The holiday season has a special meaning this year for a group of volunteers from Southeast Wisconsin. They traveled half way around the world to help improve people's lives... and in doing so, unexpectedly improved their own lives as well.
In the impoverished African nation of Rwanda, more than a dozen volunteers from the Milwaukee area are building houses and spreading the gospel to the widows and orphans of Rwanda.
Genocide in the 1990's claimed 800,000 lives in Rwanda. Widows and children left behind need help. They're getting from members of a group called Solace Ministries. The group is based in Germantown.
Milwaukee attorney Amy Salberg was one of those volunteers. "I was doing more than just building a house," she told Mike Jacobs in an exclusive interview. "I was helpign somebody with their futures, helping somebody build their future."
Amy and the others spent a week in Rwanda, helping widows and orphans rebuild their lives. The most poignant moment came when they visited a memorial to the victims of the genocide.
"As you walk along and see all of these skulls, and they're all about the same size and then you see one that's a lot smaller. And you recognize that it's obviously a child," Amy recalled.
Amy had planned to comfort the survivors. Instead, it was the other way around.
"Going through that with survivors from the genocide was, it was very hard. I felt badly that I felt so badly in front of them. They were comforting us."
Amy got a lot of personal satisfaction, helping the widows and orphans... But she learned a lot from them. "The thing that amazed me the most was their capacity for forgiveness. I got to witness widows who had lost their husbands and their children in the war ready to forgive and to give mercy to the people who had killed them."
This was the 4th time solace has taken volunteers to rwanda. The program has been so successful, two more trips are planned next year. Everyday people from Southeast Wisconsin, improving lives half a world away.