Thursday, December 31, 2009

The countdown begins 12.31.09

We’re about 4 hours away from new years here in Rwanda. Alas my sore throat and loss of voice have kept me in bed for a good portion of the day. I figure it best to knock it out fast so I can get back into gear. By early evening I popped out to see the kids who are still trying to figure out why I don’t have much of a voice. Thankfully two young ladies Kelly and Sarah are here and doing a great job. They’ve been singing and doing school work. They also went to Chantal’s home yesterday to bake cookies and brought them out today for the kids to frost. Excellent pre-planning from the States on their side. I may have to do that next time. It reinforces how many people come through our kids lives every year to add just another touch of grace and love to them. Most they will never see again, and some like me, they will never stand of chance of losing. I’ve signed up for life! But each, in their own way bless these kids and leave a LASTING imprint. I am so impressed with the kids command of English now. It’s really come a LONG way in the past 11 months. We also did a fun new thing today…we skyped! I sent a computer over in March with some other volunteers and have been funding the wireless here but haven’t been able to pull off a call. Today we did. We skyped with The Pursey family who was able to meet Kayitesti. Susan Pursey rallied friends and co-workers to raise $1100 in the past 3 weeks to pay for her boarding school. Kayitesi loved speaking with their kids Bryn and Beckett. Bryn even braved the MN snow to show them how to sled. Next we connected intermittently with my Mom as the video kept dropping too. The Kittleson’s were next. Then out of no where Tina Puente’s Dad called me on skype. Totally great humor. I passed my love to Tina via him. I hope we can keep making calls so people in the states can get to meet our kids close up. Today I told the Kids the Liles is bringing computers. The look on their faces was indescribable. They are SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO excited. At the moment we have one XO computer that the Kvam’s donated last year. These traditionally sized computers filled with kids software is sure to open up serious new doors for our kids. Thanks to Roxann, their friends and the folks at Campbell Mithun for sending these along with Liles. My only mistake was telling them about the computers today because as the evening presses on they all keep asking “what day?” “When do the computers come?” Liles, you’re sure to the hit of the party. We just have to wait 7 LONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNG days for your arrival. I also got an opportunity to meet Eric Mbanda who is visiting from the states. Another facebook friend turns 3d and it’s wonderful. I wish he were staying longer so we could get to know each other better. The house is now still. Everyone went down to the compound to play and ring in the new year. Claudine the Auntie who is my home went to church to ring in the new year. She’ll be there from 9 pm until 6 AM. I would love to be at either place but for now, I need to get rid of this throat issue. FAST. I may have the guard walk me down to the compound just prior to midnight…or just stay here and soak it all in solo. Nice reflection time. Thank you for sharing in our journey. My prayers as I set out on this trip were that I would learn what I needed to learn here, have the wisdom to meet the kids needs and the discernment to determine how we can best help them next. I will keep my eye on these three and thank you for caring enough to follow along. PS. Thanks to Ashley’s WONDERFUL additional funds, we now have raised enough to send Innocent to boarding school. Just a few hundred more needed to help with Kayitesi and we’re set. If you care to dump some year end tax money, just click on the button to the right of this post or go to May your new year -Your new decade = bring you unspeakable joy and deep wisdom.

Desami's morning bath.


Literally and Figuratively. Literally Somewhere in transit I left my voicebox. What is left resembles a tired old baratone. Hopefully it will return quickly. Figuratively Upon arrival I was greeted by Chantal and Mbanda. I had sent them several emails to NOT come to the airport at 2:30 in the AM to pick me up, rather send a driver. But as always, their hearts are too big to contain and they arrived. We hugged and hugged and hugged. I am so happy to be here. Getting through customs was a bit of a challenge given that I am one person traveling with 7 monster size bags. But after about 30 minutes of my best Kinyarwanda and photos of the kids they let me pass. Visiting with Chantal and Mbanda is simply like coming home. They have adjusted the sleeping arrangements so the volunteers are now at the 1st house and the kids are in the 2nd and 3rd…so I am staying in the room that I first stayed in 4 years ago. Sweet memories. Jean Pierre met us at the gate and greeted me with a hello, how are you in English. He was one of my most diligent students. Dear dear Claudine was the next to greet me. She is one of the Auntie’s and full of the love of God. We hugged….neither of us wanted to let go. I sent Chantal and Mbanda on their way as I started to get settled in. Sleep was of course futile as I was like a kid at Christmas thinking that Santa had delivered the prezzies, but I couldn’t go down and see them. in this case, the prezzies were simply getting my arms around the kids. As the rooster cock-a-doodledooed the daybreak hours later I went to greet the kids. As I walked to the compound I soaked in the simple pleasures of life in Rwanda. Beautiful people walking to and fro, remnants of the morning rain lingered with sun sparkling off of it. As I approached the compound I wondered if the old truck would still be rusting on the corner. Check. Double check. Still there. Progress comes slowing and quickly in this country. I took a deep breath and listened to the laughter of the kids behind the gate. I reminded myself to have no expectations. They may not remember me. They may be distant. As I banged on the metal gate I heard Fabiola and called her name. They kids came running and warmly welcomed Miss Donna with so much love. Later that told Chantal that they loved me this much…you know…the kind where you stretch your arms out as far as you can to show that it’s a lot. The walked through the compound the squeals of various kids as I found them in some stage of getting ready for the morning. The weaker of the Desami twins is getting stronger. Yeah. So much to learn about each child to see how they are doing. The kids at the boarding school are home until the end of January and are using the time wisely. THEY are teaching the kids in the classroom each day. More to report as the days go on. For now, know that I where I belong on this New Years Eve. In the country and with the people that have captured my heart and love. It’s the perfect way to ease into a new decade. (That's not to say that I don't love America and my family and friends get it.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Making Progress

Amsterdam security was a bit challenging as they are now allowing only 1 carry on. I am of course packed to the gills with massive roll-on filled exclusively with camera equipment, external hard drives, a back pack and oversize fanny pack. Thankfully I was able to 'inspire' them to let me on with everything. If I had to choose I would keep the suitcase and send through the backpack as Kenya Airlines lost Abby and Sarah's bags for a month on a trip about a year ago. The camera equipment is essential. Safely in Nairobi now staring at some Tuskers beer and thinking about my Dad who loves it. Next stop Burundi...THEN Kigali. Then load the bags up and head to the homes. WHOO HOO.

Here are the photos referenced in the prior post.

It takes a village

As I begin the 1st leg of my journey, I am overwhelmed with the generosity of so many people that have embraced our kids in Rwanda. They have given so freely of their time, resources, love and/or prayers. As I prepare my heart to breathe in the gift of seeing our kids, I have been reflecting on the village that accompanies me. Here are some highlights. I almost hate to call people out as I am sure to forget so many, but I want people to understand the village that it takes to help our family village in Rwanda. THE KIDS OF ABBOTT Each year the kids of Abbott Street in Mpls do a big fund raiser to help. They host a water and lemonade stand about a block from a major art fare in town. The kids work 8 full hours trying to inspire people to donate money to help our kids in Rwanda. The Moms and Dads are present but really let the kids do their thing. The kids have all sorts of selling techniques including my favorite where two kids catch someone a block away and tell them the whole story. Zander ,Cam and Henry were the key pitchmen this year. By the time they approach our stand the ‘buyers’ already have their wallets out. We laugh and rejoice. Special thanks to the people who come by and make a purchase. We just ask for a donation, so the going rate is quite extreme – from 50 cents to vast sums like $100 and $200 per glass. Tina Puente has been a regular at our stand. She seems to think that our lemonade is VERY good as she continues to pay top dollar. Jennifer Martin bought a $100 cup too, she then called later to see if we needed to sell some virtually…you got it…she bought some more via the phone. Sue Manber bought a $100 virtual glass from our facebook posting. The kids took a photo of them holding the glass and posted it for her to see. These kids have been the foundation of our 1st fund raising as they decided they wanted to help DO something. They put their heads together and came up with the plan to send one of the kids to school for a year. Thus they set out to raise $310. 1st year total sales equaled $660. The last two have been over $900. Isn’t that simply amazing? Ahh, what we could learn from kids. Nothing is impossible for them. They don’t see the barriers that we do as adults. They just set out to DO. It’s been a full circle experience for these kids as Chantal and Mbanda (the couple from Rwanda) have come through Mpls 2x and personally visited with the kids. The kids in the neighborhood also have done amazing things like Alice forgoing presents for her birthday party and instead asking the kids to bring stuff for our kids in Rwanda. Anthony who has purchased 2 bikes for our kids. Adam and Ben who each year comb through some of their favorite toys and give to me to send along with their love. Various kids also do their own fundraising in the summer with individual lemonade stands. Merideth (about 6) is really into it and I love coming home to find a Ziploc bag with a bunch of loose change in it from her days sales. Think about the size of her heart. She works for her sales and then freely gives it to our kids. These kids give so freely. Thanks to you parents who are teaching your kids such important life lessons. The Mommies of Abbott Erika has been the driving force ensuring we send the best supplies that are needed. She is constantly pressing me to be attentive to the shoes that are more durable, the best type of clothing etc. etc. Danette, Tera, Lynn, Sarah, etc etc. You are such a blessing to the true preparation it takes for each trip. Personal rally people. Our village is supported by people like Susan Pursey who this year decided to personally set out to raise $1100 in the past couple of weeks to send Kayitesi to boarding school. She’s rallied friends and co-workers to fill in the gaps. People like the Hansens who are sponsoring Marie Rose’s boarding school. People like Bobbi Miller who quickly found a person to fund Fabiola’s boarding school when the current funding fell through. Tina’s decision to provide for the needs of one our kids set off a giving cascade effect amongst her friends who joined in. They each took so much time to make sure they sent just the right things. Then all the people who give so freely each year. Lee Baker, Earl Herzog, Pat Cameron, Hansen’s etc etc. Know that your investment in our kids’ future will yield outstanding results. FRIENDS IN NY. The giving spirit has expanded as I have been working in NY for the 1.5 years. Former co-workers at Lowe sponsored kids with clothes and shoes. People like Erika Horvath who sent though a massive supply of brilliant shoes. People like Ros Weinstein who has been to Rwanda and immediately jumped into action. Peole like Leeann Leahy, who had each of her kids shop for one child around their age. Big hearts like Lisa Colantuono who sent a massive box of supplies on my last trip.The love that comes from each of you is carried forth in each item and each dollar. FACEBOOK FRIENDS Some of you I know personally, others are virtual friends that I only know through facebook. What I do know is you RESPOND. When I post needs, you fill them. The list for this trip was: shoes, socks, undies, educational toys, an outfit. Etc etc. You personally did it. You invited your kids to make the selections. You simply wrapped your arms around our kids and said “how can I help”. I am grateful for the opportunity to accompany 7 bags filled with your love. For some, the giving was from their surplus…for others it was from their base income needed to sustain their lives. In each case, I am grateful. A special shout out to the Facebook friends who help spread the word like Mike Duda, Mitch Caplan, John Gerzema, etc etc. This team has used their vast following on Facebook and twitter to help spread the word about our work in Rwanda. Each of you, in your giving, is literally changing the course of Rwanda’s future. This is not an overstatement. Rwanda is 1 of 5 countries in the world with a life expectancy under 50. The average person makes $210 a YEAR. School is compulsory through 6th grade, but the student teacher ratio is 75:1, so it’s hard to really teach. Chantal and Mbanda believe education is the way out of poverty so this is why our kids go to private school. At $310 a year, you can see that it is a gift. The kids in Rwanda REALLY understand the gift that education brings to their life and the diligent way they study reflects it. Last year 4 of our older kids (about 8-11ish) had shown such promise they were accepted into boarding school about 2 hours away. Cost for boarding school is $1100/child/year. Funding appeared and they were able to attend. January of this year I was able to join them on their journey to school. I can’t fully put into words the excitement in what this opportunity represented to them. I can’t wait to see how a year has blessed them. The bonus for me is that surely they will be able to speak some English now. WHOO HOO. Most of my posts are not likely to be this long. And hopefully they will be filled with the photos you crave, but for now, these are thoughts I wanted to share. I have included one group shot from my January trip so we can see the joy that await me. It does indeed take a village. I am thankful for each of you. PS Didn’t get much sleep on the 1st leg of my trip due to a few screaming babies…and I mean screaming. ..the kind where in between the tears they gasp for fresh breath and go again. Bless their dear hearts.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Thanks to Steve, Sherri and Scott who helped me get 7 huge bags into the Schaefer-mobile and to the airport. Delta took all 7 so it's sure to make for an amazing New Year when I arrive. Prayera for protection that all bags make it through and nothing is removed in transit. I will update when I next have access to the Internet. The plane will begin boarding shortly. Thanks for sharing in the journey.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Departure Countdown

I leave for Rwanda tomorrow. Thanks to the incredible hearts of so many people I am bringing along 5 bags of supplies. A total of 350lbs of goodness. I've packed your wonderful wonderful outfits for each our 30 kids. My friend Erika was again my partner in crime to try to get things organized. I am also bringing lots of educational tools to help the kids with their skillsets. Some classic fun things are packed too: jump ropes, candy canes,CDs, DVD,s pick 'em up sticks, kurplunk etc. CJ stopped by today with some extra toothpaste, shoes and wraps that he couldn't get to Etheopia, so I am thrilled to add them to the mix. In the past 3 weeks we've also raised the funds to send nearly 4 more kids to Boarding School. We're looking for about $350 more if you have any year end tax deductions that you are looking for. You can donate online via this blog or at the website: Kids in Rwanda, even at a very young age, believe that Education is the most powerful gift that they can receive. They take studying to be a real treasure. Many have asked how I get to Rwanda. The route is long: US to Amsterdam, then to Nairboi, then Burundi and ultimately Kigali, Rwanda. I land at 2:10 AM on the 31st to I should be thru customs and into the arms of the dear Mommies by 4AMish. The outbound layovers are not too bad this time. 3 hours in Amsterdam and another 3 in Nairobi. The return has a 6 hour layover in Nairobi and 10 in Amsterdam. I am especially excited about the 2 other folks that will be joining me from the States at various points of my trip....more about that as it unfolds. So often people say "gee, I would sure like to join you on one of your trips to Rwanda"...these 2 decided they really wanted to experience it close up and booked their flights. It's going to be so wonderful to share it with them. For now, I fight the exhaustion of endless days with limited to sleep to ensure I have just the right supplies and push through for another 12 hours. I will update this blog as I get access to the internet. No blackberry this time. I will also share a bit more background about our work if you are new to New Hope Homes, Rwanda. Here's to a safe journey and the insightful eyes so I can discover what's needed next.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

10 more days

I leave for Rwanda in 10 days. It's call coming together so quickly. Thank you to all of you who so generously reached out to help provide our 30 kids with new clothes and shoes. I feel like Santa as Erika and I begin to pack the bags. Clearly each of you took time to really think about what each child might like. The personal notes/photos you enclosed are so precious. I will be sure to hug each child with your love when I greet them. As I put my head down each night, I have flashes of what it will be like the first day I am back. I land at 2:15 AM so I will probably be to the house by 3. A night watch man will let me into my room and one of the mommies is sure to wake up. I will hug her until she can hardly breathe. Then I will try to sleep, but I won't be able able to much. The house start stirring around 5:30 or 6 AM as the Mommies and Aunties start preparing for the day. The kids then slowly awake from their bunk beds gently lifting off the malaria nets, tieing them up to the ceiling or the top of their bunk go outside with a tiny cup of water to brush their teeth. As soon as I hear that people will be up, I'll be flying through the house hugging and crying as greet everyone with Moolahoo (hi) and Daga koon dah...(I love you). I will be a pile of mush and full of unspeakable joy. And that will just be the 1st hour. Imagine what will follow. As a reminder, we was still looking for sponsor for Kayitesi and Innocent in order to send them to boarding school which starts in January. Let me know if you or a group of friends is interested in helping with your tax deductible donation. Cost is $1100 each.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thank you for all your generous donations

Thank you for your generous spirit this Christmas season. We now have clothing and shoes sponsors for all 3 kids. I will be hand delivering them to Rwanda on January 31st. It's going to be an exciting trip as 2 other people will be joining me for parts of it. More as the final prep begins. I simply can't wait to see the kids.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spreading the Word on our Story

Today we were blessed to be on the radio sharing more of our story. It will be re-streamed Saturday night at 7 pm EST and Sunday @ 10 am EST. Join us on Thank you for loving our kids so abundantly.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Current Needs for our Kids in Rwanda.

We're trying to quickly assemble care packages for our kids in Rwanda. We welcome your participation if you able to help assemble one of more pieces of our care packages. Please reply on facebook to New Hope Homes, Rwanda or Our next care package for the kids in Rwanda. Can you help?Share Today at 7:07pm | Edit Note | Delete We are trying to create a care packages for our sweet kids in Rwanda. As time goes by we realize that we need to have quality clothes and shoes as the dirt road really tear up the shoes. Each of the kids now have about 3-4 sets of clothes and Chantal would like each of them to have one nice outfit for church. Thus we are looking for quality shoes and one nice outfit per child. Additionally we are gathering up quality backpacks as the ones purchased locally are only lasting 3 months. I will do one shipment from MN and one from NY to Colorado for Chantal and Mbanda’s kids who are going to bring them with them. All packages need to be to Colorado by May 3rd. Here’s the master list of needs. Needs: Backpacks: 7 for boys. 14 for girls. Clothes Remember, all clothes are handwashed in bucket so please consider durability and lack of irons. Name Sex Shoe Size Clothes size Age Dorcas F 6 5T 2.5 Ester F 11 5 6 Nshimiye M 11 6/7 4 Alice F 9 5 4 Sunday M 3 10 10 Kayitesi F 13 10 7 Lionel F 1 7 8 Isaac M 2 10 8 Innocent M 1 7 5 Sarah F Under 12 month 12 month to 18month. Ingabire F 5 2T 1 Deborah F 6 4T 3 Silvie F 8 4T 2 Dorine F 10 6 5 Marie F 13 6 7 Betty F 10 6 3 Fabiola F 13 8 8 Kagabo M 12 5 5 Mwami M 9month old 9 month Desami M 9month old 9 month Desami M 9month old 9 month (yes, there are twin boys with the same name) Prince M 8 4 2 Kwizera M 2T 9 month Caria F 2T 1year Rebecca F 6 4T 2 years Mbabazi F 5 4T 2 years Ariane F 6 5XS 2 1/2 Backpack for Girl – 14 needed Back pack for Boy – 7 needed Nice pair of shoes for one of the kids above (list name) 1 nice outfit for one of the kids above (list name) cold, cough or flu medicine for kids. Let me know if you want to ship your directly to Colorado or to NY or MN. You can see the photos of each child on the main website: Thank you for reaching out in love to our kids. Donna

Thursday, April 09, 2009

GREAT Report Cards

Chantal and Mbanda Skyped me late this afternoon to tell me the kids got their grades and WHOO HOO, they all did well. Here's the report. 1st, the kids going to school near that homes in Kigali Marie Rose #2 in her class a 94.9%! 2 years ago, she was eating beans and potatoes from the garden and weighed just 28 pounds at 4 years old. Innocent is #4 on his class with 92.7% Kayetesi/Peace is #17 which is still GREAT in a class of 30. -------- Now for our 4 adventures that are in their 1st semester at Boarding School. This is their 1st time away from New Hope Homes and we only get to visit 1x a month, so we were thrilled that this advanced school is yielding great results. Lionel (1st grade) is #2 in his class with 96.6%. He will be moving immediately to 2nd grade when they get back from Easter break. Issac (3rd grade) is #16 with 81.5% Fabiola (2nd grade) is #6 with 95.6% Sande is (2nd grade) #32 with 86.8% How exciting is this? We THANK their sponsors who have sacrificed much to pay for their schooling. This is great news especially if you think about what was happening in the country just 15 years ago. 3rd day of the genocide. Deathtoll would add another 10,000 people. As a reminder, we are looking to quickly assemble come care packages for the kids to be shipped in Early May, We need back packs 1 Nice pair of shoes and 1 nice outfit for each child Some cough and cold medicine for the kids. Let me know if you can help. Email me at Blessings and Love. Donna

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

15 years ago and today

15 years ago the genocide was in full rage by morning. It started the night before when the plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down at 8:23 pm. By 9:15 the killing began. Today we are continuing our journey of mirroring those same 100 days with goodness. I just heard from Chantal in Rwanda today with a current need. We have people traveling to New Hope Homes in Rwanda in May and we would like to fill their bags with current supplies for our 30 kids. Here are the needs: New good quality backpacks. The local ones seem to only last 3 months. New good walking shoes with good soles. We're learning about this one over time. Functional over cute. Durable is key. A nice set of clothes. Over the counter cough and cold medicine for kids. I brought over a big supply in January and they have already gone through most of it. Please reach out to me at if you are able to help with any of these needs. Blessings and thanks for reaching out to us. Donna

Monday, April 06, 2009

Join us at facebook - New Hope Homes, Rwanda

This evening marks the 100th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda

This evening at 8:23 pm a plane carrying the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down. Less than and hour later @ 9:15 pm the killing began. Over the next 100 days 1 million people were killed. Imagine, in a country the size of Maryland 10,000 people a day killed (mostly by machete) for 100 days. We are setting aside that same 100 days to do try to replace that duration of horror with acts of goodness. Our mission is simple. We pair 10 orphaned and abandoned kids with a widow to be their Mom, adding 2 aunties we create a family. These are not orphanages, these are truly homes. Kids that will be ours for our lifetime - extensions of our family. Thus far we've built 3 homes and care for 30 kids. I have personally witnessed lives transformed over the past 3 years that we've been working on this effort. 30 kids that have gone from living on the street and wondering where their next meal might come from and when it might being top performers in school and dreams of being President. So much more to share over the next 100 days. Next is to build the 4th home. Consider joining our page on facebook too - New Hope Homes, Rwanda. More over the next 100 days. Thanks to Jim B who shared our story on the radio this morning.

Friday, April 03, 2009


Thanks for your patience as I haven't updated my blog in quite some time. My heart still lives in Rwanda while I continue my work in NY. The kids are doing well. Chantal visited the 4 big kids in Boarding School and returned with a terrific report. I've updated our website with new photos and plan to keep at it doing it over the next few months. Next up is to begin the process of editing the videos. We've also entered into the brave new technology of being able to make online donations via the website, this blog and our new page on facebook. We pray that our investment will make it much easier for those who are able to contribute in this very challenging economy. Monday marks the 15th anniversary of the genocide. I am doing an interview that morning to kick off our fundraising efforts. Our focus will be on building the next home so another 10 kids will have the opportunity to thrive. I ask for your prayers that we'll bring more people to help with our work via prayers, expertise, personal visits and if possible financial commitments. If you are facebook...go to the top right corner and type New Hope Homes, Rwanda and become 'a fan.' More over the next 100 days as we reflect on the transformation of the country post genocide.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Puddle" tears.

(note - see youtube video posted as listed 2 entries below) Tears that won’t stop flowing. A few days before I was to leave I helped the Mommies, Aunties and Kids understand that I would be on a plane to America soon. The kids are able to understand this in English (well sort of), the adults require a sense of naming or counting days and then me making the universal airplane sign with my arms spread out while saying “America” and using the Kinyarwanda word for “tears”. Eventually they get it and then say “channie” tears. Meaning VERY MANY tears. A fews days from departure it really didn’t matter to the kids, but the night before I was to leave they started crying. The older ones simply withdrew and stopped talking to me. I tried to get them to play and sing songs and they just sat there staring at me. I asked if they were tired or sad, and they said sad. I tried to get them to shake the sad feelings but it wasn’t possible. They just stared at me. Then one by one they put themselves to bed without the big fun goodnights. Ahhh, my heart was breaking. The adults were eager to get in their last English lesson with “Teacher” Donna so we worked very hard at the key things. They would have gone on for a long long time but I eventually needed to get some sleep. After I went to my room I heard them out in the living room having a go at it by themselves. It was so wonderful to hear them trying to help each other with colors or key words like shirt, pants etc. Speaking of “shirt”. Remember when I said they had some difficult with the letter R? Well some of the aunties could only pronounce Shirt as Shit. I tried to explain that is was the a word for poo ( I use the term delicately) by motioning to my rear end while creating the sense of being on a toilet. They eventually got it and thought it was very very funny. OMG, they laughed so hard. As I gave my goodnight kisses all around each of them said “thank you” in English. They were so proud to be able to say the word in English. I walked by to my room and started to cry. I simply don’t know how to leave these people I love these kids with all my heart. They are my kids to me, not some distant collection of kids in a far away African country. I love them to the depth of my soul. I cried and cried and cried then began to pack. I got up at 5 am the next morning and was there for each child as they opened their eyes. I rarely was there at the moment over the past 2 weeks so they loved the surprise of having me there with a smile and my ‘da-go-coonda’ greeting (I love you!) I decided I needed to try to keep the kids happy that morning rather than sitting around with a bunch of teary eyes. Early on I took my luggage to the gate. As is our tradition, the kids love to carry anything when we are walking some place so each wanted to carry a bag, I spread things out so they could each have a little something. My water bottle, a camera bag, a duffle, back pack , jacket etc etc. They giggled as they tried to manage some of the bigger pieces. Then they got sad but I quickly got them back to the yard and started to play so they didn’t have to stare at the bags. I love morning at the homes. The kids get up early. The older kids in the top bunks carefully take the mosquito netting and tie it up above their heads. The netting is massive as it covers the top and bottom bunk. Then they make their bed in the top bunk and work their way down the ladder. After making a pit stop they all go to the living room and take their cup and toothbrush from the cabinet and the oldest one puts a little toothpaste on the toothbrush. Next they head to the dining room area and put the tiniest splash of water in the cup and head to the yard. They crouch down and begin brushing their teeth in a line. When they are done they take what little amount of water is left in the cup and wash their face. Some of the kids have pj’s so they look so adorable crouched over washing their teeth. Dorcus is the funniest. Everything is funny to her so brushing her teeth always makes me laugh. As the kids are starting to get ready the Aunties are already beginning the process of scrubbing every inch of the floors with a towel or old broom with a towel on it. It takes a long time but is reflective of the pride that they have in these homes. Everything is spic and span. They also make every bed with military precision. The jersey sheets that some friends of mine donated 2 years ago are still holding up nicely. We brought another supply of cotton ones that will get rotated in as the older ones wear out. The kids from the 1st home came over early. They surprised me as they rounded the corner of the court yard. I had spent some time with them the night before and they too were crying when I left. Mostly Marie Rose and Dorene. Tanteanay Claudin looked at me so seriously and said “Miss Donna”…and put her arms out like an airplane and sat it with a question in her voice. Yes was my reply and then she said “no!” at which point I burst into tears and quickly headed down the hallway so the kids didn’t see me “Sorry sorry” was her reply. She is absolutely amazing with these kids. She has so much love to give and does so in abundance. One by one the kids started to cry and it was a mess. I went to my room to compose myself and when I returned she had them all in a circle and motioned for me to come into the center. Each of them put their hand on me and began to pray with tears streaming down their faces. I couldn’t hold it in and joined in the puddles of tears. Dorene just kept looking at me with such sad eyes, the same with MarieRose. Just shoot me and put me out of my mystery. Remember, each of these precious angels has been orphaned or abandoned. So to them I was just another person who was leaving them. It was expecially apparent to the 3 new girls that we received last week as they of course thought I came with the place. The oldest one who didn’t speak any form of English shared her anguish with the look in her eyes and her face. Aghhhhhhh I don’t know how to leave these wonderful kids. We all went to church as a way of creating a nice send off. They were farely composed by then but still have me the longing look of – please change your mind.. Eventually I put each child on my lap. Wrapped my arms around them, said a silent prayer and held and rocked them. Each one cried. Some of them like Esther literally got my pants wet from the tears. Tears usually just stream down the face and are a tiny drop at the chin if they aren’t wiped away by then. I have never seen such puddles of tears. I mean puddles. There was no sound, no wimpering, just tears and the occasionally big eyes looking up at me. When she settled down I moved to the next child. Some of the boys thought it was great fun to sit on my lap and take off my watch or ring etc. Some of the girls were fine too. But most of the kids, especially the girls just were moosh. As I moved to the row behind Esther she just kept looking at me and crying. I eventually reached for her and held her again cradling her deep in my arms. She finally fell asleep and I handed her to Claudine so I could keep moving. Thankfully the last two were Dorcus and Ariene who think that everything in life is fun or funny so they smiled and played with me as I held them. They are total goofballs and I am thankful for them in my life. Marie Rose who was sitting in the front row just kept turning around and looking at me studying my every move. Eventually the service was over and Chantal decided all the kids needed to come to the airport to send me off. I jumped into her SUV and 5 kids piled in the back the rest, including the aunties got into the van. As we were driving I told Chantal about all the tears and the I wanted to make the airport experience fun. She said “what was I thinking, I’m going to have 20+ crying kids and aunties at the airport…how will I get them home?” I was blessed to have MarieRose, Kayitesi, Dorene, Alice and 2 others that escape me at the moment in the car so they proudly sang the news songs that I had taught them to Chantal’s delight. Alice did a solo rendition of “This old man” that was so cute. All the kids think “nic nac pattywack” is very very funny. Alice is so smart she really picked up the concept of the rhyms and remembered how the song went. The kids love seeing the airport and all the activity. By then I was composed an committed to the kind of departure that Chantal did with Issac, Fabiola, Sande and Lionel at boarding school. Kids feed off our reactions so if I cried they would cry. If I blew big kisses they would focus on trying to send them back and laugh as they did it. The kids did great. The Aunties were a mess but they saw was I was trying to do and did their best to mirror my approach. 2 of the Aunties said “Donna, I love you”. The first time they had been able to speak those works in English. Aghhh, the pain. I was doing pretty well until I got to Chantal. As I wrapped my arms around her and hugged tight the floodgates opened again. I told her she couldn’t ‘get go until I found my happy face again. It took a while but eventually I was able to back away and produce a smile and start blowing kisses as I got into the security line. I stopped just before I disappeared in behind the wall and just looked at them trying to memorize each of their faces. Sure I took over 7000 pics and have nearly 200 gigs of photos and video, but that’s different. I wanted to take them in as a family and scan each face, smile,body as a 3d image. I stared as long as I could before Chantal said “Miss Donna, go or you’ll be late!”. I blew them 1 more monster kiss that made them laugh as I disappeared behind the wall. Yes, I stuck my head out for 1 more peak and sure enough they were all still standing there staring into the place that I had been seconds before. I giggled and blew a last kiss. Disappearing behind the wall into security I tried to compose myself but inside every muscle, every joint, every living flowing thing within me was in pain and crying out. To be continued this weekend.

No Trash

No Trash There is something wonderful about the way our homes and the country of Rwanda approach trash etc. There is none. Plastic bags are not allowed into the country, in fact they take them away at customs if they are in sight. They were banned in 2005. In our homes everything that isn’t food, clothing , furniture, charcoal cooking stove or a water bucket doesn’t’ exist. Because there isn’t any pre-packaged foods there aren’t any packages etc. It becomes dramatically apparent as I study the contrast of zero garbage coming from the 26 people that I live with in the compound that comprises the 2nd and 3rd homes and ME! I bring over small cans of chicken to eat, snack bars etc. The contrast is remarkable and embarrassing. Other than skins of a pineapple or bad leaves of kahl , or the shell of an egg that goes into the compost bag, the kids, aunties, cook and nightwatchman produce zero garbage. As the country moves forward and embraces more of what we consider progress this is sure to change….for the worse. Let’s consider who is more progressive in this story? Oh what we could learn from the wonderful people of Rwanda. Te

Video post on Youtube

Share the journey of: Chantal's introduction of our 3 new girls: Anastaci, Grace and Florence The children welcoming them at our learning center. The children singing a welcoming song. Watch Anastaci overcome her fear to share a song. As painful as it is to share the fear and sadness that overwhelms her, know that 24 hours later she was running and playing with the kids. The photos posted earlier in this journal share the before/after. Video is posted at or go to and put newhopehomes in the search bar (note-no spaces among the 3 words. More to come.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fetching Water and enjoying the journey

Fetching Water Our homes are plumbed for water and someday we hope to have it actually working. Water is in short supply in Rwanda as is the pressure to pump it most of the time. Thus we get water from a big drum in the yard or go about a 25 minute was to a pump where we can buy it for 100 rwandan francs per jug. Or about 20 cents. But when you consider the average person make just a dollar a day you can see how carefully that water needs to be used. Bathing. The little kids sit in a small kid size tub and the Mommies carefully place water and soap on them. The older kids can do it a bit by themselves. They stand in the bucket and use a small amount of water from a pail to suds up. The kids use just a tiny tiny bit of water for brushing their teeth etc etc. This week I joined Valence (the night watchman) as he went to get the water. Of course it was a day that rained and I had all my camera gear so I didn’t get too many photos. He was sweet, he kept tucking under overhangs so we could try to stay a bit dry. One of the stops was for another pump system. There were about 25 containers lined up ready to be filled from a garden hose like thing. It was stationed in a small building much like you would find when filling your propane tanks in the states. The people there thought the Moozoongoo (me) was a most unexpected visitor. First they did not want to welcome me, but eventually they warmed to my presence and eventually let me take just a few shots. They waved goodbye as we continued on our journey. The wheelbarrow that carries the water is light on the outbound (empty containers) trip but on the return is was slow going. The slower we move the better from my pov as I love to soak in the life that surrounds me and let people react to me and me to them in return. Not many people welcomed me to take photos but I did get a couple as you’ll see in this entry. If I had my way I would just hang out and get to know these wonderful people. But, alas we continue on. The people love seeing their photo in the display of the camera. It’s great humor as the 1st time they seee it they giggle, then the crowds form and want to see it. The adorable young woman kept bringing more and more people from her house to see the photo and then kept posing. We had a great time.

Chantal and some of the kids

Chantal and Laurent Mbanda

Hearts of gold and the commitment to put their dreams into reality.

Sweeping & Washing Dishes

New Bike!

The Koch family handed me an envelope with $100 in at as I was heading to the airport for my trip to Rwanda. They told me to use it how I thought best. Chantal initially thought about buying 2 goats and then some ice cream for the kids. An alternative would be to make storage cubbies for the kids to organize their clothes etc. After 1.5 weeks of debating we finally decided on a new bike. The Koch family's oldest son Anthony has been really engaged with supporting our kids. About a year ago he donated 1/2 of his savings to buy the kids 2 new bikes for Christmas. With this many kids and only 2 bikes (both of which are stored at the 1st home with the school, we thought the 2nd and third homes would love to have one to share. Needless to say, it was a hit. Next thing is to get some helmets from the states as falling without one is not goooood.

Ambassadors and Orphans.

Rubbing Elbows with Orphans and the Ambassador. Kate enjoyed her 1st full day in Rwanda. She has such a joyful spirit. She slept well under that mosquito netting and we had to wake her for breakfast as she was dreaming such sweet dreams. Lots of play time with the kids. Then I arranged to go meet the office of Orphans of Rwanda. It’s a group that sponsors orphans for the University. I met the Director while in NY so I wanted to visit with their local office here in Rwanda. They send over 160 kids to the Universities throughout the country to help them achieve their ultimate best. We’ve got both ends of the spectrum covered now. We’ve got the little ones and they have the older ones. Kate and I did this adventure on our own with a driver so we felt quite impressed with our communication skills etc. Kate is going to help teach the driver some English and he in turn will help with her Kinyarwanda. Next came a very special time. We were invited with about 100 90 other Americans to the home of the new US Ambassador to Rwanda. He in his wife have been the country for about 3 months. He was gracious beyond measure and spoke from the heart about his desire for us to do “Collateral Good” in the country ie when helping someone here, try to grab hold of the person next to he or she to bring them along too. He asked for people to speak about something wonderful we have seen while being here. Two people spoke up. I was one of them. It was lovely to be able to speak about the work that Chantal and her husband are doing here. The Ambassador spoke about the strength of the Rwanda army helping fight the genocide in Darfur. Powerful imagery when you think about it. He said this country can live under the shadow of the genocide or shine a light all the good things that are happening here. The peace corp is coming in 12 days and it is a BIG deal here. They view it as great sign of progress. It was an honor to make yet another powerful connection with people that love this country that I grown to love. To Kate’s family. Your daughter is a gift to these people. Fear not, she is in great hands and is already and asset to our precious children.

Our Jugs for water & the lineup at the waterpump.

Water is so precious. I wish as American's we really understood that. Clean water is even more rare. Water is used very respectively and responsibly. When you bathe with buck you get it. Here is our wheelbarrow with empty water jugs as we prepare for the trip to the waterpump. Round trip it takes about an hour or 1.5 hours. Water is 100 rwandan francs per jug...or about 20 cents. If you make a dollar a day, you see how important it is to not waste any water.

Katy and Donna

The morning line up to brush teeth

Kayitesi, Alice and Innocent

Kwiezera's morning bath

Esther's beautiful butterfly

Thanks to Erika, I brought a big box of crayons. Thanks to Chantal I went to town and bought a ream of paper. We carefully cut each page in 1/2 and then the kids drew on both sides. Check out the beautiful MIss Esther's piece of art.

Mama Imaculee

Mama Bestine

Kids lining up to jump rope

The night before the big kids went off to school we played for hours. Here is the line for jumprope.

A serious inventor

Not sure who made this wireframe car/truck-like- object, but it was quite inventive. Here are some of the kids showing show off the invention.

Dorene getting ready to wash her shoes

Good shoes are treated like gold in the homes. The Mommy washing them up each night. Not sure what happened here, but suddenly Dorene started washing hers in the middle of the day. Not sure if she did it on her own since they got dirty or if Mama told her to do it. It was the only time I saw one of the kids doing it so I think she did it on her own as a matter of pride.

The kids dressed up and walking to church

Lots of time to sing songs and giggle on the way to church. Note the love the Marie Rose has for the newest daughter Anastaticia (Marie's arm is the one around Anstacia's shoulders....a VERY common sighting on most days!)

Kyetesi waking up and securing her net.

The nets protect the kids from the deadly Malaria that comes from the mosquitos. Our nets fully cover one bunk bed. The child at the top is older and able to pull it up and secure when not in use.

Valence getting the fire started on the stove

Mama Bestine and Auntie Angie getting a lesson from Betty and Alice

I walked into the 2nd home and was delighted to see a spontaneous English lesson going on.

A long update

The last few days have been a blur. I will try to capture some of the key pieces. Paying it BACKWARDS Perhaps the best concept I have created in my life is a new one that I am calling the ‘pay it backwards’ idea. We all know about paying it forward. I have noticed that while the kids are doing wonderfully in their English studies the Mom and Aunties have zero understanding of the language. They see the kids advancing and don’t know anything about what they are saying etc. Of course they all speak Kinyarwanda and is always their 1st choice. But in order for the kids to thrive and the caretakers to feel a part of their lives they need to grow together. Kate and I bought some simple English books on the street in downtown Kigali, then Chantal took us to buy some large pieces of paper to serve as poster board. Next was a small notebook and pen for each of our new adult students. The 1st night the adults gathered after most of the kids were down. They came in so eager to learn. We practiced the basics. Hello, what is your name etc etc. Then a bit of colors and things. It’s great doing it in the home as the props are the key things that they need to have a handle on. Table, chair, shirt, shoes etc etc. Kinyarwanda language pronounces R like L’s and it exceptionally hard to get their tongues to make the sound of an R. Frankly it’s nearly impossible but we keep working on it. But this teaching is old news. The new idea was to continue the learning on a ongoing why when I leave, then after Kate leaves etc etc. In order to grow together the kids can help. So, Marie Rose is now the official teacher in the 1st home and Kayitesi is the teacher in the second home with help from Innocent and Alice. It took a bit for the kids to get the hang of it, but when the did it was like a HUGE floodgate opened for the adults and they loved it. The way the concept works is the “teacher” says “what is this?” touching a chair or holding a cup or bottle etc. The ‘students’ then have to answer one at a time. The teacher points to each student and makes them say it correctly. The teacher often laughs that they don’t’ have it right but the adults just laugh and are not offended in any way. When they have it correct the “teacher” applauds their work and the students cheer for joy. After 2 days of doing this, I see the adults asking the kids what things are and the kids joyfully answering. We look for learning time while the Mommies and Aunties are working. A great time is when they doing the laundry or everyone is eating. Colors and What is this are easy then. So imagine the adults sitting on water buckets doing the laundry by hand and a small child standing near them asking what this are. “What is this?” holding a pair of shorts. “What color?” Perhaps the color is red. Then the teacher says “find more red”. The adults look for shoes, shirts parts of their clothes…anything that is the same color and quickly point it out while repeating the word. I will attach a small video here that shows how it worked in the beginning. It’s getting way better now. Alice is a bit shy with her colors, but she’s eager to help. Yesterday I walked into the 2nd home and found the Mama with 2 babies on her lap along with the teaching book and 2 young young kids trying to learn on their own. I also made simple charts with colors, numbers, objects and key phrases for each home. Chantal thought it would be a great way for them to study it when they pass by. I cannot fully express the joy on Mama Imaculee’s face when they proudly says “Hello Miss Donna…how are you?” And she has finally master “yes and “no”. Kate will continue the technique over the next 6 weeks and ensure the concept sticks. We are also going to try to create a simple program that continues when the next set of visitors arrive. I can hardly wait to see how we progress over the next year. I don’t say this to be boastful, but when God puts a simple thought in your head, you run with it, and you see it thrive….it’s exciting. We had a very fun experience on my last night of teaching. The kids had gone to bed and the adults from the 2nd and 3rd homes gathered for lessons. I wasn’t sure if they wanted to as we had been teaching over the course of the day. When someone passed by I would say “what is X doing?” The right reply was “Amina is WALKING”, “Charlotte is sweeping” , “Mama is washing” etc etc. But they wanted to proceed so we went for it. Part way through it I decided to get a big bag of red fish (the gummybear like things) that I had brought from the states. I stood there holding the bag and they couldn’t figure out why I had it. Then I asked what color something was and the 1st person that answer it right got a fish. They laughed until they split a gut. With the bar now raised they were much more attentive to trying to get it right. When they all answered at about the same time I ran around the room and gave them each one. They thought this was soooooo funny. One of the colors they keep forgetting is “white”. Finally I had to give them the simple reminder. “Miss Donna?” “Moozongoo?” WHITE was the reply. They laughed until they couldn’t breathe. RAINY DAYS and FACEBOOK. Africa rejoices when it rains (unless you live in the muddy slums…but even then you find some joy) but 30 kids trapped in their homes makes for some challenges. Of course it was a Saturday and I wanted to get all the kids together to play at one home. All day I had been waiting for the kids from the 1st home to come to the compound for the 2nd and 3rd. As luck would have it, the second the rain came they arrived dripping wet, but ready to play. We went for the basics. There are lots of songs they like to sing so that gets the party started. They especially like ones with hand motions like head and shoulder knees and toes etc. Thanks to some fast replies from many friends on facebook we added quite a few new ones to their collection. Kumbya, He’s got the whole world etc etc. But, by far the most entertaining new one was “This old man”. I they kinda got the idea of the rhyme but the part that made them laugh every time were the word “PATTYWACK”. They giggled and giggled. One of our fun songs is do, re, mi. We start low working our way up, then up down then doo me me, me so so, ray fa fa…..I hold the last tea tea for a long long time making funny eyes at them as they know what’s coming next…we do the do me me. me so so really fast and they all run around screaming. Someone taught them duck duck goose. I didn’t know they knew it until I saw the teacher playing it. I wasn’t sure it was possible to play it inside with all the kids. But Mama said “yeggo” (yes) and we pushed the furniture back and had at it. I made the Mommies and Aunties play too as they had never done it. The kids LOVED “goosing” the adults and the adults laughed so hard when they goosed each other. Laughter and more laughter. Keeping a ton of kids entertained takes a lot of energy but they are so worth it. The light that shines in each of their eyes is so bright. A full out belly laugh is good for their souls and mine. Everyone once in a while I think about what their lives would be like had they not come to New Hope Homes. Orphans being raised by an older Orphan or a small baby disgaurded at our gate. They may have found some definition of love but their tiny spirits would always be living in some sort of fear. They certainly wouldn’t have the opportunity to achieve their personal best much less know about The Lord. Sure, 30 kids is just a small dent in the needs of this country. But at least there are 30 more kids that will one day be able to help shape the future of their country. I thank God for Chantal’s vision for New Hope Homes and the tenacity of her commitment. CHANTAL Speaking of Chantal, I ask that you keep her in your prayers. It’s very clear to me the impact of adding the 3rd home has been on her time. When we had one home it was super manageable. Two became a bit more work, but a 3rd home and 30 kids is a serious undertaking. Simple things like getting their food supplies, thinking about menus, treating sick kids, getting them to school, working with the Mommies, Aunties, cooks and night watchmen to ensure they are doing things properly much less keeping their bonding strong. Sieba the social worker that the government required her to add now that we have 30 kids helps relieve some of the pressure but it’s still an endless responsibility. An update on our 3 latest kids to join the home – Anastcia, Grace and Florence They are doing well. Florence the youngest (about 2ish) is the most delighted to be here. She some running filled with glee to greet us and seems to have adjusted nicely. Her favorite place is to be in Kate’s arms. Grace is the middle girl and is generally quite happy. She loves posing for photos and seems to have fit in quite nicely. Anastacia the oldest and initially the most skeptical is 75-80% there. Most of the time she is playing, laughing and smiling from ear to ear. Then there are those moments where she withdraws to some place deep inside. I don’t know if she’s missing her Mom who died or just trying to take it all in. She’s sooooo far behind in school that she seems a bit aware of this. The teacher is terrific and keeps encouraging her. When she withdraws her face looks down and you simply can’t get her to look up. But I will focus on the 75-80% of the time where she is full of joy. Her best pal seems to be Marie Rose as they are at each others side all the time. Last night I cuddled up with her while Marie was “teaching” English. I held her a long long time and finally asked Marie to ask her if she likes it here. Her reply was “yeggo”/yes. I think asked if it was good or “chanay” good…VERY good. “Chanay” was her repy. VERY MUCH. I take that as serious progress over the past 1.5 weeks since they landed on our doorsteps. I give it about 2-3 weeks until the light is fully burning in her eyes too.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A good day of play & We wlecome Miss Kate

Tuesday January 13th. We played all day. It was a nice to to simply just chill with the kids. I was able to spend time in the classroom in the afteroom at the 1st home and work with the teacher and kids with conversational English. We practiced changing the "lucy lucy" to Excuse me Miss Donna - Look at this! Miss Donna then replies "What (insert name). They replied "See the (insert sometime...elephant etc etc.) We welcome the wonderful Kate to our home tonight. Kate is 25 and lives in Colorado. She works for Compassion and took at 2 month leave to come stay and play with the kids. It's her 1st time leaving America and she immediately filled the homes with a sweet spirit and joy. We'll be roommates and I welcome her presence.

Quite a transformation - sad to joy

A quick update on the 3 sisters that we welcomed a week ago today. They are doing great. They laugh, dance and enjoy their new brothers and sisters. Here's the photo evidence to show the transformation of Anastacia, the oldest and most skeptical and Florence the littlest.

Teary kids say goodbye to "Mama" before we began the drive to school.

Close up of the little boy from the market

A view of the 20 homes. Blue tops are the health clinic

The Ox suprised me by poking his head out of the home.