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Riverside Magazine

Methode Maniraguha: Unrelenting Persistence


Methode Maniraguha was born in Kigali, Rwanda in east Africa, to Augustin Rwabuhungu and Scholastique Mukaniyongoma. He is the oldest of seven siblings, having four brothers and three sisters. His family, like most in the village, performed back-breaking work, planting, maintaining, and harvesting the family's daily food support. "We were not unique. Our entire village was like that. In fact, over two thirds of the nation depend on subsistence agriculture." The family home was without electricity, meaning no refrigerator, lights or stove. Also missing was running water.


A typical day unfolded with his parents walking 30 minutes to the fields where they maintained their garden crops. As the oldest, Methode took on the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings, making sure they eat, diapers changed, and were kept safe.


As early as five years old, small bucket in hand, Methode walked 30 minutes to the nearest river to collect water for the family. As he grew older, so did the size of the bucket, eventually weighing 40 lbs. His siblings played their part too. One would gather wood for cooking having learned the basics at 6 years old. Meals comprised sweet potatoes, beans and a variety of vegetables, all grown by the family. Methode's parents would return to the fields each afternoon to resume their work. On special days, the exception was rice, which was bartered for using their sweet potatoes. "Each Christmas and New Year, our dad would try his best to get meat for the family. It was not always possible." On rare occasions, families combined resources to buy a goat, which they then slaughtered, and the meat shared.


Secured by Faith

"Living in America now as an adult, I have reflected on those days. Security was not a thing for my family. We simply did what we were supposed to do, planting crops, and trusting that things will be okay. Sometimes things were okay, sometimes they were not." Methode's mother and father became Christians in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Their faith in God became a central part of everything, including the genuine belief that God will not only provide but protect. He recalled a time when his mother fell ill for an entire year. She was more than just the patriarch. "My mom had an incredible work ethic. She was the first one to get up in the morning and the last to go to sleep. She tended to her children and to the fields." During her illness, it was neighbors that brought food to the family. Neighbors that struggled themselves to provide for their own families. "God truly provided."


Methode's father helped him memorize Bible verses and taught the family Christian songs. Our home was filled with love and hope, something I have worked to recreate within my own home today. My parents loved each other, cared for us, and they laughed at anything they could. We had a strong close community around us, through church and through people.


Challenge for Education

The path to the life Methode leads today was born out of schooling. His parents were firm believers in school as a way out for their children. The journey was difficult and fraught with challenges. In Rwanda, students start first grade at 7 years old. His primary school was approximately five miles away, a distance he covered on foot every day. That translates to 2 hours each way, every day for seven years. "It is just what we had to do. We never gave it a second thought." Methode's class for his first two years was located under a tree. School facilities were extremely limited because of the impact of the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in 1994. Neighbors killing neighbors. Husbands killing wives. Families living in a constant state of terror, concealing themselves in bushes to survive. Methode was about 5 years old in 1994, when the country descended into three months of genocidal strife that left an estimated one million people dead.


The country was undertaking rebuilding. Schools relied heavily on the support of international organizations like the USAID and UNICEF to provide teachers and students with much-needed supplies, including chalk, pencils, and notebooks. Teachers at the time were neither fully trained nor certified. By the time Methode reached sixth grade, his class size was much smaller. Classmates that completed a grade level would often not return for the following but succumb to the tradition of children working alongside their parents. He nearly followed the same path himself.



"In fourth grade, I saw my parents were struggling. I was strong and wanted to help." Methode believed he had a smarter way to plant crops. He saw most others planting the same kinds of vegetables, translating into a lower value at harvest. "Planting different crops on a larger scale would be more profitable." He would later recognize this as the contrarian principle. He was only 11 years old. His plan was cut short after a conversation with his mother than Methode describes as life changing. "She told me, my son. I know you are trying to do good but look around. Do you see anyone who is doing what we do, who is rich? If your motivation is to do good and do more, and achieve more, you must go to school." Those works meant everything to him. He went back to classes. "I came home, completed my duties and then studied. When the family went to bed, I lit a candle to study by."


Upon completion of sixth-grade students were required to pass a national standard test to move on to middle school. Schools in the remote areas like the one Methode attended had much lower standards. This resulted in only a handful of students out of thousands passing the test and the end of education for the others. Even with extra effort, he failed the exam by the smallest of margins. It crushed him. His parents insisted he repeat the sixth grade. "You work hard son and we will pray. We trust you will pass next time." This was a great sacrifice knowing they could have used their son's help at home. Methode did pass by only 0.4% the following year. He was the only one at his entire elementary school to do so.


Middle schools require tuition and boarding. Tuition his parents could not afford. "My father walked two ours to the closest bank. He asked for a loan but was told no because he was not a customer. He walked back home with a list of things to do to become a customer and was told he needed to offer part of the family land as collateral." A loan was approved securing just enough money for one semester of school. "My dad became my hero."


Figuring out how to repay the loan monthly and sustaining this model for six years of his middle and high school was the next challenge. The family adopted the contrarian principle devised by Methode back in fourth grade. A quick scan of the neighbor's crops revealed that no one was planting tomatoes. "We stopped planting everything else and focused just on tomatoes. We were soon enough earning nearly $500 a year. We became the richest people in the neighborhood, replicating the formula so well that my siblings could attend school as well."


Making the Grade

Methode entered middle school ranked almost dead last. By the end of the first trimester he ranked third and first after the second trimester. He never looked back, finishing first throughout middle school. He grained access to high school, passing the assessment test given at the end of middle school. In high school he continued his trend of ranking number one after each trimester. His final assessment test after graduating high school had him ranked at 19th in all of Rwanda. The challenges and difficulties of the early part of Methode's journey taught him success requires a strong work ethic, which he credits to his mother. "It was a combination of my faith, my parents, and the help of others along the way. Remove any of those factors and I would not be where I am today."


CBU Came Knocking

Shortly after the posting of the final national rankings, his phone rang. "I was one of the students eligible to receive a full ride scholarship to any university in Rwanda. There was also an opportunity to interview for a chance to study abroad." The government established a partnership with California Baptist University the prior year. "We took English tests. Completed written and verbal interviews from which they scored the results." The following day, having walked several hours, he returned to the government building to see the list posted outside. "My name was above the line. It was one of the best days of my life." His father gathered donations to raise the $500 needed for this trip. His passport was obtained and four short months later he was winging his way to Riverside, CA.


Coming to CBU, everything was new and overwhelming. I remember my first assignment was to read a book and write an executive summary. "I was educated almost entirely in French. I struggled to understand spoken English but could read it. One evening I noticed all the kids were busy in their dorm rooms. I asked a fellow Rwandan student what we going on. He informed me in our language the assignment was due the next day. I read all nigh and struggled to type the summary but completed the assignment."


They assigned Methode a host family intended to help acclimate him to the US culture. "I remember the first-time meeting Joan and Randy Redden. They took me out to dinner, where I was handed a menu. The concept of selecting food from a menu was foreign to me. I did not understand what to do with it." It was moments like those that they stepped in. Eventually they figured out he was not understanding most of what they were saying. "They invited me to their home every holiday and occasionally in weekends. They bought me clothes. They became proper parents to me." Host family assignments are a one-year term. Not for the Redden's. They stuck with him for the full four years and beyond. "I owe them so much and attribute my success at CBU to them." They remain close today, spending time together and being grandparents to Faith, Methode's daughter.


Methode graduated on time and Magna cum laude, with a degree in electrical and computer engineering. Success in schooling was not new to him, but the herculean effort to achieve it in a foreign country was not lost on him. The original plan was to return to Rwanda armed with skills to contribute to the quality of life for his fellow citizens.


Two things stood in his way. First, they awarded him an internship building a battery system for a solar company that lead to a career and eventually business of his own. Second, was Josiane, his then long-term girlfriend.

Josiane

Methode met Josiane in high school. "She was beautiful, and I was so fascinated by her intellect." Like him, Josiane was a top student in school. Friends for the first two years, it was his last year in high school when they became romantic. The connection they had with one another continued while he attended CBU. "When I was not studying or working part time on campus, I was calling her. She knew how to socialize with other people in ways I did not, and she challenged me." They planned to marry after Methode graduated. They wasted no time. "I graduated in May 2013. Flew back home to Rwanda, where we married in front of family and friends the same summer. I was accompanied on the trip by Dr.Jeffrey Mooney," a professor at CBU, who served as his Best Man. They returned to Riverside a month later as husband and wife. Shortly after their return the internship Methode had concluded. "With no job and no savings, Professor Mooney helped me navigate through what turned out to be a six-month job search. He allowed Josiane and I to take up shelter in a travel trailer in his backyard." Like his parents and the Reddens, Jeff Mooney played a critical role at a critical time in Methode's life. "If he wasn't there, I do not know where I would be today."


Applying Skills

Methode was hired on by SolarCity as an engineer designing solar systems for residential and commercial use. New projects come in with photos, descriptions, and requirements. His job was to turn those into blueprints, grid connections and installation plans to be submitted for approval at the local city planning department. He worked with SolarCity for nearly a year before moving on to Sunrun, the largest solar provider in the US. "Sunrun was up and coming at the time and with my knowledge and new experience, I could grow the company as it did. It was the perfect timing for the transition. Josiane stayed home to care for Faith, our child, and Sunrun paid more."


The plan worked. "I was promoted after the first 90 days and again six months later. I was designing systems from the east cost to Hawaii. I trained and managed teams of engineers. We did well." Concurrently, Josiane wanted to return to college and complete her three remaining years. With Faith now in daycare, the cost of living increased and Methode wanted to supplement his income. Enter Uber. He commuted to Irvine each day, engineered solar systems, managed engineers and at the end of the day turned on the Uber app and drove for four hours daily before returning home at night. Once again, his engrained work ethic was in full affect. This continued for six months before he reached a crossroads. "I could no longer work such long hours. I was losing precious time with my daughter and wife." It was a time for a grand leap.


Methode decided to beome a state-licensed engineer. He would be the final signature on the plans being submitted to local planning departments. "I do not know why it didn't occur to me before." He started communiting by train, buying himself hours of study time. Like the 11-year-old boy in Rwanda, when the family went to bed, he studied. No longer by candlelight. He took and passed the exam on his first attempt. Having got the license. a Sunrun expected promotion was delayed for nearly a year. Restless and wanting more he considered "What problem can I solve for others using my experience and license? There are a multitude of smaller solar companies all having to go through the same process of getting a solar system approved by a licensed engineer, getting permits, and then installed. These companies do not have the resources to have an on staff licensed engineer." Two months later the concept of self employment was born.


Still with Sunrun, Methode would spend evenings identifying potential clients via LinkedIn and emailing them. His morning train ride to work now involved communicating with those that responded from the night before. "I was able to get a few customers to send me their projects. They loved what I was doing and how I was doing it. From those came referrals. Before long I was faced with the reality of there being no way I can continue to do it, and work for Sunrun." He applied one of his life philosophies. "What is the best and worst that can happen if I strike out on my own?" Analysis of those questions along with a discussion was Josiane led to the official launch of Current Renewables Engineering.


Today, Methode enjoyed a thriving business. He has surrounded himself with a strong staff and a stable roster of clients. Most would be satisfied but not the little Rwandan boy who walked several hours a day to collect water and attend school. He is expanding the business to include electric vehicle charging, electric vehicle battery storage and systems for homes, business and utilities. "They are the future."



From Business to Community

Josiane and Methode have focused on what they want to do for the community and beyond. "We came up with a list of things we are passionate about. We already use our business success to ensure the safety, health, and financial stability of our employees. To help others we will dedicate our resources, time, energy, and our financial giving's towards building stable families and to advance Christianity around the world." Josiane recently graduated with a nursing degree. She is exploring the process for starting a foundation that will support their efforts and advance their goal of giving back to others.


Value of Experience

Some might look, unimaginable so, at the challenges Methode and his family faced. Methode, having had time and distance from his youth in Rwanda, sees his life experience as an "unfair advantage." From it came an unwavering work ethic. An appreciation for life few can imagine. And a love for those that have supported him throughout his journey. He and Josiane impart their lessons to Faith, their beautiful daughter, whom because of those teachings will also have an "unfair advantage."


What an amazing honor to have Methode Maniraguha share his story to date. It is clear he lives his life in gratitude and faith. It was emotional and inspiration for us, and we thank him.


 

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