Friday, January 20, 2012

When are you going back to Rwanda and who is Harv?

These are the two questions I am getting asked a lot lately.

The first question is easy. I’ll be back in April, then August, then December this year. I have two signed up for April. Who else is in???

Re: Harvin. His decision to come to Rwanda happened so quickly that I realized we never quite explained on the blog. Harv and I worked together at Campbell Mithun for many years. We were never in the same dept and our roles didn’t have us overlapping much so we both knew each other very little.

Harvin left CM late in 2011 and was enjoying some much-needed time off before deciding how best to plot the next stage in his career. During one of his networking meetings a former colleague of ours (Tim Hawley) suggested he step away from everything and do a service project in December. Another mutual friend suggested he talk to me about my life’s work in Rwanda. He came to my annual Christmas fund raiser for New Hope Homes and spent an hour talking to Roxie Goertz whose son Liles came to Rwanda about a year ago. As he was leaving my home he asked me to give him 2 mins on what our needs are….ie do we need anything built, painted etc etc? I said “We simply need good people, especially men, to come and love our kids. It’s especially important for our boys to get exposure to men who can serve as role models.” I told him that some people just don’t understand how important it is to just be with our kids, to love them, to let them read to us, to teach them. To hold them in their arms. The simply gifts that matter so much.

I was supposed to be leaving for Rwanda in few days so it was just a brief chat and we agreed to chat sometime in the near future about this work or other ideas where he could serve.

My trip got delayed due to work. Thus a few weeks later I left him a message that I was leaving in a week and he was welcome to join me if he wanted.

He got his mom to watch is dog and called back with “I’m in”.

Thus began the odyssey. He offered to bring two of the supply bags as his luggage and simply use carry on for himself. I was to arrive 2 days before him and he would stay 5 days after I left.

So there you have it. 2 people who didn’t really know each other. A very limited ‘brief’ of what he should expect. Me.. exhausted from a 4 month pitch and hoping Harvin’s addition to the team would be a good one vs sucking the last ounce of my limited reserve from me.

To make a long story short. Harvin was exactly what the kids needed in EVERY dimension. His connection with them was very real. It was powerful. It blew me away. I have never seen anyone so quickly and fully fall in love with these kids and immediately sense what they each needed.

On his 2nd day in Rwanda. I looked at him and said “you know you have a gift for working with kids…right?” The look on his face was priceless…. And his honest reply “No, I didn’t”….completely oblivious to the gift.

After each volunteer wraps their session at New Hope Homes, I like to write a tribute to them for their family and friends to see. Harvin got a 5 page letter from me. Below are some of the highlights.

Harvin, here are the beautiful gifts you gave our kids.


29 kids all wanting your time is intense. It’s hard to have one on your back, two on your knees one rubbing your head …And of course 2-3 yelling across the way “Harvin, Harvin…you see, you see”. You found a way to never let that intensity misfire.

One of my favorite moments was watching you sit patiently with Fabiola and Anna as they did their Lego project. Encouraging them every step of the way that they could do it. They could really do it. Never to give up. To keep believing they could do it. Celebrating every step along the way with a chest pump and peaceout sign.


You understood the simple gift of how a child feels when someone has their arms wrapped around them. It feels safe. It feels warm. It feels goooooooood. It is the simple act that gave so many of our kids a moment to really truly feel that. The sweetest memory for me was Nshimye asleep in your arms on the ground in front of the 2nd home with the 2 aunties just soaking it up. Jaki just kept looking at the situation with tears in her eyes as she saw the simplicity of this gift of love. The safety. The peace. The serenity. The love. That image is seared in my mind as so much of who you are. Exhausted from giving everything and sleeping so little, yet easing a boy who needed a little extra love into your arms and allowing him the beautiful gift of slumbering there. I would guess that when he has a hard time sleeping at night he may try to find that memory and the safety of your embrace to lull himself back to sleep.


You showed Isaac that strong men, real men, good men, men who love, men who know who they are, men who feel deeply ….do indeed shed tears. Those tears show pain, those tears help get the pain out…or at least attempt to get some of the pain out.

I asked him yesterday if he had ever seen a man cry or if you were the first. He said you were the first. That was a life long gift you gave him. Permission to feel deeply. To let the deep cuts, the wounds be felt and then to rise to the surface and pour out when they need to. That is a lasting gift. A real blessing.


I assumed the girls would like you and find you charming, but I didn’t expect that you would touch them they way you did. They craved to be in your arms. They craved to ensure that you saw them when they did something well from school to yoga and everything in between. I think it also gave them a feeling about how good it is to have a good man wrap his arms around them and some day they will hopefully be able to discern what it feels like to have a good man vs a bad man wrap their arms around them and will choose to look for a good man.


The favorite lesson that we taught was about respect. In your silliness you broke through and helped them really understand. It gave us the meaningful tools so that we could reference the word throughout the week and they immediately understood. Sure that was fun for you (good cop!), but you had the gift and sense of creativity to ensure I didn’t turn it in to a forgettable lesson.


Clearly the story of Isaac is seared into your heart and soul for a lifetime. So, I’ll let that one live there and stay there in your heart.

Rather, I’ll focus on others. First, sitting forehead to forehead with Fabiola and just being present to her. She is a tough little soul trying to sort her way through the world from a tough tomboy to preteen and all the complexities that come with all of it. Of course this is on top of being a total orphan. I sat hiding behind the safety of the lens of my camera and just breathed in what is the gift of you with her. You gave her time. Not just a little lesson in how to breathe, but to really feel you. You didn’t rush it. You were just there. Present. To know you genuinely care. You just held her head on both sides and pressed your foreheads together with an attempt to help take the calm and peace that was in your heart and try to transfer it to her. A man who had the strength to give a little girl the gentle spirit of your love. Your endless effort to get her to look up so she could see the love in your eyes and feel it rather than the constant gaze to the floor that is often our Fabiola. You took the time with her to ultimately ‘fight’…in this case it was ease her into trying the yoga pose with you. And now, you have a beautiful frog drawing by her to re-live that moment.

Sitting with 4 crying boys the night after I left said it all. Being present. Being safe. The part that you might not have understood is that many of those tears are advance tears knowing that today would be their last day with you. While they might not have the best sense of time, they understand the cascading effect of me leaving, you leaving and school starting.


From running to yoga, you taught them the joy and strength that comes from taking take of your body. Keeping it fit, strengthening it and of course, in yoga finding some inner peace and strength. Of course you made each of them fun – turning running into tasting coffee and yoga into gymnastics, but through it, you have given two additional life lessons. Yes, life lessons.

To Harv’s Family and Friends that have shaped his life journey…. on behalf of the kids of New Hope Homes, we thank you for the blessings of this man what you helped create.

To those of you who haven't read the post that preceded this one, please will help explain some of the context for his tribute. His other guest entry will give you more insights too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Count me in for either August or December. I can't wait. -Karen