working with women around the world:
Cassidy Stratton: From Uganda to Taylor University, and then to Vanderbilt. How did you get connected to World Relief?
Rhona Murungi: I had just finished graduate school at Vanderbilt, and I was looking for a job! And I knew that I wanted to do development work. I knew that I wanted to do work that was in some form or fashion directly connected to Africa, because that’s where I’m from. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m passionate about.
I got this email from World Relief, looked it up and got really excited about the Program Officer role and applied. The rest is history.
CS: Could you tell us more about your work within World Relief?
RM: I was a Program Officer, stationed in the U.S., working for the East African region for close to 3 years. And then I was itching to get back to [Africa]. I had been away from home for 9 plus years. I really wanted to go back home. I wanted to grow and be challenged, and get the opportunity to do this work in the African context. So, when the [Directors of Programs] role became open again, I jumped at the chance to fulfill it and go to the region, and the Rwanda office welcomed me for 2 years.
I’m doing a PhD program at the moment, so I decided to come back to [World Relief’s Baltimore] office so that I could better balance my school work and the service opportunities within World Relief—sort of similar to the Program Officer role, but in the Developing Countries Unit.
It’s really exciting to plug back in. I’m grateful that the role that I’m in at the moment still allows me to have a significant opportunity to support programs in the region. I [now] oversee Haiti, Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya.
CS: What work have you done with women throughout your time with World Relief or even before?
RM: I could talk about that for ages! Our work, actually, is very heavily focused on—and targets—women. Women and children, in many ways, make up a significant portion of beneficiaries.
CS: Why is it important for our work to intentionally address the needs of women?
RM: If your programs are intentionally involving and welcoming the participation of women (not at the exclusion of men by the way) it’s most likely to not just succeed, but actually benefit beyond the individual woman to the household and entire community. It’s proven, but I can also really attest to that from my own personal upbringing. Women glue the home together.
CS: Could you provide some examples?
RM: For example, one of my favorite programs in World Relief—and to be honest, I have a little personal bias to it—is our Savings For Life work. Seventy-two percent of our beneficiaries are women in this program. Which, in a way, makes sense because women are—at least in the communities in Africa that I’m from and have been exposed to— the backbone of households. And when you target women, when you empower women, when you engage women, and bring them in and allow for their participation, it actually benefits the entire household—not just one individual.
CS: Has there been a particular experience within the Savings For Life group you can recall?
RM: A few months ago, I was doing a field visit in one of our Church Empowerment Zones in Rwanda, and visited a savings group. I shared with these women that this [moment] took me back to when I was little. My mom was part of a savings group growing up—saving a little at a time, investing in setting up a small business, putting food on the table for my siblings and I, and sending us to school. I am, in many ways, a product of this program.
And I tell the women, “Look, I’m a product of what you are doing. And the Lord remain, 15 or 20 years from now, your kids, that are running around your feet, are going to be me—approaching the very work that you’re diligently doing in order for you to feed them, send them through school, and support your family.”
This particular program brings me to tears because it is a full-circle moment—that I have the privilege and honor to approach work that actually transformed my family and my life.
CS: You’re very passionate about the work you’ve done with women, children, and men. Has there been a specific time when your life has been transformed because of a woman’s impact?
RM: There is not two ways about it for me; by far the most impactful woman in my life has been my mother. She is just an incredible example. To be honest, we could sit here for a couple of hours and I would be able to exhaust the stories about my mother and the ways in which she has shepherded our family, and brought us so far and as single mother, too.
CS: You said yourself that “evidence shows that women tend to think beyond ourselves, beyond our own interests—to the interests of others.” That’s powerful. Why do you thank God for women?
RM: I thank God for the resilience of women and the way God has and continues to use women to be the backbone and the lifeblood of many households, communities, and nations—in ways that go both recognized and unrecognized.
You too can make a difference in the lives of women around the world.