Saturday, December 18, 2010

Brief post

Hi everyone Donna here. Fried and too tired to post tonight other than to say we had a beautiful day. Holly taught school for most of the day. The kids gave here a big send of party where they sang songs and danced. Many tears. Several hours after Holly left, Lionel said to me "it is now a thumbs DOWN day"...I asked why...he said "because my friend has left for AMER-REE-KA". Ya, that kinda summarizes the heart left hurting from her goodbye. Will post more include more pics, but for now...zzzzz DJ and I leave Monday night. So forgive me you don't get many posts until I have free wifi as there is much to do and funds are running slim for internet. xo

Friday, December 17, 2010


The day started early with Holly joining in the morning sweet time. Just hanging in their bedrooms while they ease into their day. The bunk beds create the framework for silliness, sweetness and just a simple purity that cannot be put into words.

Today they interviewed Holly about where she is from, what her hobbies are etc. Isaac is particularly wonderful during this time of day as he is a silly young boy. When he leaves the room he is one of the key responsible leaders of the kids coaching and teaching them, translating etc. He is a very serious boy who studies people very closely. But in the morning, he is just a boy sitting on the floor with his airplanes that he got for Christmas. He carefully takes each on from the original packaging that all kids in the states would have thrown away, but him it is a high tech suitcase.

We were sad today as it WAS supposed to be Holly’s last day. So in class the kids had to write things about what they loved about Holly etc. The day was wrapped around her departure so we spent the afternoon with all the kids in the 2nd/3rd compound playing, singing and just hanging out vs being the big kids at the 1st home.

We also took the time to minister to the Mommy and Aunties by painting their nails. They loved it. Thanks again Clarie’s for supplying us with such great things to bring here. A special moment for me was Kayetsi came to me and said “Missy Donna, I wash your feet.” I was surprised because that meant that she had to go haul a bucket of water to me, then get soap etc. I told her I was fine. She said, “No, I want to do this.” Ok was my response. As she tenderly washed my feet she said “ Missy Donna, I do not was your feet because they are dirty, I was them because I love you.” Ok, can you say melted heart!

Mommy and the Aunties thought is was so sweet too.

DJ continued his wonderful work on behalf of our kids by shoots wonderful shots and video. He took time to interview the kids and try to capture some of their stories. What a blessing he has been to us. And double that when you see that he usually has 2 kids in his arms and 3 looking over his shoulder at any point that he is shooting. Imagine try to pull the right focus etc with that much distraction and bumping. He handles it all in stride and blesses our kids in so many way now, I can’t imagine how he will bless us when his work is complete and so many more people get to know our story.

Wonderful skyping with such great sponsors of our kids. Thank you, the kids LOVE meeting you all.

So the twist in the story was as we were preparing our program for Holly’s departure she realized that her departure is Saturday night vs Tonight. The kids, Mommies and Aunties rejoiced over the news.

The evening closed down with watching Mulan with the projector. The evening movies prevent us from singing and dancing, but it’s a nice routine to settle down the house and give the Mommy, Aunties and Uncles time without a child under foot. It’s also time for them to chill if they can.

Bed time was great humor as always. Holly was a bit wired from the change of plans and the kids took full advantage of her energy.

Counting blessings from Rwanda.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holly in the land of 1000 hills

Holly's Last post (for now)

Holly here for the last time in Rwanda. Bloggin’ for Donna.

I had my favorite day of all days today. I saw so many unreal landscapes of Africa on the ride home from Rhungeri. We stopped at a few local markets and took a ton of photos in the land of a thousand hills. It was perfection on a beautiful sunny day with so many happy Rwandese that we shared time with.

After the ride home and a little welcome home time with the kids, DJ and Holly set off on their separate ways to see some more of Rwanda before departing. DJ got to see another organization making a difference in Rwanda with a friend he knows that lives here and also got to enjoy some good food! Donna hung back with the kids which made them unbelievably happy and giggly the rest of the day as she entertained them with photos, filming, games and movie time.

I had the most surreal experience that is partially hard to describe via blog and even in words. I’ll try to do my best-- I took a motorcycle ride all across Kigali with a local who has now become a friend and who was greatly affected by the genocide in Rwanda. He is the same age as me, which made me want to really experience a day in the life. He is a driver, which means he drives a car, motorcycle and bicycle to earn money for him and his family. He drove us to and from Rhungeri and we all became impressed with him during our trip at how well his English was and his thirst to learn even more from us. He has only been learning English now for a one-month and I felt it was fairly easy, compared to most, to have a conversation with him. He was greatly affected by the genocide in Rwanda; his parents both were killed, his father is buried at the national memorial center in Kigali and his mother has not been found. He was 12 when the genocide took place and ran from Kigali all the way to Congo (the neighboring country that is 4-5 hours by car) with no shoes, by himself, to hide. His story truly touched me- how could it not?! I felt so honored to be in his presence today and have him take me around the town and show me some of the sites. He even took me to his home and his village where he lives with his aunt and uncle who have been diagnosed with HIV and their children (his cousins) who he cares for. Amazing guy who I will never forget…..and hopefully visit again.

It’s these people, the kids and days like today that make me so feel so grateful to be alive and for my life. Thanks to Donna and many more who made this trip possible for allowing me this journey and experience.

I’m sad to be leaving Africa tomorrow, but will not tell a lie….I’m looking forward to a long hot shower and some NYC food :)

Missing Rwanda Already, Holly

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Celebrating Mbanda

Mornings in Rwanda are one of my many favorite things here. The bigs kids sleep at the house that we are in so when they begin to stir at 6:30 or so I go into their rooms and just chill. They are at their sweetest self then. Ready to see what the day brings and full of the wonder and blessing of waking up knowing they are loved, safe and in a blessed place. Today I chilled with the girls for a bit before the boys came in.

Kayitesi asked me “Missy Donna, what do you dream?” Wow ,what an amazing question. I told her that I dream that we raise enough money to send all the kids through a University and they they all achieve their fullest potential. I also told them I dream of building many more houses so we can help more kids. “This is a very good dream Missy Donna. I like your dream.”. Then the kids talked about their dreams. Sande wants to “be a big football (soccer player) so I can make lots of money and raise funds to the little kids can get to Sonrise Boarding School.” And so the stories went. Each filled my heart with such joy. These are indeed very fine children.

We said goodbye (for now) to the kids at 9:30 as Holly, DJ and I drove to Rhungeri to video where our big kids go to school at SonRise Boarding School. Mbanda had also asked that DJ take pictures of the Pastors and their wives who had gathered earlier in the day for meeting. Tonight was a HUGE party to celebrate that the Mbanda’s have moved into their new home in Rhungeri and Mbanda is officially active as Bishop. Nearly 600 people joined in the party. Lots of people came to help prepare the cow, potatoes, cassava etc. It definitely takes a village!

The party began with joy-filled singing by a wonderful choir who also did some traditional dancing. The court yard at the Mbanda’s home was filled to overflowing and all came to celebrate.

They played a fun game of answering questions about the church and winning prizes that Holly and I brought from NY. Purses, socks, watches etc. There was lots and lots of cheers and fun.

Bishop John and his wife joined in Bishop John was the prior Bishop to Mbanda and it was a pleasure to finally meet him as he is so well known around the world for his work here.

We drive back in the morning and hope to get some more wonderful pics of the country that clearly lives up to it’s name as the Land of 1000 hills.

Time is passing too quickly and I want to put a halt to it. Trying to be present to the present day blessings.



Holly here again! It was a long day with the kids, but we managed to survive. They almost exhausted us, but us old folks won at the end.

Here are what today’s activities involved: • Classroom time with Holly • Donna takes Sandee and Issac on a field trip with her to the Immigration offices • Coloring • Classroom time with Donna (DJ + Holly go to town to run errands) • Soccer • Songs and exercises with the little kids • Lunch • Hide and Seek with all 27 kids • Relay Races with Holly • Skype with Donna’s friends • Girl time with Donna = Claire’s gifts galore • Boy time with Holly = DVD time • More skyping with Donna’s friends • More soccer and goofing around • Play time before dinner with the little ones • Dinner time • Popcorn making with Donna • Dance party with Holly and DJ

Phhewwww! What a day! Now the kids are sound asleep and we are on our way. Although the day was long, we had a lot of bonding time with the kids and it was a great day. Donna started her process with immigration to become a citizen. DJ got a TON of great candid footage of the kids and as for me….well, I happily played babysitter -- only a few tears, lots of laughs and hopefully sweet dreams.

Tomorrow is a field trip day for the adults only out to Rhungeri to visit Chantal and Mbanda (the Bishop) at their home. I’m looking forward to a scenic ride and seeing more of Rwanda countryside.

Until tomorrow……

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beautiful Alice decked out from our friends at Claire's Thanks to Claire's from our girls at New Hope Homes The girls loved their Claire's Day Holly and some of the kids Holly's Two Legged Race event.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Our Sweet Sardines on their way to Kibeho.

Big Ball Project in Action Join TheBigBallProject on facebook if you want to help AnnieKate and Charlie send more balls to Africa What a joy! Thanks to Ben Fruehof for donating water colors for our kids to make beautiful creations Thanks Ben!
Thumbs Up for The Big Ball Project Rwanda, land of 1000 hills Kibeho Esther in van on the way to Kibeho still wearing her Xmas outfit from Kristen! Caria getting a ride from "Mama"

Double Duty.

Today Holly took on caring for, teaching, and playing with most of the kids as DJ and I set out with 10 of them for the long drive to Kibeho.

It is a 4 hours drive EACH WAY including a minimum of 3 potty stops. A dramatic improvement from when Kristen Cavallo took the last group of kids and we had about 10 potty stops and vomit in a variety of place in the car and on us. I felt like quite the inventor today when I handed each of them a Ziploc bag and made them put it in their pocket. It worked perfectly. They simply would open up the bag, puke in it and close it back up. Yes, such is the report for today!

The kids are simply wonderful. They love going on adventures and will sit content while being smooshed like sardines into one seat. We laughed, sang lots of songs, told stories and talked about what they each wants to be when they ‘get tall’. After every puke I would say “are you ok?” the response was always a smile and “yes”. I would pass back some water and the journey continued.

The last 1.5 hours of the drive is a dirt road. We took the GOOD road and soon learned that the rain and trucks have done some damage since July, but it’s still much better that the bad road with took with Kristen and Liles where we had to drag logs onto the road to fill the ruts to make lots of areas passable. On the not-so-bad parts we simply filled the holes with stones. Liles they again talked about your running alongside the car!

Today was another day to give thanks and teach our kids about returning the kindness to strangers in our new favorite thing to pass it forward. The story begins with Diane and Scott Ridgway Cross's kids Charlie and AnnieKate. They are HUGE soccer fans and learned during this years world cup that kids in Africa use soccer balls made of banana leaves and twine. This just didn’t’ seem right to them so within 24 hours they created THE BIG BALL PROJECT and started raising money to send soccer balls to Africa. We made the 1st delivery of 50 balls in July and today we distributed lots more. The game is so fun. We drive down the road in a remote village, then we pick out 2-3 kids that are sitting by the road, or playing and we stop the van. Our kids file out and present the ball to the kids along with a pump. Can you imagine what this feels like for all parties involved. For me to know our kids and Annie Kate & Charlie are changing the face of some impoverished child giving them hours and hours of future play time. Our kids then pose with the kids and hold up a picture of Mary Kate and Charlie so they know where the balls came from in America. How COOL IS THAT???? The circle of love is really big. I am so proud that our kids don’t fuss and beg to keep the balls. When I brought the first delivery of balls in July I asked our kids how many of the 50 should we keep? Knowing we have 27 kids the answer will be quite unexpected. They said “we should keep 2 and give the rest to kids who have nothing”. (When people ask how our kids are doing…I like to tell that story because it speaks VOLUMES about them in just a short story.) I told them since we have 3 homes, we could keep 3 balls.

Kibeho is a very special place for people in Rwanda and many all over the world as Mary (yes, Mary the Mother of Jesus) appeared there for many many years in the 80’s. She shared lots of messages including warning people about the impending genocide. One of the young girls Anathalie was 14 or 15 at the time of her appearance. She has stayed in Kibeho to meet with visitors and share her story. I met her in July and was filled with such overwhelming feeling about being with someone who has crossed the thin line between earth and heaven. I was eager to return to spend some more time with her today and I thought the kids would really enjoy meeting her. My hope had been to videotape her sharing her story for my parents and close family and had spent about 2 months trying to get approvals. Alas today was not to be the day. While I have some approvals, I need more. She was also not feeling well but she did spend a bit of time talking with the kids and asking them sweet questions.

My hope is on my next trip….hopefully April that I will have made progress on the video front. She brought out the name info I gave her in July to show me that she remembered me. She doesn’t speak any English but she knows I come with a sincere heart. Chantal had arranged for a dear friend and fellow Pastor to ride with us to translate. He was so lovely. He shared stories of growing up in the refugee camps with Mbanda as a child going to school under a tree and trying to do the best they could while surrounded with 300,000 people who too had fled Rwanda during that time.

DJ again took wonderful pictures. I am so thankful for his presence. I usually have a camera in my hand and spend the day shooting every day while trying to play with the kids. The staff that doesn’t speak English refer to me as “Seka Missy Donna” Which mean “smile” …meaning I am always in their face with a camera saying smile. They now know that I use those pictures to help raise funds from people like you so we can keep caring for these kids and hopefully many more.

Holly had a full day teaching, measuring feet, taking an adventure to the market with some of the kids and chillin with them. They just LOVE her and know that she leaves Friday which is already making them sad. Holly is a complete and total natural with these kids. What a blessing that her team at the office allowed her to travel me to help us help get these kids story told through pictures and video as our funds are very limited for 2011 at the moment.

To cap off a perfect day, we let Isaac pop up some Jiffy Pop over the fire tonight. Yes, the giggles were infectious and they didn’t want to go to bed.

Love my life here. And remain so thankful for your presence on the journey

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday is a beautiful day in Rwanda

A day to just be

Donna here. Sunday in Rwanda is a long and wonderful day to just be. It’s church day so the kids come greet us around 9:30 or 10 to begin the long walk to church. It’s like the pied piper of adventures. 20+ kids, 1 mommy and DJ/Holly/Donna. Yes, the stares are ever present as our parade down the hill, across from the market and down the dirt roads. But they see that the kids are having fun with us to most turn as smile as we greet them with a “malaraho” – hello.

Each of the three of us had about 4 kids holding our hands and enjoying the journey.

The kids are angels at church. They stand and dance and sing with the choir begins. The praise portion lasts about and hour so from the total time at church is over 4 hours. They also get a chance to have a Sunday school for the kids so off they go to back into a small space to have lessons just for them.

As the service ended the rain began to pour down. It’s rainy season here so when it rains it really rains. (And apparently when it snows it really snows in Mn!)

Eventually the van came to pick us up as I don’t think Mama wanted to deal with that many kids full of mud and wet clothes.

Holly and DJ then set off to experience one or two of the genocide museums. It is sure to be an adventure as the driver doesn’t speak English and didn’t quite seem to have a sense of where he is going. It’s nearly 9 pm and we expect them home soon. When they return I know they will be emotionally drained. When u really soak in the genocide here it leaves you completely empty and numb inside. It takes a couple of days to come back to your former being.

When they were gone the kids and I skyped with many friends. The kids love talking with kids from all over the world. They are getting quite good at it and ask lots of questions. Today we got to hear Matthew Rice play his guitar for us again and the kids loved it.

We also used the wonderful watercolors and brushes that Ben Fruehoff sent our kids. They made beautiful pieces of art. I will post them when I return.

Last we brought the projector to the 2nd/3rd house compound and showed Stuart Little. EVERYONE young and old watched it. The adults who don’t speak any English loved it. They laughed and discussed the movie throughout. It was fun just watching them watch it.

We send our love and thank you for sharing in our journey.

The upcoming days will have us go to Kibeho – about a 4 hour trip each way. Then Chantal and Mbandas – about 2.5 hours away for an overnight. I hate being away from the kids but we are trying to get some wonderful video for DJ so it is a must. We also want to get some soccer balls distributed for MaryKate and Charlie’s Big Ball Project.

The days are long and full of love. Being here feels like home. My forever home.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

The finishing touching on the decorated tree Singing songs of joy DJ and Holly with Chantal and Mbanda

WOW...what a beatiful group in their new outfits!

Merry Christmas from Rwanda

Donna here…so you know this will be long update! What a day.

And so many of you made it possible!!!

Holly woke up early…or shall we say didn’t really sleep as there was a big party somewhere in the hills that sounded like it was right next door.

She put the time to good use as she organized all the gifts and supplies we brought. 5 came with me, 2 with Holly and 1 with DJ so there was much to do.

The big kids came to the house knowing that something special was going to happen today, but not quite sure what it would be. Chantal and Mbanda arrived and announced that it was Christmas at New Hope Homes today. WHOO HOO.

The kids then helped the Uncles clean the class room for the party. They took out all the tables, chairs and rugs and scrubbed them till they sparkled.

Holly then lead all the kids in playing, learning and just giggling so DJ and I could work with Chantal and Mbanda to video their story. Mbanda talked about growing up in a refugee settlement, then at age 19 setting out on a walk for 6 months in search of a education in Nairobi. He begged, slept on the street and did whatever he could to get there. A young 23 year from the US named Nancy gave him the seed money to get this education started. A $300 gift that changed his life and ultimately the lives of thousands of kids around the world. We’ll share the video when it complete. It’s an amazing story of how just a wee bit of money can change the destiny of a child’s life and we thank you if you have been one of those people for our kids here at New Hope Homes.

Chantal then shared her story on video about seeing the thousands of kids living on the street. She spoke about her conviction that she had to ‘do something’. She looked in the eyes of this kids who lived in despair with simply no hope. Then how got a clear vision of how she could transform lives by pairing 10 orphaned and abandoned kids together with a window, adding some young ladies for aunties and some men for cooks and night watchmen…thus was born New Hope Homes. Chantal talked about how our kids enter the homes…stick thin, ill, hopeless and how within a matter of a few weeks she can see the light come back on in their eyes as they begin to grasp the concept that all of their needs will be met here. The kids will be loved, get their medical needs taken care of , be spiritually fed and be educated in the best schools. Chantal believes the best way to break the cycle of poverty is through education so we send our kids to private school. The public schools have a student/teacher ratio of 75:1 so we don’t believe they can really be educated to their fullest potential in that kind of environment.

We also have two kids with very special needs. Deborah who has cerebral palsy and Desami who has a serious challenge with one leg. His twin brother runs and plays and lives a full life. However the other twin cannot yet stand. As we speak, he is away for a month getting intense PT. As you can see, we want ALL of our kids to reach their fullest potential and we want Desami to stand and one day walk.

THEN came Christmas.

Holly organized the kids to decorate our tree. They carefully placed each bulb and garland. Then she filled their tiny hands with tinsel and at the count of three they all tossed it into the air with bulk of it landing on the tree. Can you hear the giggling now?


saac, Sande, Kayitesi and Fabiola read a story about the birthday of Christ as the kids listened attentively. Then they all danced and sang for a bit to celebrate the birthday of our King. When finished they all sat on the floor very quietly as I talked to the kids and adults about how all you love them from so far away. I shared that so many of you took the time to buy them the perfect present for the kids. AND also gave the Mommies, Auntie and Uncles the gift of money for them to go have a special outfit made. I told them we understand that raising this many kids as beautifully as they do will NEVER be taken for granted. I ensured that they know we appreciate all that they do to give our kids everything they need to thrive.

The kids then sat down and 2-3 at a time came forward to receive your gifts. We told each child who loved them and they opened their treasures. It was so amazing to see the look on their faces as they opened their bag. Then they dug through them to see who gave it to them. If you enclosed a card they went to the corner in private place to read it or have it read to them. Then opened the card like it was the precious treasure that it was. They studied every picture, every word. If you enclosed a photo of you, they ran around and showed everyone your picture.

As you imagine all of this made for chaos and joy. There are no words to express what you have done.

Next we took a big group shot and held up a Merry Christmas sign that each of the kids had made together with Holly. They each drew a picture on it to be a part of the story.

They kids looked “so very smart” as they would say in their new outfits. They ran around and showed everyone their shoes, toys and clothes. EVERYTHING fit perfectly. I am so thankful that Abby and Sarah did such a great job in July measuring everyone. This is the 1st time that everyone has fit perfectly. Often we have to mix and match to make it work!

Given that we didn’t have time to cook for the adults this time (read as…whoops, sure miss Sarah, Abby, Kristen, Liles cooking) we had it catered so everyone could simply be present to each other. It was a wonderful investment…and thanks so many people that donated funds so we could make this day special. For less than $200 we fed nearly 40 people!

The kids exited and the 3 of us crashed. Zzzzzzzzzzzzz. Did I mention that all of this is a bit exhausting?

The big kids came back and chilled with us. They were sooooooooo excited about the day. After skyping with lots of people we tried out the projector I brought and projected a DVD on the wall. WOW….now that was fun.

A yummy dinner and English lessons for the adults rounded out our day.

I am soooooooooo grateful to have DJ’s beautiful spirit with us and great talent for photographing and videotaping the kids. Holly is amazing. She knows all 27 kids names and has about 5 or 6 piled on her lap or in her arms at once nearly all day long. A natural gift for nurturing, she too is making a lasting impression on our kids.

So as we end the day, I want you to know how much YOU MATTER TO US. Your love, prayer and financial support are making a real difference in the lives our kids and I am grateful.

With love,


Friday, December 10, 2010

Holly Teaching the Class today. The Elves working in Santa's shop getting ready for and early Christmas. Holly's morning started early. 6:30 AM. The big kids gather around her to meet her and learn some english on the computer.

Loving Africa

Holly here from Rwanda! We had our first full day today and all the crew made it safely in – myself, DJ and Donna. I got in the night before and got to spend a few hours over dinner before bed with the kids. They welcomed me immediately with big hugs! Donna and DJ got in at 3am last night (sans luggage) and arose at 6:30am when the kids awoke eager to welcome them. Lots of big hugs for them, especially their great love, Miss Donna!

We had a chance to meet all the children and watch them in action in the classroom as they practiced their English and Math. I was astounded at how smart they are. BRILLIANT! And the most well behaved kids I have ever been around. They are eager to learn and have so much love for each other and anyone they meet and get the chance to spend time with.

Donna arranged for us to also spend some time with the founder and Director, Chantal. Donna treated myself, Chantal and DJ to lunch in town. And everyone who knows Africa well was right—some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted! It was such a pleasure to spend the day with Chantal and listen to her speak so modestly about her life and her work. A true inspiration that I will never forget….and hope to spend more time with. We got to meet her husband briefly too, the great Bishop of Rwanda. I felt special just being in his presence and in his prayers. He and Chantal are doing incredible things that Donna will go on about later I’m sure. They are wonderful people making a difference in the lives of so many all over the world.

Now we are preparing for Christmas tomorrow with the kids --all 27 kids have been given a gift by a sponsor back in the USA. Donna, DJ and myself have been working in Santa’s workshop preparing all the presents for a special day tomorrow of praise, presents and lunch. We will send pictures tomorrow of all the kids with their presents and look forward to lighting up their day!

Until tomorrow…..

Loving Africa,


Thursday, December 09, 2010

3rd trip of the year!

Heading back to my beloved Rwanda and the kids that fill my heart. Bringing two special people with me on the trip. Holly Potter who is going to be such a blessing to these kids. Looking forward to her camp counseling skills kicking back in! AND DJ who is donating his time to help us create some videos to tell our story. Holly arrived in Kigali on Thursday night. DJ and I connect in Nairobi and land around 3 AM the next morning. Looking forward to updating you on the journey. I feel like a at 5 year old at Christmas as I think about wrapping my arms around every one of our kids. AND I can't wait for them to see the Christmas so many of you worked so hard to create. More to come..........

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


How cool is this? My friends Katie and Reid Holmes are hosting a Halloween Party on October 30th in Mpls. They are asking people to make donations so we can get some new shoes for our kids. We remain so blessed by all the people that want to help our kids. I will be heading back to Rwanda in early December and starting a drive for Christmas presents. Watch our facebook post on New Hope Homes, Rwanda or my personal page... donnawiederkehr. Will post pics of the party. Thanks Holmes family!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Big night tonight for New Hope Homes

We are beyond grateful to the people of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas for hosting a benefit concert in an attempt to raise enough money to help us build our 4th home in Rwanda. The gifted Sara Groves will be our featured musician. I have loved Sara's music for years and simply trying to comprehend the power of her faith, love and voice leading us through the evening. May the spirit move the 700 people in attendance to give as fully as they can so we are able to create a HOME for another 10 kids. Watch the video to hear Sara sing a most powerful song about a visit to Rwanda. The words so perfectly reflect my story of Rwanda too

I saw what I saw and I can't forget it I heard what I heard and I can't go back I know what I know and I can't deny it

Something on the road Cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me Your dream inspires Your face a memory Your hope a fire Your courage asks me what I'm afraid of And what I know of love

We've done what we've done and we can't erase it We are what we are and it's more than enough We have what we have but it's no substitution

Your pain has changed me Your dream inspires Your face a memory Your hope a fire Your courage asks me what I'm made of And what I know of love

Something on the road Cut me to the soul

I say what I say with no hesitation I have what I have and I'm giving it up I do what I do with deep conviction Something on the road, cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me Ooohhh... Your dreams inspire Ooohhh... Your face a memory Ooohhh... Your hope a fire Ooohhh...

Your pain has changed me Your dream inspires Your face a memory Your hope a fire Your courage asks me what I am afraid of Your courage asks me what I am made of Your courage asks me what I am afraid of And what I know of God, And what I know of God.

Please say a prayer that the spirit will move those in attendance to meet the needs.

With a most grateful heart, Donna

PS. So happy that Sarah Wehrenberg and Abby Cullen drove 7 hours from Mpls to with us too!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Last stories...

Mwarlamutse! (Good morning). I awoke this morning to great surprise – my alarm had yet to sing its cheerful, off-beat melody. 6am found me wide awake, ready to pack my bags, go on one last walk around the cobblestone and dirt roads of quiet morning, and start the process of saying goodbye. As I packed, I heard the morning noises of this place: jumbled radio stations, kids’ sleepy voices greeting one another, water splashing on the cement kitchen floor, birds squawking unabashedly. This place is home, well, another home, to me. The people here are family, a second community. To say I am blessed is an understatement.

The kids head back to school Monday: some to Sonrise, some to Remera. When I ask them what they think about going back, most are excited, some are sad to leave home. Yesterday, in our last lessons, I asked the kids what they hoped for. Each and every one of them want to improve in some subject, mostly French. French is so hard for them! I pat their backs and tell them, kids, you already know two languages! It’s only a matter of time and you will know French, too! Their eagerness for greatness is unfailing.

Some highlights of the last week:

Sport! The tantines asked me a few days ago if I’d do “sport” with them, meaning lead them in exercise. I led them through some circuit training moves (thanks Kate and Stacy!), yoga, and a little jogging. We all laughed incredibly hard. Yoga was awkward. I bent the auntie’s limbs and adjusted posture to the best I could, but with a language barrier, their poses weren’t exactly yoga. We endured. The moves must have worked something, because each of them griped about their sore muscles the next day!

Visitors! A wonderful family from New York is currently visiting Rwanda. They joined the kids and I three mornings this past week. They jumped right in, getting to know kids, bringing their own talents.. The youngest boy is a phenomenal drummer and led the kids in a rousing game of “pass around the beat.” We were rockin’.

4-year old English! Dorcas and Ariane amaze me. Their English is SO good, although they are very sneaky about letting you know that. Last night, as they sat on my lap before dinner, they started pointing at my face and naming all the parts (nose, eyes, ears, etc.) Then, Dorcas starts telling me a story in sentences. No prompting, nothing. Incredible. Language acquisition is so interesting. They are at such a formative age, and I’m so glad they have their big brothers and sisters to speak English around them! Bilingual kids in the making…

For all of you who have been reading our reflections and stories, thank you. I hope we can give you a glimpse into the lives of these incredible children and adults at New Hope Homes. This is Abby, signing off, from Rwanda. Peace to you!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

And then there was... 1.

Abby here. Sarah and Donna are safely back home, and that leaves me here with an amazing group of kids, tantines, tantos, and mommas. I’m falling into a rhythm with the occasional surprise here and there. As Sarah’s last post mentioned, the kids did a fantastic job cleaning their classroom. I’m happy to say it stayed very clean the whole week afterward. Clean until today, that is. This morning, at least 50 kids came from church to visit the New Hope children. I walked into the classroom and literally every inch of the floor was inhabited by either a little body or a discarded toy. Usually this wouldn’t phase me much (I teach first grade), but the look on some of our kids’ faces reminded me of how hard they had worked to make their classroom clean. Luckily, when all was said and done, the disarray was not completely overwhelming. With help from the visitors, we were able to clean it up quickly, much to the kid’s relief. It definitely helped, too, that we had organized well the week before!

Tonight I helped Momma with a heaping pile of laundry. We washed as we waited for dinner to be ready. Laundry / wash here is meaningful to me. That may sound strange, but sitting around a bucket with women who work tirelessly reminds me of what it takes to care for these children. Scrubbing endless piles of clothes each day is not an easy task. Momma and the tantines do it with efficiency and care, each and every time. They laugh at me a lot, because I don’t use enough soap, and I think my hands are much weaker than theirs. I try not to let it phase me… but really, I wish I could wring out a pair of jeans as fast as they can! Perhaps I should start hand washing at home?

Comical relief happens all the time here. Kwizera, a 1 ½ year old boy, is constantly dressed in princess pajamas. When he trots into a room covered in pink and princess, it is enough to bring me to hysterics. Last night, though, he was wearing an especially pink shirt, glittery pants, and (no joke) was prancing around in little girl shoes. I think the girls in his house egg him on… and possibly even dress him at times… but I almost lost it. Sarah and Donna – I wish you would have been there. His outfit and the look on his face topped all of his evening attires of the past month!

Dashaka kajama! (I want sleep!) Goodnight all.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Back again!

As tried and true teachers, Abby and I believe in teaching kids responsibility. So on Saturday we told the kids that if they wanted to come up to house #1 (where we’ve been staying) they had to help clean the school. They came, and together we conquered that mess!! These kids were incredible. They needed no prompting and jumped right in sweeping, washing windows, mopping the floor, organizing toys, sharpening pencils, and even washing dusty legos (ok, I made them do this)! It has really made a difference. And the kids are taking more and more ownership over that space. Sande seems to be the natural leader of the kids and he has taken charge over that school. The other day I passed out marbles for the kids to play with and was adamant that I needed 60 back before we could leave for dinner. When I went outside to collect them, Sande met me with a written report of who had turned in their marbles and how many each kid returned. Good to know we can count on him to keep order 

I’ve gotten to teach more this week since Abby’s been feeling a little under the weather. I cannot even lie. I am NOT an elementary school teacher. But no one was hurt, and I think we all walked away learning something (me: stick with high school). Monday we did estimates, the kids actually had a lot of fun. And yesterday was a science lesson on how Jiffy Pop works. On Monday we also played English Bingo with the staff. HILARIOUS!! They are a fun loving bunch. Claudine and I were wearing matching laesos (long fabric wrap skirts) one day and she paraded us around, her as Miss America and me as Miss Rwanda. I know, right? Pretty great.

I am preparing to leave. Tomorrow I head to the airport. It’s hard wrapping up an experience like this. It’s not my first time at New Hope Homes, but it’s always hard to leave these kids. They, each of them, are so strong in their own right. They have hard stories and a lot of obstacles to still overcome. It’s pretty meaningful to know that these kids have a web of support that spans around the world.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

A servant's heart

This a delayed entry by Miss Donna. Abby/Sarah...please tell the kids I loved their entry!!!

Today was a very special day for our kids. Today was about giving back and showing their Mama, Aunties and Uncles that they love them very much.

We told that cook Manuel that the Muzongos were going to cook a special dinner so they should all come to the classroom around 6 pm .

That concept sounds easy but it’s all about the execution as you know. Sarah, our forever ringleader and organizer put the list of to-dos together and we divided up the jobs and went at it starting around 10 am.

Abby volunteered to go to Knokumott on a Moto (motorcycle) and get the meat, chicken and ice cream. Sarah had promised some of the kids yesterday that they could go to the produce market with her today so she lead that parade. I joined them but peeled off at the market with Kayitesi to get some material for our table cloth.

Sarah now had a regular person from who she was buyng produce so the negotiation went quite well. I had been in the material market 2 days prior but couldn’t get a good price on what I wanted (I kept telling them it was a Muzongoo price – white person price – and that I had visited Rwanda 6 times and knew what was fair. Today we were able to strike a deal. It was at just the moment that I realized we were to be skyping with Liles Repp and Sydney & Regan Hansen so we went rushing over Sarah and the kids and told them we needed to go back. Alice decided to join us on the return and we were off.

The menu we selected was based on suggestions from the kids, adults and Erica Mbanda. Meat and chicken are much appreciated by the staff. Kids have now had pizza 2 times and while not liking it the 1st time..they really enjoyed it the 2nd time so they asked to try it again. Pizza’s are 10US$ each so they aren’t cheap but Erica offered to pick them up for us in town so it seemed like an easy plan for 27 kids.

By the time the girls and I reached the gate, we they started yelling Abby Abby. Indeed Abby was just returning to the house on the Moto and we were all so impressed as she had been to town and back with the driver that didn’t speak any English. She explained to the Motor driver the she wanted him to drive her to Knokutt, wait for her and return to the house and she had BEATEN us home while were just had to walk 15 mins to the market. She received lots of cheers.

At home we skyped with Sarah and the girls and our girls loved talking to them. The connection was great and I think we could have have simply walked away and let them talk to each other for an hour. I love love love when that happens.

Next up was Liles. While his connection did not allow for us to hear his voice, he was able to hear us so he simply typed the words as text messages that they had to read and they would respond. It was a nice English lesson and the kids loved loved loved seeing him. We told him the $100us equivalent thst he sent along with me in left over Rwanda francs was being used to throw the party that night and it made him really smile.

By now it was 4 pm and there was much to do. Abby and Sarah started washing and cutting up vegetables. Lionel, Isaac and Sande had offered to help cut and cook and they were a huge help. They stayed focused for hours helping. Sarah and Abby have surely discovered some hidden talents. I love when volunteers find something new in our kids. We’ll now be able to pass that along to other people who come to help advance their skills.

I went to the classroom to start decorating with the kids. We took the small tables that the kids use to study and put them together to form one large table, then we put the table clothe over it, topped it with candles and then the kids made special place cards for each member of our staff. They put the name on the outside of the card and wrote I love you on inside each card and then decorated them with stickers and other fancy things. They were simply precious. They also moved the chock board to the end of the table and wrote “thank you for loving us” in Kinyarwanda.

Next up was to find enough plates and silverware from all the houses. In the end we had enough forks and plates but only about 5 knives to share. The finishing touch was to created some nice napkins presentation with some cheap paper ones I had bought in January. The kids patiently studied my pattern and did it pretty darn well.

Next I gathered all the kids and we made a plan for the night. They needed to understand that this was about giving back and having a servant heart so it was not abou them tonight it was about the adults.

Meanwhile Abby and and Sarah had a massive production going with Chips (French fried) meat and chicken. We laughed at the amount of meat we decided to buy and thought we would have enough leftovers for days. More about that later.

Manuel the regular cook stood by and oversaw their production helping out as needed. He was so full of joy that I can’t describe it. He literally skipped through the yard at one point. I asked him in Kinyarwanda if it was good and he was having fun. Yes Yes was his reply and gave me a big thumbs up. The look on his face was indescribable.

Erica arrived with the pizzas and everyone from the 2nd and 3rd house arrived so the party could begin. The kids made a line at the entrance (well sorta of a line..they are kids_ and the adults passed by them to enter the classroom and see it’s transformation. The each sat on the chairs (that are so short you could be sitting on the floor) and read their cards. Whoo hoo. Off to a good start. Next up 4 kids worked perfectly in unison – starting with Mommy – 1 held a bucket under her hands, the next poured some water to allow her to wash , one held some soap to wash and the next a towel to drive. The beautiful production was repeated with each adult. The expression on Mama’s face was complete pride and joy that the kids were doing such a good job. Next I shared in English, while Erica translated that tonight was about giving thanks to them for loving our kids and doing such a terrific job with it. Sande then lead us in prayer. Next the kids went running out of the classroom as a group to quickly go to Abby and Sarah so they could dish them up a mean for the adults. The adults asked that the little kids be served before they ate so we quickly sat them down and handed out the pizza. Then the kids line up and presentation of the plates began. One after another they filed in with a big serving of meat, chicken, rice and potatos. The adults loved loved loved it. In fact the only left overs was some chicken that was taking a long time to prepare. The food was a huge hit which is hard to do with this crowd.

Erica was a huge help with the kids, with translating and taking photos so we have some memories.

After dinner Mama started a spontaneous song that the others joined in with and before you know it EVERYONE was up dancing and singing. I pulled the drum down and one of the Aunties began to place it with such fervor that everything went to the next left. As they began to sing “we are one” in Kinyarwranda I unsuccessfully tried to hold back the tears of joy these people represent in my life. The appreciation I have for how well they care for our kids.

After about 20-30 mins of song and dance they sat back down and we did a little entertainment program. Sarah and Abby have discovered Lionels amazing dance skills and they cranked the itunes and let him take the floor. A bit timid at 1st he eventually got the courage from the cheering crowds to go for it. Abby and Sarah then did a duet “Down to the River” and received lots of cheers.

We decided to hold off on the ice cream as the evening seemed perfect as is and Abby and Sarah could use it for their departures or just another night of celebration.

The kids then filed out to help do dishes. Abby had sent up the perfect production line of wash, then rinse then dry. About 6 kids did the work with Abby and I providing some assistance. The adults decided it was time to get the little kids back to the other houses and came by to say thanks. The look on their faces when they saw what a good job the kids were doing with dishes was priceless.

In the end, the kids were very proud of their night and the adults understood that they were appreciated and clearly were so proud of each and everyone one of them. the kids for the time, effort and love they each put into it.

Abby, Sarah , Erica and I ended the night by cracking open a bottle of African wine I had bought in town earlier in the week. Ahhh, a very very very good day.

Notes to Donna from the kids :)

Hello everyone! Apologies for the lack of updates this week…. More are coming soon! In the meantime, Innocent, Isaac and Sande typed messages to Ms. Donna. (Nothing is edited!):

Hi Iam Innocent God bless you


Hi it is me Isaac, Innocent and Lionel we missed you so much.

Sarah and Abby are helping us and we are happy with them.

Please Donna may you come back we missed you so much and we love you so much.

Last evening when you were going to go back in Minesota in the morning we laughed so much because of what you showed us


To Donna.

HI am sande

HI Donna how are you now we want to skype with you we are praying For you that GOD can bless you so you can came on Christmas day. GOD you so much. Say harry to every body and Imissed you so much. You tell Krsten that we missed her so!!!!much and we want to skype with her. And tell Ian that I love hem so!!!?? Much and I am praying hem and GOD bless you so much!!?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

We are counting down Donna’s last days in Kigali and trying to check as much off our list as possible. First on the agenda was getting some video of the kids singing and saying some greetings. Donna’s going to turn the best of our cuts into a New Hope Homes video. The problem is the kids are SO tired of being videotaped! And rightfully so. Abby and I have been following everyone around with 2 digital SLR cameras, a video camera, 2 point and shoots, and a digital voice recorder. So I did the ultimate no-no. I bribed them. As soon as I told the older kids that I’d give em candy if the video turned out, the grimaces and eye-rolls were replaced with a sudden sense of urgency to perform!! Imagine that.

Momma Chantel stopped by to say hi (more pictures and video). Even on just a stop by she’s busy settling disputes between children and makes sure each gets a hug before she leaves. Chantel took Sande and Kayatesie with her when she left because their older brother and sister had stopped by to visit. It was heartbreaking to watch the affect this had on Alice (7). I couldn’t tell if she was tired or sad, but she finally cuddled up to me and said, “they never come to visit me”. When I asked her who, she responded her aunt and uncle and proceeded to tell me a little bit about her family. It’s hard to know how to respond when a child is open about something so truly painful. These kids are generally so happy and well behaved, it’s easy to forget about the private battles they fight on the inside. Even for a 7 yr old, there is deep pain in being abandoned and forgotten, especially by family. These are strong kids to endure all this. Oh, and btw, Alice is still 1st in her class! She showed me her marks today. Way to go Alice!!

The day continued with lots of quality time with kids. Physical touch, affirmations, new games, music, etc. Donna and I got a good start organizing the bookshelf in the schoolroom. Admittedly, I’m a nerd and got distracted for a good 20 minutes by a book on the history of the alphabet. And then the kids went down for dinner. One of my new favorite times of day is the pre-bed-wind-down time with the older boys. Tonight we played some old school Monie Love and Lionel and Innocent showed off their hip-hop dance moves!! There’s a video somewhere, it’s unbelievable.

I just want to thank everyone for your thoughts and prayers as we continue with our time here in Kigali. It means a lot to have a community of support behind these kids and behind us as we are working here.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A night on the town!

Sunday. What a day. It began with church. Both last week and today, we walked past the market and down the road to “Rwanda for Jesus.” What a great church! This is a different one from the one I attended last time, for those of you keeping track. We’re hoping to make it back there as well. Rwanda for Jesus has two services: one in English and one in Kinyarwanda. Last week and today, we hit the tail end of the English service (for the muzungu’s benefit!) and stayed for the Kinyarwanda portion. The church is alive and flourishing. The kids really like Sunday School. The walk to and from church is a long one for the littlest kids. I pulled Ingabire along for most of the walk home, but toward the end, her tired eyes won me over, enough so that I hoisted her up on my shoulders. I got a lot of laughs from passer-bys. I believe the translation of what they were saying: “look at that white person with an African baby on her shoulders!” I just smile and laugh along with them. 

After church it was a lunch of chips (French fries) and sauce (tomatoes and beef). It is the kids’ favorite and they lapped it up with fervor. Manuel is a great cook! Nap time was next… for everyone. As we rested up at our house, we found out that we could get tickets for the FESPAD festival. And the headliner was…. Lauryn Hill! (!!!) For those of you that know me, you know she is one of my most favorite all time artists. Thanks to Erica (Chantal’s daughter) we secured tickets, hopped on a moto, and headed to Kigali’s beautiful stadium. I love riding by moto! Contrary to what I’ve heard, my driver was actually very cautious.

At “the stad” (stadium), we joined a rather short line of people to get into the concert. The line, however, quickly turned into a mob of people very determined to get in. We stuck together and made it into a line to get searched and patted down. After making it through security, yet another mob formed, which could have quickly turned into a stampede. Thankfully, we made it through and got into the concert area. Lauryn Hill was sound checking. I was in disbelief…. I am in Kigali’s stadium. Lauryn Hill is literally 30 feet away from me. Unbelievable.

We settled into our seats and listened to the 5 acts before Lauryn. The standout was Mike-E, an Ethiopian-born, now Detroit-based rapper / spoken word artist. His lyrics were incredible – SO relevant to Rwanda and inner city areas in the states. Do yourself a favor and look him up! Lauryn Hill came on after midnight. I can’ t think of a better performer to bring to Kigali. Her lyrics are critical and empowering. She sang “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do…” What a powerful message to sing to a country in the trenches of forgiveness.

I’m not going to lie, it was an incredibly late night, and after an (expensive) taxi ride home, we crawled into our beds and barely hit the pillow before sleep set in. I never expected to have this kind of day in Rwanda, how amazing.


Saturday, July 24, 2010


We began the day today with three tasks: wash our clothes, organize shoes for the kids, and go to the market to buy vegetables. I am proud to say all three tasks were accomplished! But of course, nothing ever goes as easy as you’d hope. And there are always lessons to be learned.

When Abby and I woke up this morning, Donna had already headed out to the market to look for fabric and take some pictures. After a few cups of tea (I’m a caffeine addict) I finally felt human enough to begin washing clothes. The process: find water, pour water from huge jugs into washing basin, find soap, soak clothes in soapy water, use bar soap and rub on clothes, use fists to rub pieces of clothes together until dirt is removed, rinse clothes until all soap is gone, hang to dry. To sum it all up, LENGTHY!! I can’t believe how hard these aunties work to wash clothes for themselves and the 27 children. I thought I could rest easy, all my laundry done, 4th or 5th cup of tea in hand, when I realized that the piece of paper with all of Sister Nathalie’s contact information (refer to yesterday’s post) was in the back pocket of the jeans I just washed. I ran to my jeans and pulled out a soggy, crumpled mess that used to be a piece of paper. Face gray, heart stopped, body sweating profusely, I grabbed Abby’s tweezers and set to work (see pic). I don’t think I even breathed until I finished. But, thank the Lord, I was able to spread it enough to copy the information in my notebook. (I can’t even describe the look on Donna’s face throughout all of this. She is a woman of unbelievable grace)

After we all calmed down, we began the arduous task of finding tennis and dress shoes for all the kids in their right sizes. We’ve been at this for a while. Most of the kids are wearing shoes that are too small, some as much as 2-3 sizes. We searched through bags in the storage room and found the right shoes for most of the kids. Some will have to make do with shoes that are a little too small or too big until we can find the right ones.

We also took Sande, Marie Rose, Fabiola, and Alice with us to the market. Donna is so much fun to walk the streets of Kigali with. She doesn’t know a stranger and she’s constantly making new friends with her camera! There were crowds of people around her while Abby and I were picking out produce. What a great sight! It’s inspiring to see how committed Donna is to getting to know the community surrounding New Hope Homes. The busy day kept going. Donna hosted a market for all the staff at NHH. They all got to pick a number and come pick out a gift from her “market”. Everyone had such a blast! The aunties and uncles were laughing so hard. We were also celebrating the day with a movie night for everyone. Kids made jiffy pop over the charcoal stove, played with dress up masks, and then we all sat in the classroom and watched part of Toy Story together. Sande ditched the movie to help me cook some of Donna’s meat. He was great. While we cooked, I asked him about what he wants to be when he grows up. He responded either a football man or a bishop. All of these kids have such powerful stories. As an American, you usually hear about kids in poverty in numbers. So many kids go to bed hungry, blank amount of kids are orphaned by violence or disease. It rocks your world a bit when these kids stop being numbers. They are Sande, the 11 year old who wants to be a bishop, and Alice, the 6 year old who loves dancing and having her hand held. There are 25 other kids like these at NHH. All with hopes, dreams, and fears. All unique, all wanting to be loved.

So while my task-oriented side celebrates that we crossed everything off the day’s list, I am also humbled by remembering that there is a greater purpose behind what we do here. The kids these homes are serving are real, just born in a different country and in a different context than the ones I see running around Minneapolis.

Sarah trying to piece together the paper with the Visionary's contact info from yesterday. Thanks for the tweezers Abby
Movie Night - Toy Story - complements of Kristen Cavallo Abby and Sarah's yummy stir fry Jiffy Pop works like a charm on our charcoal stove Sarah cooking with the kids
Sande learning to cook with Sarah Abby doing dishes Claude washing Our milk delivery person. A 45 min ride each way to the cows.

Lot of interesting ways to carry chicken.

Yesterday we had lunch a restaurant in Kibeho. We ordered chicken. We had to wait 50 mins for them to 1st kill it, then pluck it, the cook it. Ahh, simple pleasure.

A place to fall in love with - Rwanda

Market and More

Soak in the beauty of Rwanda