Matt and Jill Czajkowski didn’t plan to work overseas, but an African connection will take them to Rwanda – the “land of a thousand hills” – later this month.
The two-term Town Council member and his wife are going to work with Jibu ( jibuco.com), a business incubator helping African entrepreneurs provide clean, affordable drinking water. The couple learned more about Jibu on a January trip to Rwanda and Uganda and, with sons Zack and Harrison now in college, saw an exciting opportunity to be part of the solution, they said.
Matt Czajkowski is Jibu’s chief financial officer and its country director for Rwanda, working in the capital Kigali. Jill Czajkowski is handling sales, marketing and franchisee recruitment, a challenging task in a country lacking widespread electricity.
Czajkowski’s council resignation is effective March 30, and he apologized to the community this week for not finishing his term, which expires in December. While they’re looking for housing in Kigali, he said, their home will remain in Chapel Hill.
“Over the course of seven years I’ve been on the council, we’ve had the opportunity to get to know so many of the wonderful and extraordinary people in Chapel Hill,” he said. “We will miss all of them but also look forward to seeing them when we return.”
They will be joining a large expatriate community, Matt Czajkowski said, but will spend most of their time meeting and working with the locals.
“I’m going to be out every day on the streets working with store operators, recruiting new store operators, opening stores, et cetera, as will Jill,” he said. “So we’re going to have sort of a natural daily connection.”
Clean water is a luxury in Rwanda. What’s sold in the stores is too expensive for most of the nation’s 11 million people, so they spend hours walking or riding motorized bikes, or motos, to the public tap, filling their bottles and jerrycans, and taking the water home to boil.
Rwandans cook with wood and charcoal, fueling deforestation, climate change and, in previous years, the loss of Congo gorillas to the illegal charcoal trade. The water, even after boiling, isn’t very clean, Czajkowski said, because the pipes are old, leaky and installed beside sewage pipes.
Jibu – meaning “the answer” in Swahili – will help people driven to provide their communities with clean water and their families with a better future. The group will provide low-cost filtration systems produced by the faith-based group, Healing Waters International ( healingwaters.org). The system, roughly the size of a couch, sanitizes water bottles and purifies up to 360 gallons of water an hour.
The Czajkowskis will be on the ground floor of the operation, recruiting local folks who are passionate and driven, helping them establish storefront operations and offering sales and marketing expertise to grow and sustain those businesses, they said. Each store could employ up to five people.
“Jibu, in its little realm, is providing hope, and not just hope but concrete opportunities to realize that hope,” Czajkowski said.
The scars of the 1994 genocide that killed nearly a million people are healing, Jill Czajkowski said, but survivors now live beside those who raped and murdered their friends and relatives. They are learning how to move forward, she said.
“There’s just a lot of characteristics that are particular to Rwanda that really grab my heart,” she said. “There just so much not expressable horror that so many have endured and managed to survive, and what they’ve had to do is just put on this enormous face of forgiveness.”
President Paul Kagame seems determined to transform and modernize Rwanda and its economy, Matt Czajkowski said. Kagame is inspiring hope that other progressive leaders can help end Africa’s long history of totalitarianism and corruption, he said.
Leaving his own role in Chapel Hill government was more difficult than expected, Czajkowski said.
“The affairs of Chapel Hill, the debates over how to make it a better place or keep it at least as good as it is, and all of the people who are involved in those discussions ... becomes a part of your being when you’re on the council,” he said.
He was first elected in 2007. In 2009, he garnered 47 percent of the vote for mayor, narrowly losing to then two-term council member Mark Kleinschmidt, who took 49 percent in the four-person race.
The council can fill his seat or leave it vacant until the Nov. 3 election. The mayor, under town policy, announces a vacancy at the first council meeting after the resignation becomes official – in this case, April 8.
A decision to fill the seat sets in motion more than a month of deadlines for publishing a notice, accepting applications and making nominations. Council members must consider the vacancy at each meeting until they make an appointment, but there is no deadline for making a decision.