Saturday, August 13, 2011

It’s the simple things that matter.

We all know it, but here with these children, it is really apparent. It’s the simple things that matter. Holding a child who has fallen. Reading to another. Listening to a child read. Playing hand games. Playing peek a boo. Kicking a ball. Just holding a child. It matters. It’s make our kids feel like they are now safe and loved.

I wish I had more arms and legs as each is full to over flowing each day. Particularly with the little kids who are about 18 months to 5 years old. As much as I try, it is impossible to really give any child the attention they really need. Sometimes I think I should just set a 30 min timer and be intentional about it….but as you know…these are kids and it doesn’t work that way. If they want to talk or all jump on you…than so be it. If I am sitting on the stoop I usually have 2 playing with my hair. 1 on each thigh, 1 or 2 on my legs or feet and 2 standing in line or playing with my hands. It is perpetual motion all the time.

Yes, that means if you cared to join me on a trip, then your arms would be full too!

It’s been especially wonderful the last two trips to see how the babies are becoming young girls and boys. Dorcus, Ariena, and Mbaba came to us as babies. Now they understand English and clearly have a pov about life. Each of the kids have their own personalities and it’s good to see them develop. The big kids 9-11 year olds require such different things now vs 5 years ago. They 'tolerate' the group sing alongs, but they would rather be talking football (soccer), on a computer trying to learn math or English or of course…trying to get me to let them have my iphone or local phone to play games. I have been on a bit of a crackdown on this trip – limiting this type of time. Sometimes I hate the fact that I introduced them to technology and greatly increased their dvd movie selection. Gone are the early days where we didn’t have power at night and had to sit around a candle or in the dark to entertain ourselves. Now it’s head down in technology or asking to watch a movies. At the same I do fully recognize the importance of these kids learning computer skills that will help them advance here in school and beyond….so yes, I advance the ball.

I took an early morning walk today….abut 5:30AM hoping to beat the rush before the kids stirred. Of course it was a silly gamble as Prince and Innocent were already in classroom on the computers. I said a quick hello and tried to exit. The gate is always locked and the “uncle” who guards it at night was asleep and the hideout access was not available. I felt terrible about disturbing him but his reply was ‘nah-chee-ba-zo”…no problem Miss Donna.

The bulk of the people here get around on foot. The early morning time is especially busy. Heading in a new direction, the ‘moozoongo’ (white person – me) created a bit more stir than normal. The others in the ‘hood’ have come to know that I am always around and about. I went to check out Abby’s new find. Some American’s apparently have a bagel shop near our place. Bagels? Ya gotta be kidding me. On Saturdays they convert to donuts. I found the shop knowing that it would be too early and didn’t have any francs on me, but it was fun to know it’s there for future visitors/volunteers.

The journey continued up and down the hills. I love this place. On my return I stopped by the Mayor’s office for a visit with my friends there. The line up of visitors all stare as I pass by. I greet them good morning and say hi to all the people I know. It’s pretty funny to see their reaction. I was surprised today that the Mayor’s Assistant – Louise – had a gift for me. I am so used to be the one handing out things, that it really touched my heart. She had two sweet necklaces all wrapped in a white paper with my named nicely written on it. I was so thankful for her kindness. She kept laughing at my response because it was over the top from her point of view. All that she asked is that I take a photo of me wearing it and email it to her. These people never cease to amaze me.

So, that’s the report for today. No exciting stories or adventures…but some times that’s exactly the point of being here. Simply being present.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some dear kids in the hood that have a bit tougher life than we do! Washing hands before lunch. Some of the girls helping me with my wash. Ok, they actually did it all! But it was their request I promise. Chantal, Donna and some of the big kids.

Love is in the air

Got to bed by 11 pm last night so I got a great night sleep before the house got rocking at 6:30 am.

The girls decided they would help me with the wash. I feel like Tom Sawyer, but they really do like it. It’s always a great time for chat and songs. I continue to work on my Kinyrawranda so it’s nice having a captive audience to teach me. It’s a tonal language so while I may have the sounds right, the tone and volume of them are often wrong and creates much humor for them. It’s hard! Their favorite thing is when I try and try and still get it wrong that I finally motion like “I’ve got it”. Then they lean in to listen…….suddenly I make up a lot of mumble jumble and always add pancakes. They laugh and laugh…”missy donna, why do you always say pancakes?”. They like pancakes and they think it is a funny word, so I like to entertain them.

The rest of the day was spent in love and love with lots of arms wrapped around me and me around! The love here is present. If ever you are down, know that time spent with the kids of New Hope Homes will make all the difference in the world. They are so real. So pure of spirit.

Chantal came and took 6 of the kids with the best grades at Sonrise School to be able to join her for an overnight at her house. She really works to ensure the kids understand how important education and good grades are to their success. This treat reinforces it.

Tantinay (Auntie) Jaki again spent time with the kids teaching them songs tonight and playing with them. Her love and inspiration for this kids knows no bounds.

I am grateful that while this work is so hard, they know that they are serving a heavenly purpose as this is surely a higher calling.

Abby came for another visit today. The kids LOVE when she comes by. They ask every day if she is coming as they now know she lives here so their expectations are higher!

Abby and I decided to go for a drink while the kids were at dinner. We found a place just a few places down from New Hope Homes a couple of years ago and like to go for a visit. Alas they had closed so we walked to the market to check out a place I had spotted yesterday. We each enjoyed a nice glass of wine and wonderful conversation. I am so excited about what her life will be here.

We walked down to get her a moto home.

We hugged goodbye and I began my journey home. Only in here in Kicukiro would I be greeted by 2 friends on my way home. As I walking in the dark up the road, a man on a moto came by and yelled my name. I turned to find one of our former Uncles on a moto. It was so good to see him. Moment later the man from the market who makes skirts for me was walking home and greeted me. I LOVE being a part of this community. I wish my time here each trip could be longer but I am grateful to my co-workers at Aegis Media who allow me to make 3 trips per year.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Alice bringing joy to our Gereza. How's this for pure love?

The best tickling crew around. All in the spirit of making Desami smile. Well done. Some great kids in the neighborhood. Kids helping with kids.

A most amazing ending to my day.

A morning walk to the soko (the produce market) is a nice way to start the day. And again, hello to the people in charcoal market, then a pass through my neighorhood friends, then to the major’s office to say hello, past the bike taxi’s ..whoops wait…a former guard from New Hope Homes is one of the bike taxi drivers so we had a nice visit. Finally to the market.

For some unexpected reason the market was rather small today. Still huge, but smaller than normal. Never seen it like this, but I greeted all my friends as I walk through it. I have taken many photos there and usually bring them back as a gift to thank them. I didn’t bring any this time so I was in a trouble with a few people. I tried my best to say Christmas, but it was to no avail. Then to my friend Eugene the tailor for a hello. The journey takes times as I greet them.

I was simply in search of 2 pineapples. You haven’t had pineapple until you have had it here. I think I could live on it. Juicy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The regular price is about 300-400 francs – about 70 -80 cents per. They wanted 500 francs from me. I told her it was a Moozoongo price and wanted it for 400. After much negotiation I lost my battle and looked for another. Alas, I had to return and pay the 500. I still feel good as they usually get at least 1000 from the white people, but I have not yet local status. ☺

We had a tough class today. Hard hard questions. The great part is the kids love it when it’s hard! They really strive to do their best and when they finish first they seek extra credit questions. It’s a joy to teach these children of ours.

The other priorities for the day were measuring feet and clothes sizes. As you can imagine, with 29 kids, it takes forever. More to do tomorrow, but we are making progress. The kids are growing so quickly so we are trying to keep up.

Auntie Jacki played wonderful games with the little kids this afternoon. She and all of the aunties are simply gifts to these kids. They work so hard with wash and cleaning, yet still find time to make the kids know they are loved.

The best part of my day came tonight. Deborah, our little girl with Cerebral Palsy said my name. And once she said it, she didn’t stop. It was like a chorus of angels singing to me as she really doesn’t speak. She is such a happy girl, always running and playing and smiling but hasn’t yet found her voice at about age 5ish. SOOOOOO, you can imagine my shear joy when she spoke. My day and year is complete.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Patience and Love

Another trip to Immigration. And another delay. I met with ‘the boss’ who said again “it is complicated with you”. The final step to become a citizen involves proof that I have ‘invested in the country’. For them that means land or a home. I again, politely but firmly explain that I invest lots in money in the kids of new hope homes. My investment is in people not things. He said he understood, but again, it must to go ‘his boss.’ I love a good chain of command!

Rwanda is all about patience and I have much. Thus the journey continues. I am to call on Friday for an update, but then there will be ‘no progress’ until I return in December.

I met a wonderful woman “Lara’ when returning home from Rwanda in April. She is captivated by this country and has embarked on some very personal humanitarian work. She also wanted to meet a shop keeper and greet him for her. Rwanda is all about hospitality so it’s important to pass it forward. He had a very nice place and I will recommend it to future visitors.

I also had a wonderful visit again with the kids down the street from New Hope Homes. They come running full force screaming my name as I pass each time. Then I go down the hill to their homes, greet everyone and continue on my way. They are live such very simply lives, but they are well loved.

As I pass by the charcoal market each time, the women there yell for me to pass through. Again, I exit the street, go down a little hill. Greet them with my best Kinyarwanda and continue one. As you can see, getting around here is best taken with no sense for time, just leaving a good impression for other ‘moozoongos’ (white people) who will follow.

We skyped with The RiceCakes. My cousin whose kids like to play the guitar and sign for our kids. It’s fun how they have gotten to know each other and just ask questions. It was Abi’s bday a few days ago so our kids sang Happy Bday to her in English and Kinyarwanda. The kids also hoped to speak to Holly but she was in meetings. DJ is always good entertainment so they kids got him to dance. God bless him!

I taught school again and dialed up the difficulty factor. The 1st question was how many counties can you name? The winner was 30. How many can you name?

The rest of the day was spent just loving on the kids. It’s so important to ensure that each of them get arms wrapped around them in love each day. Held, nurtured, told they they are loved and assure them that they are safe. The little kids just melt in your arms and it’s so hard to let go as you know they would say there the whole day if you let them. The big kids love to play soccer and pass a volleyball around so I let them just be kids and try to give the smaller ones more time on this trip. At most times I have at least 5 on me. 2 on the lap. One on the legs, One on the back and one on the neck…with a couple more lined up saying ‘ my turn, my turn’ in Kinyarwanda.

Tonight I am again reminded what amazing children we are raising. The big kids are always helping with the little kids. This is especially true at bed time. Each much be bathed. Water must be carried in from a tank across the way and then the bucket is used to wash. The big kids are always helping carry water and finding clothes etc. For many, it was just a year or so ago when they had no place to live and no bucket to carry so the gift of New Hope Homes is a blessing indeed.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Images of Kibeho

The beautiful land of 1000 hills. Some of the kids of New Hope Homes and me near where Mary appeared in the 80's. Morning Mass in Kibeho. The beautiful Alter in the church.

Kibeho Road Trip

A long, exhausting… but absolutely beautiful day.

The kids that were planning to come to Kibeho got up super early…5:45, despite the alarms being set for 6:30. They were excited to begin our long 4 hour drive. Go figure.

Our driver got confused and arrived 1 hour late so it was a mad dash to get to Kibeho. And I mean a mad dash. Zoom zoom zoom. Mind you this is on very very twisty roads. I called shot gun early in the van as I was hoping to take some pictures, but the scenery was blowing by so quickly that there were but a few chances.

The car was packed with 6 kids, Abby, Auntie Florientine, the driver and yours truly. Packed like sardines on the two bench seats and in between the passenger and driver seat, on the floor and everywhere in between…just like we all used to travel in simple days gone by.

This driver had not been to Kibeho but said he knew the way. The challenge is there is a long way when you get off the paved road and a short way. The signs direct you to the long way…so that was the best we could do.

We arrived tardy for mass, but were delighted to make it at all given the time we left Kigali.

The church was packed, the music beautiful. I was delighted to be in Kibeho for the first time on a Sunday.

After mass we waited for Anathalie (the visionary to whom Mary – yes that Mary- appeared as a small girl). She smiled and waved at us encouraging us to simply wait for her. I would wait for a week to be in the presence of this blessed woman.

The kids were so so patient as always. Anathalie ultimately greeted us and told our Isaac that she needed to meet with a group of Nuns that had come to visit her. Alas the visit went one for over an hour. The kids waited so patiently and quietly. They were hot, hungry and tired, but never a peep was sounded. Abby was so sweet to simply hang with them while I wandered around, took photos and savored time to pray for so many people and give thanks for all the many blessings in my life.

It was wonderful to simply just sit quietly in the chapel and be present.

Kibeho sits on the top of a many hills so the wind comes and just breaths in the goodness of fresh life. I try to imagine what it must have been like in the early 80’s when Mary appeared on a frequent basis with lots beautiful messages and challenges. She warned of the genocide before it happened. If you want to know more about this area and story read the book Our Lady of Kibeho. There is so much to share about this amazing place, but I am typing this with lots of kids around me seeking my attention.

Anathalie eventually emerged and was so excited for our visit. By that time our numbers had dwindled to Isaac my 11 year old translator and me. AND to top things off we got a call that the van was urgently needed back in Kigali so suddenly my trip needed to be cut short. My heart sank, but I decided that rather than fret about the change of plans, that I would just savor the time with Anathalie, short as it was.

To be in her embrace is to know the love of God. I speak the truth. It simply it.

I had made some post cards for her to sell in her little shop. She had selected the pictures on my April visit with her so she liked the output a lot. My Mom had also sent along some shoes for her as she is never able to leave the immediate area unless it is for medical needs. Imagine spending your life from the teen years until today (about 48ish) in prayer and greeting visitors from all around the world to hear her story. She is a patient and loving woman.

As we left I asked her pray for my family, the kids of New Hope Homes and to bless my work in NY so I can continue to provide for our kids here in Rwanda. She said “ I pray for you and you pray for me”. She knows only a few words of English, but this is a very good phrase to know! I was supposed to spend time teaching her English on this trip, but alas we had to pass it. She asked that I come and stay for at least a day/night on my December visit so we have more time to be together sharing. I eagerly await that opportunity.

The drive back was quite nutty. First was the vomit fest. Yes, it probably was not go to have the kids eat in the car, but since the van was urgently needed in Kigali, we had no choice. My standard protocol is a Ziploc bag in the hands of all of the kids. And yes…some were eventually filled! I have a gag reflex so I had to ask the drive to “hagarara – stop” so I could deal with resulting gag reflex. Abby then gave up her shot gun seat for me so I didn’t have to listen to the sound and smell the – well you know….These kids never complain. They just “blah” as we say and then continue on talking. No tears, so sadness…just a fact of life on Rwanda road trips. They also made me laugh until I cried with stories of a trip where (without Ziploc bags), Kayitesi filled up two shoes, and Innocent one. Then the kicker…when Grace threw up on the head of Kayetesi! Ya just gotta hear them tell the stories with their accents…you would rolling on the flooring laughing…I promise.

We also were having some van problems including steering and battery…so there was never a dull moment. Add to that … one of the many security checks along the way with the military and a police man playing big man made for a tough turn. He took away our car registration from the driver until we paid some kind of nonsense thing. After much and very heated disagreement we lost our battle. Never to be defeated….after a few well placed calls, we were told to turn around and retrieve it. Unfortunately that meant adding another 1.5 hours to our journey for good measure. Securing our paperwork again, we were ready to set out. Unfortunately the battery wasn’t working. After a prayer, some tape from Abby and a large stone…the Driver jerry-rigged a workable solution. Next to find gas as the light was flashing flashing flashing. Yikes. Never a dull moment on our road trips. By this time, our friends in Kigali of course had to make alternate arrangements as we were so delayed. The kids, hungry and thirsty just remained in good spirits sleeping, and playing “ I am thinking of something… know…are u a person, are you a thing, do you have a color etc etc.” Excellent thumb wars got us through the final push of the trip.

Returning home the big kids who were left behind (we rotate every trip), greeted us warmly with not one complaint for being left behind.

Have I mentioned what beautiful children we have at New Hope Homes!

Tomorrow brings another trip to Immigration in an attempt to make some progress on my Citizen application process. Then skyping…then chilling.

We will skype a few more times and then get off the grid so I can disconnect from America and just be with our kids here. I love ya, but I need to be off the grid to process much work to be done here.

We loved having Abby with ua again today. I was able to see her beautiful home tonight. She is surly a gift to Rwanda.

Hope you day was blessed.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Saturday in Rwanda.

The kids woke early and decided to sit in the bedroom next to mine to chat about life. I love listening to them talk to their brothers and sisters about life. Giggling and just waking to the mornings possibilities.

I joined them and we continued our random chat about life from America, to Rwanda to Soccer etc etc. They were all curious when I was going to leave them to attend a friends wedding. They were delighted when they heard it was in the evening.

Chantal arrived in town so I went for a visit with her. God bless this woman who cares for so many…her own kids in the states, our kids here and the thousands in Musanze. The desire to serve is so real in her heart, but it is so very taxing. Please keep her in your prayers.

We are also working towards our 2012 budgets and have yet to find a way to meet the needs of all 3 homes. It can be overwhelming if we really think about it. So for now we simple ask those of you that can help with any tax deductible donation we would be grateful. We promise to be wonderful stewards of every dollar. The easiest way to do it is on facebook, the next is There in ends my mini commercial.

Chantal and I got finished with errands and were greeted by Abby and the kids when we returned. As many of your know, Abby and our friend Sarah come over for a month about 4 years ago, and feel in love with Rwanda. They returned with me last August and now Abby has moved here as of Tuesday this week to teach and continue to uplift the country.

She is a gifted teacher and the kids LOVE LOVE LOVE when she comes to teach them as she really knows how to do it as opposed to me….who just makes it up as I go!

The kids love Abby and we love having her with us. She also discovered a hidden treasure of our District. Some American’s who make donuts one Saturday mornings near the produce market. She surprised the kids with a box of them to share today. YUM.

The afternoon was spent chilling, getting ready for the wedding and trying to find someone to drive us to Kibeho as I haven’t been able to reach John who drove me the last couple of times. We also had some fun skype calls again.

Chantal finally found someone who knew how to get there as it’s remote and not a common place to attend.

I had a lovely time at the wedding tonight. That was of course after I tried to attend 2 of the wrong ones. People kept directing me to places…so I would enter, greet the people and then mention the bride’s name. Oiya! Which means no. Then off to the the next one which they assured me was the correct space. As I was about to be seated I again asked to confirm…Oiya!. Oh now. Finally I was able to reach the bride’s brother who told me I was close…just down the road a bit. As I walked the dusty road to find the chapel, the parade of wedding cars passed me waving me onward. It was a beautiful and very special wedding. I hope to one day share the name of the bride as she is quite a famous author, but for now she has asked that I keep the confidence. Needless to say, it was a joy to be a part of such a blessing.

Returning home, I kids jumped out of bed and ran outside with Abby to greet me. That is of course, just after she had them settled down….ahh, the joys of camp like nights!

Tomorrow morning we are off to Kibeho. I pray that my heart will be ready to receive whatever it is intended to.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The often serious Isaac....being a real kid! The bean bag toss brings lots of laughs. Prince helping with dishes Our night watchman for the 2nd/3rd homes.
Skyping with Danny and his little brother Simple yet effective storage Talking "football" smack with Ian Love chating with our goooood friend Kristen

The simple gifts of love and laughter

The house awakens at 6ish to the sound of the nearby rooster. It’s not a slow stirring. The rooster crows, the floors start to be washed from stem to sterm, the kid start giggling and the approaching it with the zest that comes of youth.

I visited some friends down the road while the kids were bathing. There are 4 impoverished homes with very simple means all living together in a sort of community with a shared dirt yard. The kids saw me coming down the road and immediately starts screaming my name as they came running. Together we went to the compound to greet the mama’s and other kids. There is no common language among us to it’s up to me to deliver my best Kinyarwanda. It’s much easier when I bring one of the big kids with me to translate, but it’s fun to just wander.

A quick trip to the Mayor’s office to greet other friends there. Most were gone, but Jimmy was happy to see me as he spent a lot of time with me while we processed one of the many layers of paperwork to advance my cause of citizenship.

We had a very productive class today. We played hangman for about 1.5 hours and then I did the next round of lessons. The middle kids that are in the neighborhood school now join them so it’s truly a one room classroom.

I took a little o snooze while they had lunch.

The afternoon was spent skyping with lots of friends. Each skype call brings a new set of friends for our kids. Marie Rose has been really want to skype with Rebecca and FINALLY it happened today. Rebecca from New Hope Homes was able to skype with her sisters in the states, (Different Rebecca’s). The kids loved seeing their brother and sister Erica and Eric from Colorado, They got to talk to Holly twice. 6 year old Danny Harvey and his little brother were quite a hoot. Great soccer conversations were had with Ian, Kristen and Kate. Ian has a great rivalry with Ian has he is a Arnsel’s fan and our boys are Chelsea fan. Isaac was wearing a Chelsea shirt to Ian ran to quickly change and put on his Arsenal’s shirt….and so goes our sweet life here with people around the world showing them how much they are loved and they are never along.

We also have some wonderful news to report. Desami…the twin that can’t yet walk due to some very challenged feet is now able to crawl….and might I saw at lightening speed. He can also stand up with someone holding without crying. This is HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE HUGE for me. We need to continue his therapy and continue to pray that he will one day be able to walk and run like his twin brother. Deborah…our girls with CP is also doing really well. I did a game yesterday where they had to mirror me….hand on head, toes, knees up etc etc…she kept perfect time with ease. We love our little girl who has such a big heart. I do believe that one day she will speak too.

Counting our blessings.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

A beautiful day

Recently people have been asking me when I sleep. My new answer. On the flights to Rwanda. 16 hours of sweet sleep bliss.

Arriving at the New Hope Homes gate, I was met by 2 year Mwami who said “oh missy donna” and when running to get the other kids. Then he came back yelling my name following by the pied piper of kids finishing bathing, etc etc. Dogpiled in the arms of 30 kids and you know that life is indeed sweet.

Then hugs and kisses for each with an I love you.

In that moment, everything else in life melts away and I am once again reminded that I have found my life’s work.

Chatting with 11 year old Isaac, I asked if life is good…bad…or between. He paused, looked me straight in the face…it is not Good….it is GREAT. That sums up the work of New Hope Homes and the many of you who have made that work possible as we are funded exclusively by private donations, many of you who are reading this. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Today I also the continued the odyssey of attempting to become a citizen. 2 trips to Immigration today revealed that there is “no progress” on my paperwork. I am case number 17. When I inquired what number they are on…there was a confused look. When I mentioned that I saw the President of Rwanda in Chicago a few months back and was able to ask him a question….one of the guys in the office who was watching the event in Rwanda said. “I saw you”. And wished me well on my continued paperwork. I also again asked about the type of test I will be eventually taking (written and oral) IF I ever get to that day. He again said “there is no book, you just have to know”. Arghh. I hope when the day comes, that I will actually ‘know’.

I then rang ‘the boss’ who said he would meet with me on Monday AM. We’ll see. Patience is a much practiced skill here.

We also had the joy of surprising the kids with a visit from Abby today. Abby came to volunteer for a month 4 years ago then again last August. As of Tuesday she has moved to Rwanda to teach! She will be about 15 mins from the kids, so they are looking forward to seeing her. OFTEN.

I had 3 skype calls with the office which brought much entertainment to my co-workers as the kids were hanging all over me and kept coming to the camera to say “hi” while I was talking. Good humor all around.

A full day. I am indeed blessed to be in the presence of these amazing kids.

We will be skyping tomorrow morning USA time. Shoot me a note on skype (rwandadonna) or on facebook if you want to connect with us.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Rwanda Bound

In route back to our beloved kids at New Hope Homes in Rwanda. The big kids just got home for a little holiday break. MWAMI is having challenges with his face again. More to report when I arrive. Thanks for following along and for being such a beautiful support system to our kids. Donna