Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kabaybay aka Dorene

Issach

Deborah

Vincent (Kagabo)

Liyonere (Lionel)

Mary Rose

Fabiola

Providence - 4 weeks old

Arriane

Dorcus

Syliva

Sabrina

Paul and Rose Mary (brother and sister)

Endless tears.

Thursday. 6 am I awoke to the morning activity. Neither alarm had rung. I greeted my family. The sunrise was spectacular over the back of the home. The rear steps/landing of the home are the bedrock of most work...cooking, washing etc. Issach was the first of the two boys to greet the day. He gave me a gentle hug starring in disbelief that today was the day I was leaving. I began putting the bags by the front door and they all started to think I was leaving at that moment. They came running trying to assess the situation. I did my best to tell them that I was just getting it ready for depature, not yet leaving. Time is a very hard thing to describe but eventually they understood that I had 2 hours prior to my departure. I looked at Issach and said "ABCs?". His eyes lit up and he quickly got the box from the drawer and began dumping the pieces. 3 days ago I thought this particular matching game might be too advanced for him. Today he had it mastered. He is soooooo smart. At one point he looked up and asked "Rwanda? America?" while pointing to the game. His eyes beemed when I said "Rwanda". This child has captured my heart in a very powerful way. To think 2 months ago he as a beaten battered begger with a misterable life in front of him. Today he has the potential to achieve the ultimate that God has in store for him. To all of you that have been donating to CALM, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. His life has been dramatically altered because of you. He is a living testiment to Chantal following her calling to help these former orphans. I began to ponder what is would be like to bring home both Issach and Dorene (aka Kababy). How his eyes would light up at the airplane, of seeing all that there was outside of what he knew. I envisioned the kids of Abbott meeting them for the 1st time. He would quickly absorb the language and we would visit Rwanda annually to keep them emersed in their culture. Oh to dream of the possiblities. I had planned at being at the 1st home by 7:30 am at the latest in order to being my goodbyes. I asked mama if the kids could "a handee with Miss Donna" ...go to the other house. She motioned that they 1st needed to eat. They sat down to their hot milk and buttered bread. When Mama left the room I motioned for them to eat fast so we could go. Issach was all or it. Lyionere was a bit confused, but Issach expain. Viola. Done. Ahh, not to hit the trail. I said goodbye to Mama when she motioned that their faces needed to be cleaned. "Eggo/Yes" I said. But then next thing I knew she was re-dressing them head to toe. Agggh, time was flying. But I couldn't exactly just leave without them understanding so I just went with the flow. 20 mins later we headed for the front door. As we opened it Sabrina walked in laughing. I looked behind her and there was a trail of all of my angels who had come to say goodbye. It was darling. It was a brilliant plan as it allowed us to maximize our time together. We showed the older kids some of the games we had. You could tell there were a little bummed that they were only at the 2nd home but when we sat down to play them they quickly re-focused on the games. Fabiola was exceptionally interested in learning. We had brought a couple of these games to the 1st home but the chaos is endless with everyone wanting to play. For some that simply means chewing on a piece. For others that means wondering off with their own piece or filling their pockets with them. I took some photos of Paul and Mary Rose for the couple that is deciding this weekend if they want to adopt them. Marie Rose was dressed in the prettiest little purple dress. Paul was sporting his new cap. Throughtout our time together I kept disppearing into one of the rooms or outside to to bawl. At one point Issach found me, then Fabiola. They walked up and stared into my face to determine what they were seeing. How do you explain to these kids that you love them more than they could possibly imagine. That I couldn't love them any more if they were my own. How do I with hold the tears that I may never see them again if they are adopted. Every time I picked up Kababy I would ask her if I was supposed to bring her home with me. If she was supposed to be my daughter. She of course didn't have a clue what I was saying but she looked me straight in the eyes and then would start to laugh...Kababay...silly one. I put her on top of my duffle bag and sure enough...she would fit inside. The perfect smuggler! I laughed at the thought. I wasn't sure if the kids were going to the airport like last time so I wasn't sure when to start my real goodbyes. We sang when you're happy and you know it clap your hands for the last time. I had difficulty getting through the song as I certainly was not happy. I took time to hold each child tell them I loved them and asked God's blessing and protection on them. "da ga coon da" I love you. They were so busy playing and having fun that they just let me be. We never sat down for the kids to pile on me in the usual position. Two under each arm. Two on each leg as was our regular position with everyone squeeling for a closer position. Chantal arrived to greet us. I asked if the kids were joining us. No, they would be staying at the home. I burst into tears realizing that I now had 5 mins to say my real goodbyes. I held each child and went through the same routine I had done last time. The river of tears that were flowing down my face really concerned them. They simply couldn't understand what their white friend who made them laugh was crying. The Mama hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe. She understood completely. As I started to head to the car, I turned around and did the whole thing one more time. I just couldn't say goodbye. Issach and Fabiola kept studying my face with such intensity. The Aunties had told Chantal that Issach had been crying this morning too. I mustered everthing in me to say "Goodbye, I love you and I will miss you and cry many tears in America" in Kenyarwanda. They understood. then I wiped away the slobber on my face and got into the car. They kids were looking at me with such intensity, I knew I needed to focus on them...so what the heck...another round of if you're happy and you know it just for good measure. They all joined in in full voice. As we drove past the gate of the home I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. I cried until my insides were empty. Chantal just kept saying " oh they love you Miss Donna, they will miss you". Suddenly I realized that we hadn't said goodbye to the mom in the 1st home nor Sarah, but we were out of time. Chantal promised to do the honors. All the new clothes should be ready later today so Chantal promised to take a photo and send them to me. It would have been such a blessing to be present when they tried them on for the first time, but alas, time marches on. I look forward to when we can have internet so we can talk back and forth to the kids and adults. Mbanda met us at the airport for my goodbye For now. On some measures, it it good that the journey to and from Rwanda takes 36 hours. I easily need that much processing time. Clearly God has given me an amazing blessing to be present to these children. To have famiy, friends, co-workers and others that care enough to make a difference. To truly make a big difference in the lives of these beautiful blessed children.. The tinest of the kids in the tinest of the spec of a country. I intend to do my utmost for His highest. I'd like to set my sights on raising $75,000 to build our 3rd home. What choice will I personally make about adoption. I trust God has a plan and will reveal it in His perfect time.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Really making a difference.

Wednesday. First let me apologize for all the typos. I will eventually fix them. The keyboards are bad and the internet slow...so I'm doing the best I can. It was a wonderful morning with the kids. It's such a joy greeting everyone. Arriving at the second home, the kids had finished their morning baths and all were jammed into one room trying to get dressed. They squelled with delight when I walked in. 7 kids laughing and yelling "miss donna, miss donna". Fabiola "hello missy donna". "Hello Fabiola" was my reply. Then Sabrina "missy donna, miss donna" "miss Sabrina" was my reply. The sequence continues until everyone has said my name and i theirs. It's a ritual I could repeat forever. The perpetual motion in the home is hard to articulate...think the Harvey house on steroids! The moms and aunties do have the power to get them to settle down but I have not yet mastered it. When I look at them with a serious face saying 'oi ya"...no, "um va" listen, they stop what they are doing and stare me down. The more serious I get the quicker they start laughing. Since I am the tickle monster in the house, I think they believe I am getting ready to tickle them...or they are smart enough to know that I am not going to really reprimand them. "Plushie please Miss Donna" comes from Marie Rose. That's her request to go outside and get on the swing set. The others follow suit with the request. "Eggo" is my reply. Yes. They all head to the door, put on their shoes and go squeeling to the swing set. Chantal arrived around noon to being our journey. We drove out to see the cows that Bill, JoAnne and William bought for the kids late last year. On my 1st visit the kids were only able to get access to about 1/2 of a cup of milk a day, now thanks to the above trio they get all that they need. It was quite a production getting there. The rutty road wound through and extremely impoverished area where the homes were made mostly of mud and twigs. I was impressed at Chantal's 4x4 and driving skills to find her way through the various paths. 30 mins later she stopped the car to begin our journey on foot through the hillside covered with brush. A small path lead us an opening. There on the hillside were the cows. 4 in total. They were under a simple but very functional open building to keep the burning sun off of them. The tin roof covered 12 stalls. Hopefully some day we will need them all. I thought about then standing there last when when we had a serious storm. As I was in a home with no electricity anyway and there are no tornados...I just hung out...same as these creatures. Chantal and Mbanda have hired 5 works to care for the cows. Believe it or not, it takes that many. They have to plant food for the cows to eat, then cut it. In the dry season they have to go to the market to buy it as irrigation is not yet an option. One of the men sleeps under mosquito netting on a bed of hay that sits so guard the cows at night. Additionally they had to build a house for them men to live in. Layer upon layer to simply get milk to our precious kids. Next we headed to a church to pick up a Pastor. When we arrived the church was overflowing. The people had come to receive mosquito netting from us. They waited patiently while we went to the goverment office to pick them up. The regional offices are small buildings that hold a desk, 2 chairs and tiny bookshelf and often a computer. The machine gun toting guard brought us around to the back of the building to unlock the nets. There were about 30 to a tyvek bag. We bought 100 nets. As we were leaving I noticed too long wooden boxes in the corner. As I starred at them I noticed a cross on each box and some names. I asked if they were coffins. Yes "bones" was the repy. "Genocide?" I asked. "Eggo..yes". I had noticed that the dates were 1994 so I assumed it was. The story behind the bones will never been known as I didn't think it was appropriate to ask more. One box held what appeared to be 2 bodies with the same last name. The other 5. Parents and kids was my assumption. As you know from some of my earlier writing, they are still finding bodies today, so perhaps these were among those found. Outside the building was an open air gathering of some sorts. It held a dining room size table with 2 chairs and about 5 benches. I asked if it was for local meetings. No, it was for court. These are exactly the meetings that took place after the genocide where people came together for trials. It was also were people would ask for forgiveness and be returned to the communities. With the mosquito nets packed in the car we headed over to meet 3 widows who had recieved goats from CALM via Chantal and Mbanda. The women spot with nonstop joy about how the goats had blessed their lives. They kept pointing to the heavens and saying something about Emma (God). The goats which cost only $35 each completely change lives. The women use the manure for their gardens, the kids drink the milk and they reproduce quickly. We simply ask that they donate the 1st offspring to another widow to continue the cycle. Ahh, God is good. We took photos for the website and continued on. When we returned to the church, the 100+ gathered were singing songs of praise for our arrival. The Pastor read from the bible and gave us chairs of honor in the front of the congregation. It was a rather big production. The group was divided in 2. To my right were people that had survived the genocide to my left were members of various churches in nearby villages who had signed up for the nets. A woman stepped forward and began reading the names. One by one they came forward to recieve the nets. Malaria and Aids the 2 biggest culprits that hold the average life expectancy rates down to under 50, so these nets will literally save lives. The genocide survivers received their 1st and were honored. The news of our visit was spreading through the various villages so people continued to pour in. We had planned on 100 but gave the pastor money to get more nets to meet the needs of the new arrivals. A man on crutches came forward to get his. Chantal, seeing his effort brought it to him. The the Pastor shouted out something to him and the people all laughed. Apparently he said "hey old man, I see you sitting with the church people, but haven't seen you in church lately, you need to come to church". It was said with affection. Looking into their sea of faces proudly holding their nets was an indescrible feeling. We need to raise more money to continue this very important ministry. Last, I met 2 women who had received health cards from Chantal and CALM. The health cards enable the user to go to the Dr and pay only a very small fee. The need is endless. Chantal was simply exhausted so I told her to take me home but she insisted that we need to have a birthday party for the kids. Since we don't really know their birthday days she decided it would be fun to just pick a day an celebrate everyone. The Harvey family provided the presents along with birthday candles. Lynn hand made earring for each of the girls and the Kittleson's sent hats along. The party was a smashing success. Sara figured out how to take photos with my camera so I was actually able to be in some of the photos. We sang our now favorite song.."if you're happy and you know it clap your hands". We had a great time. I walked with them back to the 1st house to charge some of my camera gear. As we rounded the corner we ran into a bunch of goats. 1/2 of the kids were shocked, 1/4 were afraid and the remaing took charge to shoo them out of the way. It was quite a sight. Back at the second home I hung out with the boys for a while before I announced that I wanted to go back to the 1st home to say good night and play a dvd. Since it was pitch black outside I asked Thomas to walk with me. I was an unexpected visitor as the kids were used to seeing me in the morning. When I walked into the main room they were seated at the dinner table in their undies. An effecient clean up I would suppose. We sat down to watch the DVD and all the kids piled on. 6 kids all trying to get into my lap or under my arms. Heaven. Pure and simple. Thomas and I walked back to the 2nd home. Thank goodness for the crank light I brought as they were pretty darn functional for our walk. Returning home the kids were excited that I had come back before they went to bed. We played concentration again. Then ABC then ABC matchup. It was almost as if Issach was trying his best to get every ounce of learning and fun in before I left. We finished the night by working my Kinyarwanda and they worked on their English. I put my camera on audio to record it. I sure hope it turns out. In the middle of our lesson Issach looked me straight in the eyes and said something I hadn't heard before as he reached out to take my hand. I didn't have a clue what is meant but I could tell he was sincere. Josephine actually knew the English translation as I was saying in Kinyarwranda that I didn't understand. His words were "my friend". Then "I love you my friend." I think there world came to a halt and froze in that very moment. My eyes filled with tears as I was overwhelmed with his sincerity and the pure authenticity of his choice of words. When I regained my composure I reached out and said a phrase that Chantal had taught me how to say. " I will miss you". They were very suprised at my sentence. I then began some dramatic acting to ensure they understood I was leaving in about a day and half. First is was pointing at myself "Miss Donna", then I turned into an airplane and took off, lastly I said "Miss Donna's house in America". They started to get it but weren't quite sure so I took the etch a sketch and drew me, an airplane and my home followed by the word America. Ahhh. They were understood. Now the question clearly was when. For some reason I have not been able to translate days of the week or hours and any way that makes sense to them. Then I remembered that I knew the word for sun and moon. So I drew a moon and made it clear that it was this moon in the sky tonight. Then a sun, then a moon for tomorrow. The next sun I connected to the airplane. Voila. A day and half. Quite clever if I do say so myself. Lyionare didn't understand, but Issach got it. We all go sad. I started to tear up and held them back. I can't believe how attached I am to these sweet boys in a week and half. I tucked the boys into their beds and just stood by each one and stroked their hair. Well it was hard to get to their hair as they were still sleeping in the hats that the Kittlesons gave them. I prayed that God would protect them and they would always know how much I loved them. I'm so thankful that I actually got to stay in this house or I never would have understand how amazing these boys are. I studied every part of their face and tried to sere it into my brain. I took my last African bath after smooshing the cockroach that suddenly emerged from under that red bucket. It gave me quite a fright as I was were my headlamp and nearly stepped on it. I packed the reest of my belongings so I could get an early start in the morning. We realized today that my flight leaves at 11:10am not 1:50 so suddenly my morning was gone. I used the hand crank light and my head lamp to finish my packing. I am becoming quite skilled at working in the near dark. I created a small pile for Sarah and Abby who will be coming in July. While I know their intent is to eat the local food the Mom in me came out and I wanted to ensure that would be ok so I left canned Chicken, Nature Valley bars etc along with sunscreen, bug spray, toothpaste, Purell and some dried fruit. I wrote then a little note to greet them and tucked the box away. Satifisied that things were under control, I turned in at 11:30, setting two alarms for 5:30 am.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A powerful day

Tuesday It started out the same the others. Kids time. I had a very restless night as I kept dreaming about adopting Dorene/Kababy. Now that Chantal is actively exploring adoption for these kids the world has turned upside down. She has had so many people asks if these kids are adoptable that she finally decided she needed to explore it. Her vision was to have 4 homes with 10 kids each and raise them as her own, but now feels that if adoption is the right avenue we will be able to help so many more kids. If you recall, Dorene was the little girl i fell in love with last time. I wasn't sure how I would feel this time but we seem linked in a very unexplainable way. Dorene's mom was just 13 or 14 when Dorene was born. She is a bi-product of rape. If her mom would now agree to let her be adopted she, along with the other kids would be made available to the right parents. Perhaps as early as the next 6 months. The thought of not seeing her again seems simply unimaginable. This new twist may open up a new role for me in helping matching families to these kids in the states. That would include home visits on weekends when i am not working. It would be very exciting to stay connected to all of these kids in an important way. This new twist is part of everything that I love about Rwanda and God's plans. We simply will be open to the right plan and see where He leads us. He clearly has a plan for all involved. So from 2:30 to 6:30 am i twisted and turned in my bed trying to imagine bringing her home. Trying to imagine what our life would be like together. How she would fit into the wonderful families on Abbott. Exciting and Frightening all at the same time. How my parents would react to finally having a grandchild. How could it all work? Not a clue. So I will simply pray and let God do the rest. The kids were wonderful as I made my usual trek up the dirt road to the 1st home for electricity. Chantal arrived and we headed out to take photos for the website. Our first stop was to meet a Pastor and present him with 2 bikes that he could give to 2 ministers in other villages. The bike will allow him to serve many more people in needs. Foot speed vs bike speed is very different. He was very excited to present them. We paid about $90us for each bike which was fitted with a light and bell. Chantal looks forward to getting them bikes that Tom Ritchie is building as they are built for this rugged terrain and these are not. But for now, we do the best we can. The road to the bike shop was rugged and dusty. People lined the streets for as far as the eye could see. I have daily reminders that this is the most densely populated country in the continent. We returned to the 1st home. There was a woman there who looked very familiar to me. I thought she was a friend of Chantal's that I met on the last trip, but I simply couldn't place her. I greeted her warmly and went inside. Chantal asked me if I remembered her. I explained that I couldn't place her. She is Paul and Rose Mary's mom!!!!!!! The woman dying of Aids that gave us her children last year. We had been helping her in her home but then her health took a dramatic turn so she decided it was time to give the kids to New Hope Homes. In December she nearly died. Then by the Grace of God some people took her in allowing her to sleeping in the back of their home and took great care of her and got her medicine. She looked amazingly better. She said she felt much better but we all knew that it is not likely to be sustainable. I was curious how her kids would be with her. They recognize her but didn't cling not spend alot of time trying to get into her arms. Paul sat with her but didn't seem to feel that bond that was such a painful separation a year ago. To a 3 year old a year is a long long time. Rosemary had no interest. It as painful and joyous at the same time. Clearly the love and safety that the kids feel in our homes is real. Chantal brooched the subject of adoption with her as she will now do with whomever brings a child to the home. It was a painful discussion as the woman wanted to do what is best for her kids yet didn't want to face the reality that they would be living far away. Chantal told her to simply think about it. She already has a family who wants to adopt both of them and bring them to Texas. The family is the daughter of the people who funded the construction of the second home. This is all suddenly becoming so real. We also visited with an HIV positive woman who was caring for her mother and 3 of her dead brother's kids. Chantal met her when she had applied for a job to be the mom of the 2nd home. When Chantal heard her story she said her first obligation is to continue the important role that she already has in caring for her family. Her home was very simple. 4 rooms in a home the size of my living room. The living room had 4 chairs and a couch made of wood. Rugged construction but functional. Atop the wood sat foam cushions. Literally foam. Yellow 3 inch foam. The 1st bedroom was for the mom and 2 kids. they shared a double bed that had a 2 foot sag in the middle. A simple spread covered it. 4 items of clothing hung on the wall via a hook. Next we visited grandma's room. She had a twin bed with a matching sag. 3 items of clothing hung on the wall along with a cross and some beads. The back room was for some basic supplies. A small mud hut in the back served as the kitchen. She had a pot simmering on the ground on some timber. Yes, simple by functional.The 13 year old sleeps on the floor in the living room or the foam couch. Chantal is trying to help this woman as best she can. She asked her to put together a proposal to make some money. She did a wonderful job creating a reasonable p&l. She would like to start a store selling beans, rice, sugar etc. It would take $400 to do it right and get the supplies she needs along with the transportation. If you are interested in helping her let me know and we and direct your tax deductible contribution via CALM directly to her. I admire her sense of responsibility for her family and her desire to uplift her family by working hard vs asking for handouts. As you can see, the needs are endless. Chantal and Mbanda give freely but they too must honor their responsibility to their family. Enough heavy stuff. How about some joy? As you know we gathered about $500 to let the 9 member staff of the homes buy new clothes for easter. We were unable to get them done in time but came up with a plan that was great. We decided to have the clothes made at the market near the homes. the staff said it would be wonderful so the cost dropped in half vs doing to town. Based on that we gave everyone $25...nearly a months wage. We said they had to buy at least on article of clothing and could do what they wanted to with the rest. They could buy another outfit or save it for an important need they had. They were speechless. Literally. I expected them to jump for joy but they just stood there trying to take it in. Tears filled their eyes as they thanked me. I told them it was friends of mine, not me. They said that I was the person that they could see before their eyes so they would thank me and I should pass along their thanks and blessing to you. It was incredibly sincere. The clothes should be ready before my departure thursday afternoon so we are going to do a photo shoot with them. Chantal gave me a lift back to the city to get a dress of my own and buy some balls that the kids use here. I am bringing them back to the kids on abbott and zenith so they can see them. How surprised will they be when they see that they are made of banana leaves and twine. Genius! Surely to be a show and tell favorite. I started to get waves of tears knowing that I ahve just 36 more hours before I leave. Walking to the 1st home with Issach and Lionel hands in each of mine has simply become routine. A daily joy in life. We climb the dusty hill, sing a song or work on my language skills as people walk by stare and say hello. Suddenly routine is precious again. Each step is important. Every time any of the kids calls out "miss donna" or today "mama miss donna" my heart is filled with joy. These kids have such hope in their lives now that New Hope Homes is real. Think of their lives pre and post getting into these homes. There is such love here. They quickly become a family. Everytime Lionel does something well he goes running to show is new mom and she praises his creativity. Just like in any home anywhere. The difference is this home as only been a unit for 2 months. Blessed to say the least. Paper is a rare commodity so when i brought out a tablet of paper vs the etch a sketch board the boys got very excited. We did letters and numbers. Then Issach drew some pictures on his own. Starting with a cross. Gotta love that kid. I am growing closer and closer to him with each passing day. I can only imagine how he would florish on Abbott. We also made 2 paper airplanes that they thought were remarkable. Mom even gave it a whirl. The evening was our normal ritual of board games. Concentration being the favorite. We even got mom to play tonight. She was a stitch. She kept peeking when it wasn't her turn. So would give her a little "oi ya mama". "No mama". She laughed. But, when she did it again I asked for her hand and gave it little smack. She rolled back and howled in laughter. About 20 mins later she did it again so i rolled her over an gave her a little smack on her behind. We all laughed so much my gut hurt. Mind you, all of this is taking place on a plastic rug on a concert floor with the boys cranking the lights so we could see the boards. The boys have gotten quite smart about the game. We've played it so many times that there a marks on key cards...so if you study them closely and keep it locked in your head you could know which ones were matches. Perhaps it was a bit mark from a child or a speck of dirt. They have noticed each one of them and can match about 6 without even trying. The adults were blown away with how they could pull them so easily. When I showed them the short cut we laughed some more. Our language skills are improving dramatically. We flip a card and say it in both languages. We both mess up so it's time for more laughter. Lionel entertains himself with make shadows on the wall that I started to do when the kerosene lamp is on. At dinner I tried to explain that I was leaving for America in a day and a half. They just couldn't figure it out. I pointed to myself..."miss donna"...then turned myself into an airplane flying around the room and said "ameria". Finally i drew a picture of me then an airplane than ameria. "ahh" they understood. They they wanted to understand when. I still have yet to master the time or day thing. So eventually i drew the moon...which was tonight. Then the sun, then the moon, then airplane the next sun. Creativity at work. I was quite proud of myself. They all got sad...especially Issach. i don't think he understood that I was just here for a wee bit. The look in his eyes is something I won't ever forget. But we managed to work ourselves into laughter again for another round of "if you're happy and you know it clap your hands"...the one song we have done about 25 times...at least. Later one of the aunties...Josphine pointed to the games and said "rwanda or america'? i said "rwanda" . "ahh. wee... tank you bery muchee".

We're really making a difference. Check out Zach.

Monday. The big kids were up by 6:30. Activity in the home normally starts around 5 or 5:30. Basically sun up to sun down. The concrete floors and tall ceilings make for a very echoy home. It's so funny. Every morning it's the same thing. The noise...singing, talking, washing floors, chickens start making noise. Eventually it gets really loud. I finally decide i just need to get outta bed. Then it never fails, as soon as i get up all the main work is done and the things are quiet. I laugh at my timing every day. I took the boys to the other home today. Based on sign language and bad kinyarwanda I decided that they are want to bring all the kids to our home tomorrow. Sounds good to me. The kids greeted me warmly. I can't believe that I am leaving in 3 days. I just got got here. 1.5 weeks is just not enough time. But it's what I have so I must be present to it. This trip feels very different than the last one as i am living much more amongst the people. I experience a bit more of the every day work and challenges as Chantal and Mbanda have been literally swamped. It's all good with me. I also see different things this time. Last time I saw overwhelming poverty. This time i am beginning to to the emerging middle class. It's also been better having staff that understand that i am talking a different language and take the time to try to figure it out. last time is was truly foriegn in every way. Even the simpliest sign language was not understood...like the universal lands to the side of the head...i am tired...not a clue. This time we figured about 70 percent of it out. The rest we simply just laughed and gave up. Josephine and Sarah have a small comprehension of the language which helps. I just LOVE these two boy in home number 2. While i was disappointed originally to not be in the home with all the kids that i knew i just knew i simply needed to take in the blessings and they surely did flow. Today I brought out 2 of the hats that the Kittleson's donated. I let them each pick one. It was like gold to them. They were so excited i can't even describe it. When issach put his on his head, i realized that it was really small for him and Lionel's was too big...but what the heck, they thought they were perfect so who am i to mess with perfection???? Chantal and Mbanda dropped by to make a plan for the photos I need to take for the website. i think it will all work out despite time being limited. This afternoon I had an amazing experience. I asked Sarah to take me to the local market to look around and take photos. Last year i went with Sieba but only saw the produce section. I couldn't believe how many stalls there were. IThink amazing race and then some Max.) We wandered for 2 hours and entertained the people. I will try to upload some photos to show you what i mean. I took a ton of photos and greeted about 50 people. Getting a photo required me doing a little begging and attempts at the language until they finally gave in. Guys playing chinese checkers with bottle caps on a cardboard box top, old old shoes being re-worked, tools, fabrice, western clothes that you would find a goodwill. A sensory overload for sure. They are hardly any 'moozoomgo' (white person) shout outs on this trip. It's either that they have seen more or i am already a legend! I guess it's number 1. Issach is soooooooooooooo smart. He has grasped so much of the english language in just a week. I can only imagine how he would do in the states. Chantal told me he came to the home with bruises all over his body and filthy. He had been bounced from home to home where he would beg for food or a place to sleep. A woman had asked if he could come to the 1st home with his 7 year old sister. The home was full so he had to wait. He was 1st on the list for the 2nd home. When he arrived there was no sister. She's been missing. No one knows what has happened as she often disappears when begging on the streets. Imagine you are 7 and that is your world. Today Issach looks like a well dressed, clean, smart boy that you would find at the finest school. And in fact,that is where he is. That my friends is the beauty of what we are trying to do with these homes and it's working. Say a prayer for his sister that she is safe and we can find her. Lionel is sooooooooooo funny. One of the best things I brought was an etch a sketch with ruler lines for letters. We use is to do letter, numbers and draw. Issach can draw anything i do identically. Lionel is younger and struggles a bit. He tries really hard. If it's not identical to what i have written or drawn it shakes his head no no no..it's not right. then i do something easier and he is full of joy. he loves to laugh. he loves to be tickled. they are both amazing wonderful with the babies. we have 1 month old providence, 1 year old doras and 9 month old arriene. They pick them up, they play with them, they are so responsible it boggles my mind. I can now see how the 6 year old orphans actually take care of their younger siblings. they just do. it's not perfect, but it's full of instictual love. Our nights are entertaining in the dark or by the light of the keroscene lamp or our hand crank lights I brought. The crank lights have simply become routine. They pick them up and turn the handle a few times to see a game piece or find a bottle bo the baby. it works great. Sieba came by for a visit. Her grandma lives behind us (we built the 2nd home in her front yard) and is very sick so Sieba has been caring for her. I have truly fallen in love with these people and these kids. I see the good that everything we are doing is having on them and i know the time and dollars are well spent.

Easter blessings.

Easter Sunday Awoke at 6:30. Stayed in bed until 7. A very sleepless night. The morning greet ritual started the day right. I love it. It's how the kids also say goodbye when they are leaving a home. They literally go to each person that is there and shake their hands. Kids shaking other kids hands is so cool. It's not really a shake...you grab the wrist of the other person and greet them. I've learned to factor in hello and goodbye time when I am trying to get the 2 boys to one home or the other. i asked what time the kids go to church for easter as i thought it would be fun. no one seems to understand. But as usual something kickes into gear and I scramble. About 8 am everything turned into a whirlwind with people getting dressed up. Reonerre had a grin on his face that went from ear to ear when they put a brand new pair of pants on him and a new shirt. you would have thought that the he had just received the world. he kept wiggling and dancing. It wa then that I noticed they had been wearing the same clothes for 3 days. Ahh,note to self, we need more clothes. The boys brushed their teeth outside and made sure their shoes were clean. they pointed to the hill which meant we were heading out. Ok...we must be getting the other kids. As we walked to the 1st home the mom waved goodbye and she kept walking. oh...we don't get to go to church. oh well, we went in a sang and danced. At 1:30 suddenly clothes were dumped into a pile i the center of the floor and everyone started to grab theirs and try to put them on as best they could. The mom and aunties go child to child. i helped too. Marie Rose went to Issach and he helped button her dress and tie the bow in the back. It was adorable. Then we headed off to church. 9 small kids, 3 adults. So darn cute. We were quite the parade. No one shouted moozoomgo (white person) this time. I guess i am now considered a regular. As we reached the market i hoped that we might be going to the one that I went to last year. We walked through the rutty, dusty road past all of the little shop keepers in their wooden shacks who were quite suprised to see me. They were easily amused at my kinyarwanda. We rounded a corner and viola. We'd arrived. The same church as last year, with the same pastor. He had actually visited mpls a few years ago. The tiny brick block church had made zero building progress in past year. it was still in need of window and some additional walls to meet the ceiling. it holds about 100 people and is simply wonderful. The choir was wearing their robes for the 1st time. Someone had donated them money to have them made. they were so sweet. The kids in blue and white and the adults in blue and yellow. They sang so beatifully. A man name William sat next to me at Sieba's urging so he could translate. They asked the 5 visitors to introduce themselves and tell how God had blessed their lives. In kinyarwanda i said "halleluih, hello, my name is donna.may God bless you and i love rwanda" They clapped in approval. William then translated that my blessing was to spend 2 Easters in Rwanda helping with the kids. The minister spoke alot about the genocide. He said that today they were happy that Christ had risen but in honor of those who died in the genocide there would be no clapping. 13 years ago it was the 2nd day of killing. Saddness and joy filled the place. After the service people greeted me warmly. As we did our return walk, I took lots of photos of the shop keepers. All these sweet kids (who had sat perfectly silent in church by the way) walking these dusty roads back home while laughing at miss donna. About 70% of the people said yes to photo on this journey. They were especially welcoming of photos of their kids.Imagine not ever having having the money to have a photo of your child. I would love to have an instant camera and a few thousand dollars to simply walk and give them photos. i wanted to go back to the large market to take photos but the sky was iffy. Perhaps tomorrow. Back home lunch was waiting for the kids and we greeted everyone before heading home. Issach seemed sad, but I'm not sure why. i spent about 20 mins taping the staff saying various words in kinyarwranda for sarah upcoming trip. hopefully it will help. i will also try to burn a dvd of it so they can watch it in rwanda...they are sure to think that is' a hoot. Back home we played our favorite game of concentration b4 miss donna announced that she taking nap. The kids followed suit. The language barrier and kids are exhausting but what more joy could anyone ask for? They don't do R so it comes out L. Turnes Rionere is actually Liyonere....which makes more sense when they tell me it's Lionel in english. Obviously french. too funny. Zach copied letters into my journel. He did great.I finally broke out the canned chicken for easter dinner...and an orange. Such a feast. They had a doughy dinner and laughed when i wouldn't take a bite. They will love our july visitors who are anxious to try everything. I called Mom and Dad for 3 mins to say hello. the same with Erika. Erika nearly cried when she heard my voice. it's nice to be missed.

Thankful on Easter

Saturday 4.7 Another perfect day. Slept until 8ish then went to greet everyone in the home. The morning greeting is quite a production. I say goodmorning with a hug or handshake, they say it in kinyarwanda and remind me how to say it. The boys are soooo excited to see me each day. The contrast in pace between the 2 homes is remarkable. Home #1 is tiny and packed full of people and energy. Since we have only 5 kids in the 2nd home with 3 babies it gives me lots of time with Issaich and Renorie (Lionel). We play a game of throwing the ball and just hanging out. Today they taught me to count to 10 in kinyarwanda. I kept forgetting "2" which they thought was the craziest thing they had ever experienced. They kept saying in a laughing. Around 10 am I said i was going to the 1st home and asked for permission to bring the boys. Everyone seems to like the idea. The kids have fun, the staff get a break and the people at the 1st home seem to think Miss Donna is quite entertaining with my funny ways. I played in the house for while, sang some songs and then went outside. The adults came out but keep their distance so they can take in the fun but mostly so they can keep working as the wash, cooking etc takes place outside. The chaos of the kids is exhausting, but great fun. Today they brought out the 2 bikes that 11 year old Anthony bought them for Christmas. They are clearly their prize possession. Thank you Anthony! about 9 kids share the 2 bikes so it is a bit challenging, but they are really happy to have them. The moms and kids who were staying at the Mbanda's came by to say goodbye before they headed to the states. The kids really enjoyed playing together. One of their kids fell in the dirt and started to cry. Kababy followed him around with a sincere look of concern on her face. When he sat down she sat next to him and put her arm around him. Yes, she is my sweetie pie. Then one of the boys from New Hope cut his head by walking under the swing. The swing set seats are metal with sharp edges, the seat also lean a bit forward so it's quite a challenging keeping everyone safe. At first we thought it was a big gash so I ran to the other house to get my bandaids and antiseptic but when I returned it was ok. Thankfully. I also grabbed from of the cough medicine that Lynn sent along with me. Kababy had a terrible cough as do many of the kids. Their lungs sound bad. I wonder if we should think about sending over vitamins to see if make a difference. A note on the milk. It come fresh each day on a bike in 3 tins bottles. The staff then boils it. The kids pour it back and forth between 2 cups to cool it a bit before they drink it. It's still hot, just not boiling. Life around the homes is busy. Laundry by hand, cooking over charcoal. Changing the beds from the wetters. It all takes time. The house is simple. Beds, 5 chairs, 2 small couches and a table/chairs, one dinette to keep the plates, cups, school paper etc. A few toys. We need more. The balls are big hits as are the bikes and learning toys. We ate lunch at #1. I was trying to figure out if I needed to take the 2 boys home to eat there, but it seemed to be ok. The staff was trying to watch the genocide ceremony on the 10 inch tv that they have. We left around 230 so everyone could enjoy a nap, including Miss Donna. The kids just love hugs. Paul and Rose Mary don't leave my side. Especially Rose Mary today. I picked her up and simply could never put her down. I tried to gently put her down, then shake her off, the she would just hang onto my leg while i walked. Eventually she ended up on my back for the afternoon. Issach/Reonaire and I played the ABC matching game. ABCs are on separate cards, then pics with words under them that you are supposed to match. it was slow going. This one may be a bit too advanced for now. i had asked Chantal if I could go to a catholic church for easter vigil. She arranged for Sara to walk me there. I asked her what time i should be ready. She said 12. Midnight. Ok, a bit late, but I guess that makes sense. At 7 pm she arrived for us to leave. I guess we still can't get the time translation down. :). I quickly dressed, douced myself in mosquito spray and headed to the church with her. I was so excited to go on an extended walk. Everyone greeted me in the street as we passed to say hello. They say "moo la ho"...which is hello. I say in in return. Then they ask me in return and are are surprised to hear me say "knee may za"...which is " i am fine". They giggle and walk a bit to stare at me. We passed someone who visited the home and she told Sara to tell me that I am a "good mama". The walk included cutting through a wooded area, across some fallen logs etc. When we arrived at the clearing we saw a beautiful new church. Truly it was terrric. Modern brick witha tin roof. Wooden benches, lights, and a sound system. I heard some singing coming from another building. It was the choir rehearsing. We peeked in the back door that was open. The choir director finished the song and then came out to greet me. Eventually they made me come to the front to speak with them. They asked a few questions via someone who could speak English. I asked if they knew any songs in English. A young lady sang something for me. Then they made me sing 2 songs for them to thunderous applause. The mass was 4 hours, but I was well prepared this year. I brought my own bible and noted the readings for holy thursday, good friday and easter vigil so i could find something to do when the priest was preaching. As in the states, the service starts outside with a bonfire, then candles are lit for the procession. Somehow everyone got a candle but me. After the mass I was surprised to see Cheeza and Thomas the night watchmen for the 2 homes. They had come to the church at midnight to walk us home. How thoughtful was that? Thankfully Miss Rwandadonna had packed her headlamp so the journey was easier. I don't know how they people walk in the dark through these road full of ruts. Truly I would have fallen at least a dozen times had i not had the light. (According to Man Vs Wild your eyes do adjust, I just haven't given it a try). People were everywhere as the church held about 2000 people. The staff was up to say Good Night Miss Donna except "Estar", she calls me Mister Donna....same as my last visit....but I've grown to love it. Happy Easter...all is right with the world.

Games and Time to Remember.

Friday. I got up early to sit in front of the hotel and watch the morning rush hour. 90% foot traffic with the occasional car or motorcycle. Book bags etc on top of people's head. A set of prisoners (you can tell because they dressed in pink head to toe) walked down the street. They can often be seen doing road work or building projects. This group included the 1st woman that I had seen. Photos are less welcomed this trip. Apparently the free market now suggests they are worth money. People are happy to be photographed for a few rwanda francs. I pass on those opportunities. After breakfast Chantal returned from visiting her Aunt whose husband had died last week. Her heart was with them. I know she would have preferred to stay there but always the gracious host she returned to us. I sat with the kids in the back of the bus (the only right thing to do when I was a freeloader). We sang songs and even wrote a wrap song for Rwanda. "The people of rwanda are beatiful, the people of rwanda are full of joy, the people of rwanda love to smile. The hills of rwanda go on and on. they're full of people who work all day. they work all day and pray all night....because God's love it dy-no-mite!" We performed it for the parents who were quite proud of their accomplishments. The return trip took 2 hours vs the 5 hour outbound. Upon our return, I quickly headed back to the kids. I bought some of the esl games that Tara suggested before I left. I opened them with the kids. We spent over an hour identifying colors, animals and objects in English and Kenyarwanda. I then took Zach (Issach) and Renearie to the 1st home. All the kids were napping so the mom, 2 aunties and the 2 boys played another game of concentration. Turn all the cards upside down. Turn 2 at a time and try to find a match. Our constant laughter eventually awoke one child at a time who wiped the sleep from their eyes and swayed into the living room where we were playing to take it all in. When they realized what was going on they quickly shook off the sleep, gave Miss Donna a big hug and joined in. By the end everyone was playing and laughing. We started to translate the pictures into Kinyarwanda for me and English for them. 2 hours later I decided it was time for break. The rain had stopped so I started shooting portraits. They got back on the swing set and yelled "Miss Donna pushie please". What memories. As I was leaving for the day Marie Rose said "see you tomorrow" in English. I was floored. Clearly the investment that the kids of Abbott are making in her education is paying off! Zach, Reonarie and i walked back home. We played some more then suddnely one of the Aunties came out and announced that she had drawn me a bucket of hot water to bathe. The announcement came by her saying water/amaze and looking like she was washing herself. Not bad hmmm. Quite a luxury. She boils a small pot of water. Puts it in a bucket and then puts it in the bathroom. I add cold water until it's the right temp. All in all, it works well. They can't figure out why I bathe at night when they do it in the morning. For me, I simply need to get the dust and dirt of the day off. Since the kids don't have pjs, they just go to bed in their day clothes. The sheets that Lynn and Becky bought are working just great. They are doing well in the hand laundry! Dorcas and I played a lot. She's got a monster fro. It's simply adorable. I looked at my watch and tried to image 13 years ago what the sequence was like this evening. The president's plane shot down when landing. Killing began just 50 mins later. I imagined sitting in teh dark and maybe was maybe lucky enough to have kerosene lamps and a radio to listen to the news as the word of killing began to spread. As we walked down the dusty bumpy hill to the 2nds home and passed 3 young men standing in the street. I tried to imagine one turning with a machete in hand slowly butchering me. Cutting tendons so I couldn't run. Then cutting off an arm, maybe a leg etc. Laughing and drinking while enjoying the entertainment. Perhaps they would chose the way they often did for women. Raped by and Aids infected man. I know these thoughts are really not comprendable. But...this is EXACTLY what is happening in Darfur right now. They only difference is the Janjiweed are on horseback and choose to burn everything when they are finished with a village so there is nothing to return to if you are lucky enough to escape. If you haven't done so already. Please go to SAVEDARFUR.ORG and get smart on simple ways you can help. Certainly not happy thoughts for Good Friday. But a powerful one to be sure.

Everyone is trying to help

Thursday Morning. I arose early to make sure that i was ready for the 745am departure, but I know we are in Rwanda so we're on Rwanda time and mobilizing 17 people is a bit challenging. At 9 am the bus beeped at our gate and I jumped in. we bumped along on our way back to Chantal and Mbanda's. I arrived to see suitcases packed. "Are you leaving?" Was my question to a few of the travelers. "It's an overnight" was the reply. "oh". Oh well, what the heck, I just asked Chantal if she had an extra new toothbrush and i was on my way. At first I suggested to Chantal that I should stay with the kids as I had come to work. She thought it would be a good idea to see more of the country to learn more about the people. I fiugred it was a rare opportunity to I joined in. Imagine a bus with 25 people including 7 kids setting off for who knows where. The twists and turns of Rwanda are wonderful. We said a prayer for safety and asked for God's protection and we were off. On the journey we stopeed at the last King's palace. He was poisioned in 1961 which ended the feudal system and created the first election. It was won on a platform of Hutu power. Next we visited a coffee plantation; truly a highlight. The workers invited us to see everything close up. I took a ton of photos. It was great fun. There were about 25 kids gathering on the other side of the narrow river bank. They were filty beyond words with tattered clothes, but they had incredibly bright spirits. There was an elderly woman with a stick who kept shooing them away, ensuring they didn't cross the rickety old bridge to our side. I came over to visit them and started taking photos and playing with them. They laughed and laughed. Even the sweet old woman thought it was fun. Slowly they each crossed the bridge. Flat Stanley had a great time too. The other extra special part of the coffee plantation was knowing that Grower's First was involved here. Greg Hoyt from Mpls does work with them and bought the entire 1st crop of one plantation to roast here in Mpls. Grower's First teachs the plantation co-ops how to do justa few extra steps in processing...was, peal and dry. Those simple steps yielded a 3 fold income for the farmers Greg was working with despite the fact that shipping to the US was included. Remarkable what a little ingenuity can do. Tom and Jay Ritchie (Tom is the famous cyclist) work with a group called Spread. The Ritchie's are making "coffee bikes" so the co-op farmers can speed up the time it takes from harvest to getting to the cenral area. The bikes cost about $125 us each. They are well built for the conditions and the money is raised by people who buy coffee labeled "coffee bikes" in the states. How amazing is that? So many people trying to help make a difference. Such simple things. It's clear that people come to this country fall in love with the people and pour their hearts and souls into helping. Our Team Rwanda is just one more small example. Spending time with the workers close up really helped me understand how hard they work to make a buck. It's tedious and long hours. We then stopped by a roasting station. As a non coffee drinker I couldn't appreciate it as much as the others so I took the kids outside and entertained them with some local kids perched on the side of hill to stare at us. Yes we're as interesting to them as they are to us. Go figure. We pulled into the University touwn which was shaking with lots of energy. The main street was about 6 blocks long with basic commerce. Impressive. Gas ($4/us gal), cyber cafe, grocery/general merchandise store. We checked into our hotel. Not bad. Twin bed. Mosquito nets, hot water, toilet, who needs more? Dinner was great. It felt like a vacation day, but I was missing the kids. After dinner I went down to the cyber cafe and negotiated for a US Keyboard to make a post to the blog and then off to bed.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Returning home we gathered for songs of praise and prayer. It was also time to meet the President of Kids Across America who is leading this delegation. A wonderful man of faith who is listening to God’s call to help the children of Rwanda. The son of Tom Richie, Jay had also gathered. They are doing amazing things with bicycles with the coffee coops. I met a man in mpls named Greg Hoyt who is buying coffee from the coops. Darn outta time...gotta go.
Returning home we gathered for songs of praise and prayer. It was also time to meet the President of Kids Across America who is leading this delegation. A wonderful man of faith who is listening to God’s call to help the children of Rwanda. The son of Tom Richie, Jay had also gathered. They are doing amazing things with bicycles with the coffee coops. I met a man in mpls named Greg Hoyt who is buying coffee from the coops. Darn outta time...gotta go.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A horrific reminder

We arrived at Chantal and Mbanda's home which is finally finished. It's beautiful. I met a wall of people. Adults AND lots of kids. 6 kids ages 3 to 11. What a group of beautiful blessed people. They are all committed people of faith who do various things in the states related to helping kids. Most run summer sports camps. They are exploring the possiblity of creating one here. It's quite a vision and undertaking if God directs them to do it. How amazing is it to see all the people who are coming to serve this country that is in such need. We made our way to the genocide museum (without the kids) that I read about but didn't get to see in my last trip. It is a church where 5000 people were killed. The Hutus sent grenades through the walls and then killed the people with machetes. Until justa few months ago they literally had left the scene as it was as a constant memory. Yes that means bones etc scattered amidst the area...whereever they fell. They have now organized it in to sections. Skulls on stands in the church, clothes in a metal shed and shoes in another. There is dried blood on the walls. There is a another building with all sorts of stuff that people in flight had carried...some suitcases, cooking tools, umbrella etc. The woman that oversees the museum was a child who hid out during the genocide and survived. Imagine what it takes to stand amidst the space as a daily reminder...this must NEVER happen again. But of course it is...right now in darfur. Please...if you haven't done so, please do go to savedarfur.org to learn how you can make a difference.

Laughing until it hurts.

I awoke to singing and laughing in the home. The kids wake up early. There really isn’t much to do. They have 2 balls in the home, a couple of stuffed bears and a rattle so you make the best of it all. I play catch with the boys non stop. The boys are toooooo funny. Renere constantly corrects me to make sure I am pronouncing his name properly. When he throws the ball to me he fakes like he is going to throw it to Zach but then throws it to me EVERYTIME. He thinks it’s faking it well and rolls his eyes and makes a face like …you never know…this time I might not throw it to you miss donna…but then it come sailing across. I brought the boys over to the 1st home to play this morning. It was great having the kids together. But then it’s easy to run out of things to do there too. Throw a ball, sing the abc’s, count to 10, mirror funny body positions that I make….then what? Frankly their favorite thing is to dogpile on me and fight for position closest to my heart. I usually have 5 or 6 that have some how managed to get into my lap. They simply want to be hugged and loved. Yes, it is a universal need. They also like to dance. Someone donated money for a swing set and merry go round. It’s quite raw in it’s presentation but it does the trick. The only thing is that it’s made of metal and it’s super hot in the sun. They want to get on it, knowing it’s hot yet let out a little scream until they find a position to make it work. They have also turned into true brothers and sisters in a year so they poke a little, swipe things a little and nag a little so the tears flow a bit more freely. Ahh, true brotherly and sisterly love. We got a call later that afternoon that Chantal had returned to town so we all piled in a big bus that the visitors had rented and off we went to meet everyone. 15 kids and me bouncing along the bumpy road. Outta time for now… not sure when I can get back on line but until then, simply know that all is well.

Laughing until it hurts.

I awoke to singing and laughing in the home. The kids wake up early. There really isn’t much to do. They have 2 balls in the home, a couple of stuffed bears and a rattle so you make the best of it all. I play catch with the boys non stop. The boys are toooooo funny. Renere constantly corrects me to make sure I am pronouncing his name properly. When he throws the ball to me he fakes like he is going to throw it to Zach but then throws it to me EVERY TIME. He thinks it’s faking it well and rolls his eyes and makes a face like …you never know…this time I might not throw it to you Miss Donna…but then it come sailing across. I brought the boys over to the 1st home to play this morning. It was great having the kids together. But then it’s easy to run out of things to do there too. Throw a ball, sing the abc’s, count to 10, mirror funny body positions that I make….then what? Frankly their favorite thing is to dogpile on me and fight for position closest to my heart. I usually have 5 or 6 that have some how managed to get into my lap. They simply want to be hugged and loved. Yes, it is a universal need. They also like to dance. Someone donated money for a swing set and merry go round. It’s quite raw in its presentation but it does the trick. The only thing is that it’s made of metal and it’s super hot in the sun. They want to get on it, knowing it’s hot yet let out a little scream until they find a position to make it work. They have also turned into true brothers and sisters in a year so they poke a little, swipe things a little and nag a little so the tears flow a bit more freely. Ahh, true brotherly and sisterly love. We got a call later that afternoon that Chantal had returned to town so we all piled in a big bus that the visitors had rented and off we went to meet everyone. 15 kids and me bouncing along the bumpy road. Outta time for now… not sure when I can get back on line but until then, simply know that all is well.

So much to tell.

At a later date I will share the crazy story of my time in Nairboi...but for now I will move forward as I only have 1 hour of computer time at a cyber cafe about 3 hours from Kigali. 1 hour may sound like a long time...but on dial up it's about 10 mins. After a delay in Nairboi followed by a mechanical problem I was finally on my way. A hour flight to Buruni, 1 hour hold on the ground and then 20 mins later I was finally in Kigali. After i passed through customs I was searching for Chantal, but I didn't spot her. Oh no, perhaps she had the wrong day. I looked about and finally spotted a woman holding a sign with my name. Chantal and Mbanda were out of town with 17 guests from the states who are hearing exploring creating a huge sports camp for kids. The woman was Mbanda assistant's and she spoke a bit of english. I asked if we could stop and get water. No problem. A case of water in a small car bumping our way down the street and we were off. It felt so familiar. I knew where we were going and marked the terrific progress that had been made in the past year. We arrived at the beautiful new home that just opened 2 months ago. We have 4 kids there. Providence who is 4 weeks old, Zach about 6, Reneree about 6, Silve 1 year (she had been found in the bushes the day i left and has been in and out of the hospital since) and to my surprise Dorcas. Dorcus was just 4 weeks old when I was here last time and I delighted to see her since I expected her to be in the 1st home. She got quite the fro. The mommy and aunties greeted me warmly. I knew one of them from last time. It was a regular old reunion. I asked Mbanda's assistant if we could go to the 2nd home before she left. It's just a short distance...up a dirt road and around the corner. It was exciting to just walk up to the house without Chantal getting them all worked up. When I arrived the kids came running. I didn’t really expect them to remember me a year later but in my heart I sorta hoped there would be some type of connection. The kids come up and greet everyone who arrives so I know it wasn’t just for me. Then we sat on the floor and began to play. Within about 5 mins, Fabiola, the oldest, looked at me and started to sing the ABC song I taught them last time. The other kids joined in. They all look so good. They are healthier and so happy. Sweet Paul and Rose Mary whose mother (dying from aids) had brought them to the home 2 days before I left last time were sooo happy now. When I left Paul had cried nonstop for 36 hours. Rose Mary was really distant. Now they were bright and bubbly. Marie Rose who weighed 28 pounds at age 4 as she had been eating beans and potatoes from the garden and had a huge distended stomach when last I saw her is now simply stunning. She’s quite a beauty. Sabrina is even more playful and yes the little girl name Dorene aka Kababy (silly one) who stole my heart last time snatched it right back. She knew exactly where to sit in my lap and claims that spot as her own. I am completely in love with this little charmer. Deborah is can now walk at age 2 despite her cerebral palsy. She’s adorable. I could go on and on about each child. All I know for sure is that the love, prayers and financial support that you all have been giving has literally turned their world rightside up. The milk from the cows is blessing their bodies abundantly. I was hanging at the 1st home when the milk delivery came. He had 2 big metal bottle strapped to his bike. Yesterday I saw the drive he had to make each day. It must take him and hour each way and there is a huge hill on the return trip. Thank you Bill, JoAnne and William for 2 beautiful cows. You will never know what you have really done. It was so much fun having to translate without Chantal trying to get the ball rolling. I took the teaching materials that I had brought this time and began to figure out some words. I would point to the color or object and say it in English..then they would tell me in kinyarwanda. We laughed until we split a gut. We did ok…and those things that we couldn’t figure out they just looked at me with puzzled faces and we laughed and gave up. The second home does not have any electricity yet. The stove is a charcoal cooking stove outside like we had last time. The sink in the bathroom has a tiny tiny stream of water and the bucket provides the African bath. Except for last night where I used a tiny bottle of water…but you’ll have to wait for the next entry to hear about that one. No electricity makes for good humor and lots of love. You just sit on the floor with one small candle and sing or play. They do have a battery powered radio to listen to songs and dance. There are simply no distractions other than the constant work. I tried to help do some wash in the bucket but they laughed and me and said ‘no miss donna’…I said eggo…which is yes…and they said “no no no”…we laughed and I lost the round. I brought these terrific lights that you hand crank for 60 seconds in order to provide about 1 hour of light…but alas they provided about 2 mins. Thankfully I brought my headlamp so I was able to easily get around in my room and the house. They do seem to be working a bit longer each day. Night one. Tylenol PM and happy as the right to be in life.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

All is perfect

No time to write more...but I am here in Rwanda. The kids are amazing. All is well. Will try to write in a few days. So much to share. Thanks to all who have been helping these children...you just won't believe how they are thriving.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Safe n Sound in Nairobi

Thus far my trip has simply been effortless. The 4 hour layover in Amsterdam went by in a flash...just enough time to pop by the world club to get online and do some walking through the terminal prior to my flight to Nairobi. The Nairobi flight was packed. I was thankful to have an aisle seat on the MD11. Especially thankful when my seatmates arrived and they had to smush in to the seats. There we were 3 pack sardines....it was set to be a very long long flight with hardly any legroom and tall people next to me trying to fold in half to fit into the seat. Thankfully, a seat opened up in front of me and I lept for it. Ahhh, an aisle seat with no one seated next too me. Quite deluxe indeed. I got some terrific sleep (when of course I should have been awake to adjust my body clock). It was good to be in Nairobi again. I think of Heidi's 2 trips in the past year and now Lisa joining in the crew next week. Surely my life is filled with people who have a love for this continent including Marc and his work in SL. I made my way to the world club where I was intending to spend the night (8pm until 8 am) prior to my flight to Rwanda. Unforturnately they said my world club card was not accectable as I was flying outbound on Kenya Air vs KLM. I assured them that if KLM had a flight to Rwanda, I would be on it. I stood my ground for about 45 mins with kindness, firmness and silent prayer. Eventually she allowed me to pass, for how long...I'm not sure. I immediately headed to the computer so I could begin my conversations with Sandy and Erika who were at their computers for our prescheduled chat. Signing onto .mac took about 30 mins. Opening an email 20-30 mins...so I gave up and told them I would blog for bit and try to sign on later. Ahhh, the art of slower than slow dial up. It's the perfect transition to a pace that will soon be slowing even more. Oh, I almost forgot about one important thing. I looked at the name on the KLM plane from Amsterdam to Nairobi, she was cristened Mother Theresa. It was kind of s silent affirmation for me. NOT that I would consider myself 1/100th of Mother Theresa, it was simply a reminder of her call to help the homeless and people in need. I turned around and saw a young woman from her order. We struck up a conversation and she was sheer joy. She joined the order 10 years ago at 18. She speaks 5 languages and has been most recently working in Poland. She was on her way home to see her family home for the 1st time in 10 years. Various members of her family had seen her thoughout the years but this was her 1st official vacation. She was delighted to say the least. When I was trying to get into the worldclub in Nairobi I met a young man who is doing a documentary of various things in Rwanda. He just shot a film of a bee farmer. A gentleman was trying to help them perfect their output. They put it on line and he raised quite a bit of money to help. What a wonderful world we live in. There are so many people doing so many wonderful things every day to help those in need. Perhaps it's with a neighbor, perhaps sponsoring a child somewhere or using their physical hands to make a difference. It's quite a world we live in. While I am a bit time warped, I am beginning to get a bit more excited to see the kids. I know they won't remember me but Chantal will have them worked up enough to make me believe that they do. Either way, I am so blessed to be on this journey.

In Amsterdam

The journey continues. Quite a contrast to last year as my friend Erika likes to remind me. This trip I head to Rwanda with a series of "knowns." But I am confident that there will be many delightful surprises along the way too. Having seen many parts of this planet, it's especially rare for me to go back to some place I have been. I ususally keep moving forward to new places. But, in a funny way, my return to Rwanda is moving forward. My departure was a study in contrasts. My last shower for the next 2 weeks, basking in the rain of hot water contrasted to my upcoming 'African bath' of boiled water from a charcoal cooking stove placed in a small thermos mixed with cold water from a wash tube. A McDonald's send off vs eating out of my suitcase. Determining what clothes to bring vs the people people of Rwanda who mainly have 2 sets of clothes. Carrying a bag full of technology (Mac, 2 cameras, video camera etc) to capture the stories that I need to bring back to tell their story in the states in a country where 90% of the people live in mud huts. I am eager to see the kids and smother them with kisses. Seeing their faces again. Faces that have been frozen in time via my camera when I know indeed they are a year older. I am excited to know that they will be on holiday the time that I am there. Kids in Rwanda go to school year round with 2 short breaks in the year...one is perfectly timed for my trip. Another blessing. I was however looking forward to walking the 40 mins these sweet kids walk each way to and from school each day. Looks like I may need another workout routine. Will have to settle for jumping around with the kids. On that plane I thanked God that I was able to get an emergency row window. I built my little nest. The emergency door was slightly ahead of my seat so it was much warmer than usual. I took my 2 tylenol pm's as I boarded the plane, ready for a good night sleep. The only one I will likely get for the next 36 hours of travel. We had a mechanical which I slept through, barely woke up for takeoff and then unfortunately tossed and turned most of the night. Hmmm, just couldn't get comfy. Oh well, and so it goes. Several people have asked how one gets to Rwanda. My route is Mpls to Amsterdam, to Nairobi then about an hour and a half to Rwanda. Our homes are around 20 mins from the airport so once I leave Nairobi I am almost there. Total travel time is about 36 hours. Thanks to Cathy Storms who provided transportation and a big send off hug just one month prior to her wedding. Thanks Cathy. Catherine Bension sent my final inbound blackberry email of inspiration as I was boarding the plane. Yes, my fingers/thumbs will get a rest from their perpetual "2 thumbing" on my blackberry. Everything thus far has been simply effortless. NWA only charged me excess baggage for one of the 2 overweight bags full of supplies. I was able to easily convert some more $20s to $50 and $100. Rwanda has a unique money system. They don't take US $20s nor do they take bills older than 2001. Why? Not a clue. Thankfully Chantal serves as my bank when I arrive as there are no ATMS. No travelers checks are accepted and credit cards are only accepted at the 2 nice hotels. I suppose there are benefits to a cash society...less debt. That's it for now. Hopefully I will be able to jump back online in Nairobi. If you don't hear from me for quite some time it just means that the internet was down from here forward. Fear not, I travel under the wing of protection of God. "It's all good" as Jack Rooney would say.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Each one reach one. We can make a difference.

Passport Arrived today

Thanks to an amazing woman named Sue, my passport arrived this morning....perfectly timed for my departure tomorrow! My passport had expired in February and given the backlog, I didn't want to chance it until I knew I had the trip confirmed. In church tonight I had a moment to pause and embrace a spirit of thankfulness that I am able to make this journey again. I am sure that it will really hit me tomorrow when I board the plane. Until then there is much to accomplish

Friday, March 30, 2007

Supplies are set. Looking for donations to have some clothes made.

Thanks to all of the people that donated supplies for this trip. The response has been terrific. My friend and neighbor Danette spent the evening helping me prioritize and pack. We are only allowed 50 lbs per bag, so it's tough making decisions. We prioritized medicine first. Then clothes for the new kids that have home to the second home with only the clothes on their backs. The great news is 2 wonderful young ladies are going to spend the month of July helping so we know we'll be able to get the supplies there in a short period of time. We also have a plan to bless the staff that works so hard. Each have about 2 pair of clothes. We have 2 mommies, 5 aunties and 2 uncles so to speak. Our plan is to raise enough money to have a tailored outfit made for each of them for Easter. Thus far we have raised $140. If you care help, please let me know and I will cover your IOU> Chantal's uncle passed away yesterday, so please keep then in your prayers.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Heading Back to Rwanda this Sunday. A year later, I return to the people and land that captured my heart. A year later, I come to fully realize that God has a plan for me to continue the work there. For those of you who are new to this journey…here is a little background. Last year I felt God calling me to help the people of Africa. Certainly the media and people like Bono and Oprah have created a real awareness for the people of this continent which is 4x the size of the US. My initial calling is to a tiny spec of a country – Rwanda and the tiniest of its people…the precious orphans. Quick facts on the country: The genocide of 1994 killed 1 million people in 100 days. Imagine a country the size of Maryland with 10,000 people being killed in a very personal way (with machetes) one on one. Imagine the 300,000 orphans left behind with 85,000 of them creating their own home units…a 6 year old raising a 2 year old. Imagine that the Rwanda of today has 1 million orphans, an average household income of $210 a year and the distinction of being one of five countries in the world with a life expectancy under 50. 47 for men, 46 for women. Imagine a country with a thousand hills filled with hearts full of hope. Imagine that we can make a difference. Meet Mbanda and Chantal. Mbanda fled the country in 1954 as a 4 year old. He was raised in a refugee settlement going to school under a tree. At age 20 he decided there had to be a better life. He decided it needed to come via education. His instincts told him to hope for a brighter future. He walked for 6 months to Nairobi. Imagine leaving all that you know with not a penny in your pocket and setting out in search of your future. Simultaneously a 27 year old woman in Indiana heard about Mbanda from some people in her church who were doing mission work in his refugee settlement. She got the $600 that she had just received as wedding gift money to him and…..fast forward. Mbanda graduated with a Phd from the States and spent 21 years here with is wife Chantal and their 4 kids. A year ago they returned to Rwanda to complete the circle. Chantal has felt a real calling to serve the orphans. We are doing it in a very personal way. We’re stting up homes. Not orphanages. Truly homes… 10 kids under 5 per home, a mommy, and aunties (staff). The first home opened February of 06 and the second one a year later, just last month. The kids receive all that they will need to thrive. Love, faith, education, medical needs etc. We take the kids as we receive them. All come with medical needs, some greater than others. I have spent the last year telling their story and raising money. Together we have done remarkable things. The kids in my neighbor raised enough money to send 2 kids to school for a year. That’s $660 from a water and lemonade stand near the Edina art fare! We have people donating $50/month to help sponsor the basic needs of a child. We have people donating $310 to pay for the education of a child in a private school so they can actually excel as the government run schools have 75 kids per classroom. One of our kids…Fabiola is actually #1 in her class! Thanks to the generosity some a wonderful man and his family, we have purchased 2 cows that ensure the kids get all the milk they need to grow strong. A big change from a year ago when they only go 1/2 cup a day! We’ve added goats for widows and are raising money for a garden so they can get fresh fruits and vegetables. The intent is to sell the incremental milk and veggies to help offset the costs of running the home. The daughter of someone I work with is going to spend the month of July helping the kids. Chantal has no formal training as she set out on this mission. Just a mother’s love. When I was there a year ago I met a mom who was dying and came to give her two kids to us and say goodbye. I promised then to do my part to ensure that had a chance at a happy life. I met a 4 year old who weighed just 28 pounds when she came to us…the same as the one year old we had. This is a story of hope of a future. Hence the names of our homes New Hope Homes. Last year this week, I got on a plane knowing nothing about where I was heading or who I would meet. A year later I board the plane with a sense of purpose, a sense of thankfulness for the many people who have contributed time, prayers and/or money. I mostly welcome your prayers for all those that are trying to make the dream of a future come true. If you would like to help financially, I would be happy to accept your tax deductible donation: Please make your check to CALM c/o Donna Wiederkehr 5217 Abbott Ave South Mpls MN 55410. I will return with their stories and continue to spread the word. We hope to have the website constructed by early summer. I’ve never been good about asking people for money for anything…but when it comes to these kids, I know that the need is real and the results to date remarkable. Money goes from your hands, to mine to theirs. We hope to have 2 more homes built in the next year or two, thus caring for 40 kids. As I said in the beginning. It’s a small spec of help in the world…but to these kids we are everything. No story about Rwanda is complete without acknowledging the genocide currently taking place in Darfur. Please go to savedarfur.com and learn more. They offer simple ways to help like notifying you when there is key vote pending on congress or the US. It is also a great resource to stay up to date on the issues. It’s real. It’s the first time that the US has acknowledged genocide WHILE it is happening…vs acts of genocide. You can make a difference. Please get educated on the issue. I will again share my photographic journey with anyone who is interested. You can also stay current on my blog at rwandadonna.blogspot.com Blessings and thanks Donna Wiederkehr rwandadonna@mac.com 612.791.4800