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..........