Monday, December 31, 2012

Kate's report 1.13

Today’s report from 8 year old Kate (Kristen and Ian’s daughter)

Today we celebrated Christmas with the kids. Before we talked about Jesus and Isaac, Kayitesi and I read from the bible. There were some really hard words.

They got all kinds of things. They got shirts, shoes, a present, pjs, socks, underwear, a backpack, a jacket, pants, a waterbottle, and a toothbrush. It was really fun.

After we took some pictures and played with our things. Then the kids had to leave and we gave them big hugs and said goodbye.

 And my mom slept in this morning and my brother and dad went Gorilla Trekking.  They followed the Ugenda group of gorillas.  This group is special because they have two Silverback leaders where most groups have just one.  The paths up the mountain were very muddy and many people fell going both ways.  But, they came home without being hurt, they were just very muddy.  THE END!!!!!!!!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Kristen, Ian, Matt and Kate are here!

  Ok, just prior to that arrival… back up for a tiny bit...

  I arose early and walked the grounds of the Cana center prior to our departure at 6:15.  It was a beautiful crisp morning as hillsides slowly awoke.  It is so peaceful in Kibeho. A time to simply be still.  And yes, well all know I need more of that so I savored the time.

  Harvin and I left Kibeho at 6:15 as the sun had just peaked over the distant mountains. The colors were breathtaking as they spread their array of yellows, pinks and reds across the hillside breaking through the dense fog as it danced across the sky.

  Morning is my favorite time to be out and about. People are out and about with the business of their day.  Yellow jerry (water) can are everywhere as people head out to replenish the water they need for the days. Goats walking along the side of the road with small boys who tend them.  Everything is atop the head. Fruit, pots, grass for cattle, etc etc. If you can carry it, it’s best on the head.

  We zipped back to Kigai in perfect time to pick up Kristen Cavallo and her husband Ian, their son Matt  (15) and daughter Kate (8).  It required 2 vehicles to get us back, but was about an hour or so late so we enjoy the flexibility that is Rwanda and simply enjoyed each others company and grabbed a bite.

  Eventually we were ready to rock and stopped by Abrahams for some gifts and the bakery for some bread for Chantal.

  Kristen and the kids road with me, Ian and Harvin took the van.  The ride from Kigali to Musanze is extremely windy with deep cliffs on the side of the road.  The drivers dash in and out around the people, animals and trucks. Kate wasn’t digging the fast speed so we talk her to say Slow in Rwanda.  Whenever she got scared, she would simply say boo-whore-row, boo-whore-row to ask Innocent to slow. He was quite sweet with her.

  Arriving at Chantal and Mbanda we were greeted by some lovely new friends and enjoyed a wonderful feast.  While we were absolutely enjoying the fantastic company and food we were all anxious to see the kids.

  Harvin drove us to the gate. Ian got out and went in.  He stood in the front  with a football (soccer ball)  and just tossed it in the air.  The kids came out and just looked at him to greet him but weren’t sure who it was. Sande was one of the 1st.  He and Ian are great friends but only have been able to skype.  Sande looked at him and said,  “Ian?”  “Yes!” was Ian’s reply and the hugs began, The rest of us got out of the van and greeted everyone.

We sat in a circle to do introductions.  Once the formality was done, the fun began, Kristen lead a dance party with Harvin.  Ian started a makeshift football match on the stoop while Matt was at the bottom of a dogpile of kids who wanted to be close to him. Kate learned a bunch of new games with hands and feet.

  Then people naturally switch positions. It was so wonderful have more arms to hold more of our kids.

  After lots of play time Ian asked if we could go for walk.  We aske Mama if we could take everyone for a short walk. Usually we take the big kids and go on longer walks, but we wanted today to be special so we could take everyone. Today’s intense rainstorm left our dirt road slippery and full of puddles. Yes, any kids dream.  We went down the road, down an embankment, across the field and up a road. As dusk was approaching we reversed our route and headed back.

  Is I trailed behind taking pics, I tried to present to the gift of Harvin and Kristen and Ian’s family to these kids. A most remarkable moment.

On  ce home we began to re-sort all the Christmas Presents so we could ensure we are ready for tomorrow. Yes…New Years Eve will be our Christmas. To make it even more special Abby will be with us!  Yeah!!!

  Dinner around the Mbanda table is always filled with love and tonight was no exception.

  We snuggle in for the night and cherish the opportunity for another sweet day tomorrow. Matt and Kate are such a blessing to all of us.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A Very Good Day.

  Harvin was feeling much better today. Not whole, but better.  Good enough to visit the kids.

  We started the day by driving to the new home we are building.  It’s come such a long way since August and we were so happy to continue the building now that we raised a bit more money.  Our goal is to open in April.  It’s about a 20 min drive in the rural area.  It was almost hard to make out the house as the corn that our team has planted is super tall. For those that don’t know our story, the kids are living in a very small rental house now while we build the new home. Our goal is to be as sustaining as possible, therefore we have purchased a huge plot of land and will nestle the home amongst it so we can live off the land as much as possible.

  This part of the country is unique in that we get 3 harvests a year so we will rotate corn 2x and the other will be beans.  Our goal is to have our cows nearby.  In Kigali someone on bike had to ride 45 mins each way to get the milk.  Unfortunately, our remaining cow will be put down in the next day or two. It broke a hip in a ditch and despite treating it, it is not healing. We are letting the medicine get out of it’s system a bit and then will butcher it for meat vs waiting for it do die and not getting any potential benefit.

  Many of you may have read about the hefier cows which are $500 each.  We have the premium cows here which produce DRAMATICALLY more milk while eating the same amount of food – unfortunately they are $2000 each. If you know of anyone who wants to donate for a cow, let me know J.  Until then we’ll need to buy the milk from some other place.

  The home is going to be spectacular.  It’s really really wonderful. As you can imagine housing this many kids, plus mommy, aunties and uncles is quite an undertaking.  Chantal has been super smart about how she approached it. As the kids get older she wants to ensure there is physical separation between the boys and girls.  Boys enter and go up stairs, the girls so up the other stairs and there is no way they can sneak between.  As Chantal says…while we are one big family, these kids are not blood relatives…so we don’t want any New Hope Homes Grandchildren J.

  I will also have a permanent room in the house. I leave all my things here in storage each time so I can use all my personal bag allotment for supplies, but now I will be able to keep my things in place and just pick up where I left off when I left.  I am also happy the it is a visible sign for the kids that I will always come back. They are family and I intend to be with them until the day they put my ashes in the ground there or in Arkansas.

  We have much to do yet on the home, but celebrate it’s progress as we raise incremental funds here and there. Once we get the remaining funds for the home, we will start to work on the grounds.

  A special thing about this home. There is an avocado tree on the property that has never produced avocados.  As we started to build our home, it began to produce avocados. The locals are amazed. We believe it is a blessing for our kids.

  Next we were off the see the kids. Harvin and I jumped into the semi-funcational van that is our transort for the kids and headed down the road, through a portion of the town and over two log bridges.  When we arrived at the gate, Manuel was just leaving so he was opening the gate. He was thrilled to see Harvin.  When we drove in the kids all yelled Miss Donna, Miss Donna and then Muzungo which means white person. They didn’t realize it was Harvin until get pulled all the way in.  Then they squealed for joy.  Some of the aunties and kids were in back, so he got a double surprise.

  The next few hours were spent with the kids piled on top of Harvin and a handful with me. They had to know everything that was going on in his family, like and work.  This will they put their fingers through his hard and cuddled every possible way it was to get a piece of him !  They love him so so so very much.

  Esther remains unhappy that Kristen Cavallo is not here. She asks to call her about every 5 minutes. Finally at about 7:30 EST we did. This was after she posted a note on her facebook wall about how much she misses her and wishes she could come NOW! Well the great part is, Kristen, her husband Ian and two kids Kate and Matt will be here in 2 days.  OMG –it’s going to be a big big reunion.

   After lunch, the kids and I took Harvin on our favorite adventure up the hills, through the ditches, over the log bridges to our stream and played forever.  Harvin of course is a boy and thus made the water time more fun encouraging them to walk up stream which I would not let them do the day before when it was just me.  Needless to say, the laughter filled the hillsides.

  The walk home gave us an opportunity to show Harvin how we make a human chain to get through the big ditch by helping each other.

  Our time on these adventures is so precious. The kids talk and tell stories, just being kids.

We wanted to stay out longer but decided it was best to get home to be the little kids and show we are good big brothers and sisters to them. There wasn’t a peep of disagreement amongst any of the kids.

  Back home we started working on the thank you notes for the donors.  We used the new crayons that a Kathleen, a friend from my office donated. They are all the made the more special because she donated them after she lost just about everything she had in the hurricane.  She send along some very fun art supplies. I was blown away that in her suffering she wanted to bring our kids some joy.  Yes, I am very blessed to work with the people that I do. I count these art supplies as perhaps the most precious cargo I am carrying on this trip.

We also had a fun visit with some family that is staying with Chantal and Mbanda when they came to meet the kids. They are a very beautiful family inside and out and we have loved our evening fellowship around the table until the nearly midnight each night.

The rest of the day was the same.  More love. More Hugs. More laughter.
All good here in the land of 1000 hills.

Tomorrow Harvin and I heading to Kibeho for the day. Will not likely be online until the following after we greet Kristen, Ian and their kids.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Seems like yesterday and seems like forever ago

  That’s what it feels like to be in the arms of our kids.  It’s like time stood still from our last embrace (ignore the fact they are all taller!) as the love is so overflowing.  At the same time it feels like forever since I have been able to connect with them and ask how they are, what is good about their lives etc etc.  While I visit every 4 months, it is so very hard to be away from them.

  Unfortunately I had to go over solo today as Harvin seemed to have gotten a serious dose of food poisoning in route and spent the night worshipping the porcelain throne including sleeping on the floor in his bathroom.  This morning he was a little better, but decided to stay home and sleep. By this evening he doing great. Should be rockin’ tomorrow.

  Chantal drove me to the kids as  my scooter did not make it from Kigali.  She had me hide in the SUV.  She greeted the kids and then eventually opened the door on my side. The kids squealed for joy and the endless greetings and hugs began.  Chantal had made them cookies so they all sat down and enjoyed her homemade feast.

  Sending her off to go back home, the girls all came to chat with me and ask me so many questions. How is Harvin? How is Kristen? When does she come? How is Holly Potter?  Does Tina have a baby?  How is Jennifer Wolf?  What about Lisa? How is Rebecca? And DJ? And Liles? It went on endlessly. Then they asked about each of their sponsors.  You simply can’t fully appreciate how top of mind you all are. They know so many of you are out there helping them.

  After the little kids when down for their nap, we asked Mama if I could take the kids out for an adventure.  They learned the word adventure last time.  They now know it is when you go some place without knowing where you are going and believe that no matter what it will be fun.  So off we went on our adventure.

  We took my favorite trek from August. Down the dirt road by our home, cut through the grass near the prison then climb down a big hill with boulders, then cross through a ditch that requires us to make a human chain to get everyone from one side to the other and then…and only then…do we come to our favorite place of all. The stream.

  The water was over the banks today and flowing rapidly. The good news is the water is only about a foot so I can safely manage watching 13 kids. At first they are timid just standing at the bank watching it flow. Then eventually, one by one they get in until they all splashing and laughing until their guts are about to split. The locals come out and watch us thinking we are a little nuts. But, that’s part of the adventure.  While they played, others came to fill their water jugs for their long journey home and others came to do their wash, so it is indeed a community gathering.

  Kids are kids, no matter where they live. Thus water, splashing and laughter are all universal.

  The sky was looking increasingly like rain. I gave the kids the 15, 10 and 5 minute warning prior to departure. Then we had to decide which way home. The long way, hoping the rain would hold off or the more expedient route, the way we came.

  They of course convinced me the rain would hold off so we could take the long way.  Ya, ya.  We set off to climb the big hill, then down the next, then over the board to cross the seriously rushing water. As we emerged, I said it smelled like rain.  They asked me how I could smell water. Well, I said I can.  3 mins later the light rain began and then the massive downpour. When it rains in Rwanda. It rains. Heavy, like Hawaii.

  The kids ran ahead as I tried to run while finding some way to wrap up my iphone in  my Rwandan dress and someone else shorts that were damp but not soaked. As you  can imagine, running in the rain with kids is about as fun as it gets, so the giggles filled the mountainside.

   Arriving home, the kids quickly changed out of their clothes and I attempted to dry off, but it’s not that easy.  Ahh… well you can get warm when you have a pile of kids sit on your lap and hug you.  Thankfully, and frankly unbelieveably, the iphone survived.

  We spent the afternoon talking. Most of it was answering endless questions about their sponsors.

  I decided it was best to head home early to check on Harvin.  Waving goodbye they all kept yelling “see you tomorrow, see you tomorrow.” Yes indeed my sweet ones…see you tomorrow and I will have a big surprise with me…Harvin.

Nearly 100

Nearly 100. That is the number of people who have helped make this trip possible. So many hands joining across the globe to help the kids of New Hope Homes. I am so very grateful for all of you. Our work would never be possible without your kindness, compassion, funds, prayers, and love these kids.

It really is remarkable the 29 kids could be the recipient of such a grace.

Harvin and I get the easy job. We simply hand deliver your love.

Please know that we tell the kids about each of you. They know many of you by name if you have been with us for more than a year. They ask about you.

This trip be extra special as we have a wonderful family coming in a few days. Kristen Cavallo, her husband Ian, their daughter Kate and son Matt are going to be with us for 5 days. They have loved our kids since the beginning! Kristen came over 2 years ago, so we are all eager for everyone to finally meet in person. Ian and Sande have a very special relationship so that is perhaps the most anticipated part of it for me. These 2 skype football (aka soccer) friends will finally be able to discuss all the critical assessments of teams around the world. I figure that alone will take 3 days! ☺ .

We are going to hold Christmas until they arrive so we can make it a really special celebration.

We have just arrived at Chantal and Mbanda’s after a 27 hour journey. It’s late.
Tomorrow morning, we will get on my scooter and surprise the kids that we are here. Giddy with anticipation.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

This trip comes to an end.


The last two days have been so jam packed that there was not time to blog.
For those who have been to New Hope Homes, you understand the nonstop nature of the everyday life when you are one person.

We’ve had treasured time together.

I was able to update the sizes and Christmas wish lists for the kids. This is a huge feat. Try to imagine working with 29 kids age 2.5 to 12 to properly measure their foot size noting current and estimating for growth. I was working from a master list of year ago and each of the older kids had to know how much bigger their feet are now. There was surely a sense of pride. I took the kids in alphabetical order which made for lots of tears from the little kids as they kept coming up and saying “me, me” thinking I was going to forget about them. I tried to point out their names on the list, some understood and skipped off the other just wept until I got to them in the sequence.

Next trying to sort top and bottoms. Fabiola, was a huge help with measuring feet and Innocent was awesome at checking size tags. Of course about ½ the tags didn’t have sizes that were visible or they were simple things like small or large which doesn’t help in the process. In each of those cases the child would need to go to their small clothes cube and bring me something else that fits., then we would check for tags. The process goes on and on.

Fabiola was especially happy to see that her foot was big enough to move to the adult foot measuring system.

Then each of them would give me an idea of a small gift that they would love for Christmas. Last year was the first year we were able to do a real Christmas for the kids where everyone got a lovely hand made bag by Deb and inside a pair of shoes, underwear, a small toy and a new outfit. We hope to be able to do the same this year. I explained to the kids that I can’t promise it, but we’ll see if people are again able to help us.

The popular gifts appear to be dolls with hair (remember our kids have shaved heads), scarves (Rebecca, you set the tone last year!) and toys with remotes (Christine you started a trend)

I wish I could make a video of this process because it is so noisy and crazy that you simply need to be here to get it.

We also did several “adventures”. The kids are starting to get the idea of the word. You simply leave the house and go someplace you have never been in order to try to see what fun will come of it. I have a rule that it always has to include something new. We can start in the same direction, but we must make a new turn at one point. This process has yielded great benefits. We found an open field for the kids to play soccer (aka football) in amidst some cows and foot traffic of the local people. We found an area that is used to cut big logs that we can use as a volley ball net. And the best of all, when we climbed to a high place we found a beautiful stream below that has served for two days of great fun splashing and just being goofy kids.

In the process of fun, one of Esther’s flip flops floated away along with our new Frisbee. The kids all freaked but I told them that it would bless someone else downstream and they liked that idea. Hopefully someone will understand the idea of a Frisbee or it will serve as someone’s plate!

The kids were all supportive of Esther as each lent her a shoe on our way back trading out every little bit so someone was always walking without a shoe! They proactively each offered to help.

One of the DVD’s I brought was Chimpmucks – the sequel. In it is the song “all the single ladies” . The older girls love the song and have started to work on a routine with it. They do it everywhere, from the stream to walking the hills to the front yard. It cracks me up big time.

We got a lot of much needed rain yesterday, This almost cancelled our adventure as Issac thought it was too wet for the kids to play. We had wanted to go to the stadium – not sure what that is, but they say it close, to play soccer, but Isaac and Sande said they would sink to their knees if we did.

Eventually I coaxed them into the local adventure knowing it would be a bit muddy, but we would be fine. It was, after all, my last day. The stream was on the hit list so we tried a different way to reach it which involved crossing a few muddy terrains. Well, not so much muddy in the traditional sense as it was slippery dirt. They quickly got the concept of creating human chains to help us all cross! It worked brilliantly and the giggles continued. It’s especially meaningful when I can get the older boys Isaac and Sande to turn into giggling kids as they are often so serious.

I LOVE LOVE our new city where we will be raising the kids. While I don’t know that area like I do Kigali and Kicukiro where we have lived the past 6 years, this place seems simple and lovely.

Chantal created a special opportunity for the older kids who did not get to go to Kibeho stay overnight at Chantal and Mbandas. She also included anyone that was 1, 2 or 3 in the class as another special reward. We want the kids to excel in school as we believe it is the way out of poverty so having small rewards like this is another encouragement.

Since they have wifi we were finally able to skype with people. Some were scheduled, some were just random dials when the kids saw they were “green” on skype – meaning they were online.

So sorry for not being able to connect with more sponsors this trip, but it was so short and I didn’t have working Internet for most of it. We’ll be sure to make it happen during Christmas.

Perhaps the most important adventure for me of the day was seeing our new house under construction. For those of you who are new to the our journey, we have made a change in the last few months.

We moved sold the 3 homes the kids had been living in for the past 6 years, bought some property near the boarding school that they kids attend and have started construction of a single home for them to live.

While we loved the idea of 1 home per 10 kids, each with their own Mom, it is outside of our current financial situation. One home will be more cost efficient and importantly the piece of land we have will allow us to be more self sustaining. We hope to grow all our own vegetables, have chickens and rabbits for food and have our cows nearby for milk. The vision is wonderful. Now we simply need to raise the money to make it happen.

We have made great progress on the house, but need the funds to finish it.
If we can raise $48,000 more, we could be in the house by Christmas. Additionally we need $17,000 more for operating cost through the end of the year. Yes, these are big numbers and I have not idea from where the money will come, but I believe that by being transparent with you about our needs someone somewhere will know someone who can help. Every $ matter, so if you are even able to give $10, please do. I know that sometimes people think they need to give a lot to make a different, but I do mean it. $10-$25 will matter.

This home will be for our kids they place that will we know as home for their lives. It will be filled will love and we will help them meet their God given potential. We will be the hands if you can be the part of the support system to allow us to meet the kids of this wonderful children.

As is our new tradition, anyone who is 1,2 or 3 in their class gets to go to a real restaurant and with me and be celebrated for their accomplishments. In April Harvin and I took Grace and Alice. This time, they were joined by Dorcus, Caria and Ariene who are in preschool. They were so excited to do something previously reserved for the big kids. We went to a pizza place and celebrated and talked their success.

I asked by good grades are so important. Grace said “it is because we want a good future!” Yes, indeed sweet one. You got it! Thanks to all their school sponsors they will indeed have their best shot.

This is the first trip where Dorcus, Ariene and Caria have spoken a little English. Dorcus is really really starting to understand a lot, despite how much English she speaks. It been amazing to see her go from a baby to this wonderful pre-schooler.

The final drive.
Chantal agreed that the 4 oldest kids could drive with me to the airport. It used to be 20 mins away but now I need to leave 3+ hours earlier. I reminded the kids that it is a long drive and told them they didn’t need to come. Isaac said “no one will refuse you, because we all like to go places in the car!” It’s true, their lives are focused at New Hope Homes, school and Chantal & Mbanda’s so if they get to see anything else, its such a treat.

Exits are hard. I usually have to fight back the tears for the kids and work extra hard to keep it together and fun for them as they feed off our emotions. This trip, for some reason was a bit easier. I think it because it was so fast and the kids knew it would be so they were just thankful for our time together. Usually they start withdrawing the last day as they start protecting their little hearts from another goodbye. The combination of the hike and playing in the water prevented that from happening this time. It’s hard to be sad and withdrawn when you are playing in the water!!!

The next little trick is ice cream! About 30 mins before I have to leave, we put the kids in groups of 3 and put a small container of icecream in front of the little kids and away we go! Laughter, giggles and good fun. As the eating came to a close I ran around to each of them and hugged them telling them I loved them and would be back at Christmas. People that have been part of this in the past will be very surprised to know I did it well for the first time. Only a few moments of tears well hidden and then off to the car with Isaac, Fabiola, MarieRose and Sande.

The windy roads in the dark make for quite a drive as our driver works to avoid so many people on foot. We talked a bit and slept a bit. They of course wanted to have the ipad so they could play with my fifa app that they love. I made the wait until we got just outside of Kigali as I didn’t want anyone to throw up in Chantal’s car. We stopped by Abrahams to get a frame for my painting and he gifted me with a beautiful scarf that matched my Rwanda dress! Thanks Abraham, I wish we had more time together.

Getting to town plenty early, we had time for a burger and fries at Mr Chips. It a tiny burger place that opened a year ago and had been my favorite place by our old house so it was fun to drop by.

As we waited for dinner the kids noses were down in the ipad having the time of their lives, so I just let them be. I did however, keep giving them grief about how much I was enjoying our quality time together! NOT!!! They looked up, laughed to ensure I was kidding and then back to the match. When dinner arrived their play time ended. I look forward to sitting across the table from these kids when they are 20 and 30 years old to see where life’s journey takes them.

On the drive to the aiport they wanted to know everything that I do with the planes after I say goodbye. So I gave them very detailed info about the security, checking bags, passport control, connections etc etc including getting home Thursday night and going back to work on Friday morning. Phew. They got it. They got it so well they said…”wait…you do not have time to relax when you go back, you go back to work right away?” “Yes, we need to raise money and me working is part of making that happen.” They said I needed a job where I could come live with them for 2 years. I told them I have a great job with a great boss who lets me come see them 3 times a year. That is a very special place for me to work as not many companies anywhere in the world would let that happen. They understood.

Arriving at the airport they said they were all going to cry. I made them stop by saying “ya ya, you’re crying because the ipad it leaving not me!” They thought was was pretty funny. In a remarkable turn, Isaac actually walked me to the door of the airport with the other kids. He always finds a way to suddenly disappear and stay in the car so he can cry privately, but this time he made it all the way. You have no idea what a break through this is for us. I hugged and kissed each one of them, telling them I loved them until they couldn’t take it anymore. Then gave them one from Harvin as the kids are so excited to see him at Christmas.

They walked away and I went to stand in line to begin my return back to my other life…

Monday, August 06, 2012

Nathalie pointing out the direction to the healing water.

The basic stares at a Muzungo (me!) in the van.

The one and only Wonderful ABBY. WE LOVE YOU!

Teaching Anathalie (aka Nathalie) English. What a team!

Kibeho. The site of Mary's appearances in 1982-1989

Young kids and teenagers getting ready to work in the field.

Now you know why the kids call him "BIG JESUS" :)

The simple life that is Rwanda.

The most amazing trip to Kibeho yet.

Today was a very special day for me. Awaking at the Cana Center in Kibeho we were surrounded by raw beauty of nature. Kayitesi was my roommake and gently awoke when my alarm went off at 7:30.

WARNING…this is a bit of a faith based entry,so if it’s not your cup of tea, pass and look for tomorrows. There. I warned you.

Cana Center is beautiful retreat center. The rooms a simple, but sparkling clean and have bathrooms in each one. The yard is lush green and sits on the top of the hill that provides spectacular views. I often look into those hills and imagine the sights and sounds during the genocide. The echoes would have gone on for miles.

In the center of the grounds is a statue I have named Big Jesus for the kids. When driving to Kibeho, they always ask if we have time to see big Jesus. When I say, BIG, I mean B-I-G. He is made of some type of cast iron and must stand 50 ft tall. Some day I will ask….but you get the this idea he is HUGE. It is the Divine Heart of Jesus so he has a red and blue ray coming out of his chest and features the words In Jesus I trust at his feet.

Often when we visit, there a people sitting on the simple benches praying or singing. Today I got some solo time with the big guy and got some work done on my heart and life. It was time well spent.

The boys were up early so I had to tell them to keep it down, as I knew Abby hadn’t slept much since Grace had been throwing up during the night. But, by morning, everyone seemed ready to play. I headed off to spend some time on the ground of the grounds of the church and chapel that are home to the miracles that happened between 1981 and 1989. Mary – yes THAT Mary. Appeared to 3 schoolgirls to warn them about the upcoming genocide, to encourage them to repent and turn their lives around AND to pray a special rosary called the Seven Sorrows Rosary.

One of the girls – Nathalie – has stayed there since she was 17 when she had her first visions of Mary. Everyday she greets people and tells her story. She patiently answers questions and prays for each of them. I have gotten to know her quite well over the past few years in visits and texts (yes! Texting with a visionary!) and we planned that on this trip I was going to get some quality time to help her with her English. We scheduled time starting at 9:30am. I got there at 8 to pray, to walk around and to simply soak I the place that was so special to be deemed worthy of this miracle.

It was quality time. Every other time I have gone, I have been constantly worried about getting back to the kids, or if I am taking to long praying in the chapel etc…but today I got some zero pressure time for me. It was beautiful to just breathe it in.

I saw Nathalie early on but we both just kept doing our thing knowing we would be seeing each other in a bit.

As it goes in Rwanda, nothing is ever as planned so you go with the flow. After walking the grounds and chatting with some young people who were working the nearby field I arrived at Nathalie’s home right at 9:30 sharp. As I rounded the corner I saw Father Ulbald ( I met him in NY about a month ago on retreat with Immaculee. He is very special man.

Imagine if there were you life experience thus far: Fr. Ubald has been a Roman Catholic priest for 25 years in the Cyangugu Diocese of southeastern Rwanda. Cyangugu is situated very closely to the Congo and Burundi borders on the picturesque Lake Kivu. During the 1994 genocide Fr. Ubald lost over 80 members of his family and over 45,000 of his parishioners were exterminated.
This humble, wonderful man has the gift of healing and is quite a vessel.
Imagine both of our surprises to see each other at Nathalie’s door at the same time!

We greeted each other. I explained I was there to teach her English lessons. He has about 15 people from Australia and Germany with him. They of course deserved 1st position. ☺. Nathalie explained that it wouldn’t be long, but over an hour later, I was concerned that our 2 hour English lesion was shrinking quickly. Earlier I had asked her for her notebook that we used in April. I write in English, she translated to Kinyarwanda. This time I handed the notebook to Sande, Grace and Kayitesi who came over to help me teach. I wrote out the sign of the cross, the our father, hail Mary and each of the 7 sorrows. The kids transcribed on the steps outside of Nathalie’s small room where she greets people.

The guests thoroughly enjoyed the time with Nathalie although I did not understand a word that was uttered! After the guests left we all pulled up chairs to her small table and began to teach. The kids were terrific helping her with translation and pronunciation challenges.

We worked our way through all the parts of the Seven Sorrows Rosary, but I had forgotten a few sections. She kept trying to tell the kids that I had missed something but it kept getting lost in the translation. Eventually – like a thump on the head – I got it.

The time was so sweet. She really enjoyed the kids and at one point suddenly got up from the table asking the kids if there were thirsty or wanted a sweet? They didn’t ask for anything as you an see what a simple life she leads. Yet, moments later she returns with some hard candy pieces for them. It was so sweet. I know I keep saying that, but it was, just simple honest connections and love.

As we wrapped our time together, Abby, the driver and other kids arrived. Nathalie was going to show us where the holy water stream is. She first said a prayer for us and walked us through the main church for another blessing.

As we rounded the corner to start heading down the hill to find the water, another group of visitors arrived…and so goes her life. All are unannounced and all have likely flown and then driven a long distance to meet her and enter this holy place. She of course needed to spend time with them. She walked us part way down the hill and then pointed out the series of turns to the kids. Abby and I looked at the clock which was now 1;20. We had planned to leave no later than 12:30 to get out of the mountains by dark. Sande suggested the walk was about 10 mins. each way. This over course means it would be 20 each way and put us into an unsafe situation. As I walked away, I yearned to stay to reach this new holy place. Looks like it would need to on the Christmas agenda when I return.

The first part of the ride was filled with high energy giggles, then sleeping, then awake. Our rickety rackety old rental van, is do load and the dust pours in from all side on the parts of the journey that are dirt roads that it made conversation a bit more challenging that usual as you had to yell from the front to the back to be heard.

No the less, the adventure was perfect.

We dropped Abby off just outside of Kigali so we could continue on while we still had light. Abby is such a gift to these kids and me. She is a constant presence of love, faith and fun. We are all blessed to call her our sister.

After Abby left, the van suddenly turned into the vomit mobile. Innocent filled a gallon Ziploc bag more than ½ full an then started another. I was doing everything to not vomit on Grace that I couldn’t even help him.

Grace then lept from my lap looking for a bag and voila. Puke.

Kayitesi was already lying down.

I think it was just the end of the long twisty turny roads and backed up behind some highly pollutant trucks that billow the dark black smoke unceasingly. Rwanda is such a “green “ environmentally sound country, these trucks always come as a surprise to me.

Back at New Hope Homes the kids cheered our arrival. We were one big dust cloud of love. Our bags where covered, but the hugs were clean!

When I went to greet everyone Alice hid under one of the boys bed. She told me “I do NOT remember you!” “What?” “What did I do Alice?” She then gave me a lickin’ for not saying goodbye when we left. She was apparently reaching out to hug me goodbye when I close the van door on the kids that were staying. Yikes! 29 kids in need of lots of love and attention can make for an occasional oversight. I asked her for “forgiveness”. She appears to be thinking about it! ☺

My head is spinning from the road, but my heart full.

The adventure continues.

Morning service at Bishop Mbanda’s church. As usual the visitors need to stand and be introduced and welcomed. Chantal made me stand and be welcomed. She then had to go forward and explain who I was to the congregation.

In Kinyrawranda she told them my story and love for Rwanda and the orphans. She told them that they need to know that “I am one of them.” They needed to get to know me as I would be around a lot more than before as the kids now live in Musanze.

That’s one of the best intros I have received. “I am one of them”. Love it.

After church 6 of the kids: Sande, Kayitsi, Innocent, Grace, Lionel and Marie Rose said goodbye to the others as our bus arrived for transport to Kibeho. Our rattly old 1972 van no longer can be trusted to do errands beyond Musanze so I chartered a van and driver. I laughed as it arrived given that it made our bus look like a new Cadillac! Truly.

We trusted the good Lord to get us there, so off we went.

5 mins into the drive, our driver Forstine pulled into a garage and asked that we get our spare fixed. Good planning.

We also got “chemicals” as they call them for the kids. Pills to help them not throw up in the car as it is a windy road that stretches for at least 6 hours.
This of course meant they all slept the 2 hour drive to Kigali.

We agreed to meet Abby at the airport as the box containing our 4 donated laptops had arrived. I forged through the piles of luggage that was stored in the various rooms to no avail. Just when I was about to turn into a NYer insisting that they find the bag, I discovered it in a far away storage room. Hmm, I wonder how many things disappear there?

Abby arrived shortly thereafter and the kids were overjoyed to see her. She’s been in the states for 2 months living. She was equally happy to wrap her arms around them.

We journeyed onward to Kibeho sleeping, talking, playing the “I am thinking of something” game etc etc. Time passed rather quickly. Well as quickly as it can with the roads, bumps, twists and turns.

As we turned off the main road to the final 1 hour dirt road drive to Kibeho we had a blowout. We were so thankful it happened that close to town. A lovely man help us create a lift with some rocks and got it changed pretty darn quickly. Thankfully we got the spare fixed 5 hours earlier! Off to Butare to get it repaired.
The kids, while being sweet, clearly acknowledged they were getting hungry to we again added to our grocery supply. Buture is a University town so we were able to get a few good things for the journey.

Arriving in Kibeho we went to Nathalie’s front door and knocked. No reply. Then to back door. The guard sent word in that we were there and a quick reply came to come to the front door.

We had a quick hello and made plans for English lessons tomorrow at 9:30. We tried to call my Mom and Dad to say hello, but Dad was at Mass so we agreed to wake them up the next day at 5:30 AM! (Ya, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!)

Dinner at Cana Center was delicious. Rice, potatoes, a little bit of meat and tea. The kids were giddy and said they didn’t want to leave the next day. We were thankful that we were the only ones in the center that sleeps 82!

Some played after dinner Ping Pong, Kayitesi hung with me. MarieRose grace traded off hanging with Abby to play card and visiting me as I was setting up all my electronics for charging and gabbing with Kayitesi.

It’s a very good life

Saturday, August 04, 2012

An adventure filled day.

It’s been a while since I have done a solo trip to New Hope Homes. It’s wonderful to have the kids to myself, but at the same time, overwhelming.

I enjoyed 7 pure wonderful hours of sleep last night. Ahhh. So wonderful. Chantal and team left early for one of their many wonderful projects. I enjoyed a slow calm peaceful start to my day. Innocent again had oranges, pineapples and banana bread for me! I could get use to this special treatment. I usually stay with the kids, but until we have the new house finished there isn’t any room. I usually awake at 5 am to the sounds of the kids giggling and the aunties and uncles readying the day. Quite a contrast.

I scooterd off around 9:30 and somehow made a bad turn. Thankfully after a few do-overs I found the right way. Kickuro near Kigali has been home in Rwanda for the past 6 years so I still need to get my bearings in Musanze. A female muzungo on a scooter is a rare sighting so everywhere I go I get beeps, yells and “muzungo”…I reply to each with a good morning, hello, or good evening in Kinyarwranda, which is always returned with cheers and laughter from the crowds.

The dirt road by the rental house is so very challenging to navigate. There are big boulders; lots of tiny rocks and of course the log bridges. The cheers as I navigate each successfully are all the more stressful, as I know the throngs of people are watching my every move. I of course wear dresses here so trying to keep my skirt from flying in the breeze is also a bit challenging when I get up to 50k on the main drag.

Our new GoPro client wanted to send a camera with me, but in my quick exit, we didn’t have a chance to grab one. She would have LOVED the footage from the helmet cam mount!

BEEP BEEP BEEP at the gate confirms that I have arrived at New Hope Homes. The kids yell Miss Donna Miss Donna Miss Donna as they come running to greet me.

There is nothing in the world like a hug from our kids. While I am only here 5.5 days, I’m now confident that I made the right decision to come. The rental house and yard is small relative to what the kids are used to having so we have to be creative. Where they are used to grass we have gravel, we are without the multipurpose classroom and most of the toys. In a way, it’s back to the beginning when we opened our first home. The good part is with everyone in one room, is people communicate and play with each other vs wandering off.

I arrived to find the big kids working on their homework for break. How cool is that? They started their day, without anyone’s prompting by getting their homework done! They were working on “opposites” and abbreviations. With a bunch of brothers and sisters they tried to solve them together.

When all hope was lost, we opening up my laptop and went into the dictionary for a little assistance. In the end we were stumped on two. I will try to remember to post on facebook when I can remember what we couldn’t solve. One was COURSE…not coarse. What the heck would that be?

After playing around for quite some time I asked the big kids if they wanted to go on another adventure. Some said yes, others no. Isaac has a hole in his shoe so he didn’t think he could go. I showed him that the rest of us were wearing sandals, so it would be ok.

We set off in the same way as yesterday. Down the dirt road. We brought a Frisbee, jump rope and ball with us. I thought the place we had found yesterday would be a perfect location for all of the above. As we approached we saw that there were quite a few prisoners in the yard and police. The children and I agreed that we should ask permission before playing. The police could not have been more lovely, but in the end, they could not give us permission or the other kids in the hood would want to do the same thing. Understanding completely we said our goodbyes.

Down the hill just a bit the boys found some trees that looked like a goal post. They decided it would be a perfect volleyball net. Auntie Grace was with us so she sat in the grass and enjoyed the game while the other kids tossed Frisbees.

I love our new neighborhood. Or shall I say our short term neighborhood. As the location where we are building the new home is in Muszane, but not in this neighborhood. It’s much more rural and filled with adventure possibilities.

After about 30 mins Esther decided is was time “to go”. They wanted to continue the adventure. We decided to go down the hill vs up as we did yesterday. Everyone kept asking me “where are we going?” I kept replying, I don’t know. I just thought we should explore. The reply “but where?” My reply, “ Let’s just have an adventure and see where it takes us”. Not quite an easy concept , but they got it.

Finally when all the faces where grumpy I said. “ok, do you want to stop” NO was the reply. “Are you having fun?” YES was the reply. I asked by the faces, and they said they didn’t know they had those faces.

After another and another log foot bridge we got to the bottom of the hill and the kids love the big stream. We aren’t used to seeing lots of water where we used to live, so this is all good.

The local in the village aren’t used to seeing all these kids, much less me, so they stopped and stared for what seemed like eternity.

I try to take the time to reach each one and ask their name. But, it’s simply not possible given the number of people as we were climbing down the big rocks.

I kept saying we need to find a mountain to climb. The kids said yes yes. Just after we agreed to go back Sande spotted a both up the side of a mountain. I suggested that we do it Tuesday when I am back from Kibeho, unless they wanted to do it now. NOW was the reply.

We presumed a way to get to it then asked a villager who confirmed we were correct. It was a great climb and I was very thankful to have Auntie Grace with me to keep track of the kids. We were on a path the entire time, but each turn revealed a new adventure.

When we got to the flat road, the girls wants to do the “hey hey we’re the monkeys walk as we stretched across the entire street. I taught it to them in April. They then re-wrote the song to be “hey hey we’re Harvin, and we here to monkey around!” He would have loved it.

In the end, we had a great time. We walked back through town and I got water for everyone as we were thirsty from all that work. A bottle of water here is a big deal, not quite as good as Harvin’s donuts after their run, but a treat non the less.

Mama greeted us at the return asking about our adventure.

Back home it was time to play with the little kids.

In the morning I put in a video to distract half the kids so I could get time with the other, but I didn’t think 2 videos in the same days was a good plan so we just made the best of it.

Eventually Fabiola asked if the ipad could come out again so they could play football (aka soccer) games. They have become must more respectful of asking permission and waiting their turns. Yes, indeed they are growing up.

Since I don’t have my modem yet we substituted calls for skype. Clearly more money, but since my time is short here, I wanted to make sure some of the sponsors got to chat.

Everyone wanted to call everyone. In the end Kristen and Ian got the 1st call, followed by Harvin who got 30+ minutes and we left some random messages.

The sun began to set and I knew it was time to scoot as I don’t think I could manage the roads in the dark. Yet.

I hate leaving them at 6:15, but I need to be smart. Yes Mom, I do make good decisions every once in a while!.

The good part is it’s 7:30, the blog is now finished, I’m showered and can now start editing photos.

This is indeed a very unusual trip as I’m usually going until 1:30 AM here.

Tomorrow is church and then a big adventure to Kibeho. We plan to pick up Abby in Kigali and for the first time do a overnight as the drive we not be 6 hours each way vs 3.

I can only imagine what the day will bring…..

Blog done…Chantal and Mbanda just arrived home….time to close.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Day 1

I slept 17 of the 19 hours in the air to Rwanda. I landed feeling refreshed.

Alas, the 1st of many challenges began when my box containing 4 computers did not arrive. I am choosing to believe that they are simply misplaced vs a scan showing 4 laptops perfect for snitching.

We had closed a wonderful win for Carat with the GoPro account the day I left, but there was much to do when I landed but technology failed me. Thus I was left with only the ability to text. That and lots of conversations with the top people at AT&T which revealed why my data wasn’t working on the iphone…AT&T changed a system 1 month ago and unfortunately Rwanda has not thrown the switch on this end. At 4AM I finally put my head down hoping the 2.5 hours of sleep would come.

Chantal greeted me with OJ, pineapple and banana bread. AHHH, I am calling this the pampered trip as I usually stay with the kids, but our rental house does not have room. Thus I now have running water, always on electricity and AND hot water. YA, don’t feel bad for me at on on this trip!!!

We went to MTN , one of the local carriers and found a way to make my ipad work with email. Not exactly pocket size…but it will do for now.

I picked up my scooter and followed Chantal to the new temp housing. The road was a bit perilous including crossing 2 rivers that have only logs to ride over. The locals where we used to live know me, so they get use to seeing me doing all sorts of strange things, but here, the Muzungu (white person) on a scooter crossing rivers on logs was a new sight, so needless to say, the cheers and hoots were heard down the entire road.

Thru the gates and into the arms of our kids is a wonderful joy. You simply can’t explain it. The big kids are getting a little cool for school to come running to greet me but the little kids hoot, holler and scream for joy when they saw me. Missy Donna Missy Donna echoed through the lunch room.

We spent time just playing and chatting. When the little kids laid down for their naps the 12 bigs kids and set out to explore our new neighborhood. We walked the dirty bumpy road, then cut through a path to an open area to assess if we could play football (aka soccer) there. It was a no go. Then we heard a stream and wondered over to check it out. Next the kids saw some corn that was 2x as tall as me and told me they wanted to see it…but they really wanted to see was a prison near by.

Part way through I asked if everyone knew how to get back? This was met with yes and no’s…ok not really no’s…but lots of puzzled facing trying to remember. 45 mins to the walk I said we needed to go back the way we came try this other road which I hoped would take us back. There was a split decision so we decided to take the adventurous non traveled route which thankfully took us back home.

I brought out my ipad which followed Harvin’s lead from last time…and well, that’s the last time I saw the faces of the big kids for two hours. It worked out well as it gave me more time with the little kids.

I learned we have lots of kids doing well in school. Alice and Grace did well..and Dorus is #1 in her class. Luv it!! We’ll be having a special time together to celebrate. A new tradition to reward the good students.

Issac then returned home from an extra 1.5 weeks of school where he was studying for his exams this fall. These exams are huge. The kids greeted him like the pied piper and he loved on each and every one of the little kids.

He said he could not tell any stories or answer any questions today as he head was …and made a dizzy face…from studying sooooo much. Then he turned and laughed.

More time loving the kids and trying to split myself into 2 to give them each some attention which is of course impossible.

I scootered home just before dark as I didn’t think I could make it with just the headlight of scooter on this tough road.

Dinner with a wonderful group of people in from a variety of places to help the Mbanda’s on one of their beautiful projects or to serve as a contact for them.
One many was expecially interesting. He runs the coffeee company – Land of 1000 hills…this is the name for which Rwanda is famous.

Home I am trying to help Mbanda with some faceook issues for his church and hope to sleep tonight.

Time here is so precious.



Due to work needs, this will be my quickest trip in the 6 years I have been coming to Rwanda. I have 5 ¾ days with the kids. It breaks my heart just typing that. Such a short short time. But I’m thankful that I could even get this much with the kids given all that is on my plate.

My goal is to try to take this trip in slow motion. Yes, slowwww. Try to soak in every moment while I try to get through the many tasks on my plate.
1. Be present to each child and see how they are doing. Love em, hug em, laugh with them and simply carry all your love with me in my arms and wrap them around each and every child.
2. Check on Desami’s progress with the walker.
3. Get a feel for how everyone is doing in their new surroundings as we moved the kids nearly 2 hours away from where some have been living for all 6 years. We did this to get them closer to Chantal and to build a new home for all of the kids.
4. Get a handle on our budget. We need $48,000 more to finish the home that we just broke ground on. This plus our regular operating budget.
5. Make a plan for our new playground for the kids in their new home. We have donor who wants to build a basketball court to accommodate the net and backboard I brought. They also want to put in a swing set play area. What a blessing! I need to get a handle on costs so the donor can start raising funds.
6. Get everyone’s sizes updated. This is a full day job. Truly. You can’t imagine how much time this takes to assess shoes, and clothes sizes. I am secretly hoping to wait until Abby comes to help.
7. Get updated pics of everyone
8. See what small special little present they might want for Christmas so Harvin and I can start spreading the word.
9. Connect with Chantal and Mbanda on the other hopes and dreams they have for the people of Rwanda.
10. Skpe with donors and friends of the kids.

Most of all it is about being thankful for the blessings of the people of Rwanda, especially Chantal & Mbanda and the kids of New Hope Homes.

Thanks again for following along on this journey.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back to see the kids

I am heading back to Rwanda next week to see our kids.
There has been so much change since Harvin and I left in April.

We have sold the 3 homes and moved the kids to a new rental home near SonRise School and very close to Chantal and Mbanda. We then broke ground on a new big piece of property where we will be able to plant crops, add our cows and build one big home.

We broke ground in the belief that the last $50,000 will come in time to finish in April.

That's a lot of change for the kids but all for the better as we try to make ourselves more self sustaining.

Work schedules abruptly changed my end of August trip to now, so lots of scurrying around to get ready to roll.

More as I get "home" to Rwanda.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

World Games and Fun

As the days move into fast forward, both Harvin and I are very aware that our time with the kids is now extremely limited. It’s bonus time for me as I was supposed to leave yesterday, but for Harvin the countdown is real.

We are torn between time with the big kids and the little kids so we crafted a plan that brought everyone together for part of the day.

The morning began with another group run. Both of us went down to pick up the kids this morning and were greeted by all sorts of levels of preparedness and some kids that needed some medical assessment.

While we waited, I told Harvin that Kayitesi had seen some pictures of the traditional dancer that we saw at the Mbanda’s. She asked me what the traditional dance of America was and I didn’t have a good answer so I asked Harvin what he thought. He gave a brilliant answer. He explained the concept of the American melting pot and how everyone brings their own dances to the table. Then they asked to see some. How could we resist? We show them swing dancing, tango, ball room, polka, etc etc. The kids thought we were pretty funny and Harvin and I laughed until we cried trying to figure out how to show them that various dances. Of course we made music as we danced so that added to the humor. They cheered and had lots of “ooo’s” as we shared each one. I had shown the girls the Charleston a few days earlier so they showed Harvin what they remembered.

This entertainment went on long enough for everyone who wanted to run to find their shoes, brush their teeth etc and off we went. I again took the scooter as my foot is still in repair. The scooter also gives the kids someone to track their speed. Sande currently holds the kids record at 24 kil/hour – Harvin at 29 kil/hour. Harvin fully acknowledges that Sande will surpass him quickly as he is a natural born runner.

The running route changes but the path is always wonderful. It’s a mix of cobblestone, dirt, farmland, mud, cows, steep banks, goats and everything in between. Harvin started this wonderful adventure when he was here in January, but then he had Uncle Manuel to help keep the kids together…but he injured his foot. That leaves Harvin with an expanded crew of the bigger boys and girls, which is a lot to keep together when you have super sprinters like Sande, Innocent and Lionel and some stragglers at the back end. He somehow keeps them all together and all motivated. I use the scooter like a shepherd to circle back and forth checking in on everyone and getting ahead when possible to catch some great shots.

Harvin has given them a wonderful new life skill. I hope they each find a way to embrace it longer term.

The end of the run usually ends with visit to ABC Bagel. It’s a lovely sanctuary not too far from the first home. Harvin and the kids are now regulars – he gets coffee and the kids get a donut. They started the routine in January and it continued on this trip. I really enjoyed joining them a few times, but know this is Harvin’s special little time with them so I try to hang a bit in the background.

Late last night we cooked up a great plan for today. On the run a few days ago, Harvin told me he found a perfect place to fly the kite I had brought. It was a huge open field. When I drove by it on the scooter the next day, I suggested we could play football aka soccer there too. He loved the idea and we shared it with the kids after ABC. Yes a run followed by football is sure to get the wiggles out of any kids and ensure a goooooooood night sleep. We seem to be getting the hang of this co-parenting in Rwanda thang’ – aka Mama didn’t raise no fool – as my kin would say!

Now to try to get everyone there with a big jog of water, a watermelon that I bought earlier in the week and sure to be tuckered out kids on the way back. We decided it would be a combination of runners, scooter and van. Harvin is now quite an accomplished driver of the van and of the scooter so he’s quite a diverse talent on the team!

I took off on the scooter with the fast runners and those with tiny little legs like Grace who want to believe they can run like the wind doing their best to keep up. Harvin filled up the van with the soccer ball, plastic baseball bat and ball, big jug of water and some cups.

We all met up at the big dirt field up the hill. The scenery is simply breathtaking. Rwanda is known as the land of 1000 hills and each of them at this time of year is a beautiful green, lush and full of life. The light breeze refreshes the soul and cools down the team. Some of the girls just wanted to cheer so we set them on the side of the field with a deck of cards. They were delighted to be part of the team. We started to divide up into two teams when Harvin and I noticed that lots of kids and teens were emerging to see what these two Muzungo’s were up to this afternoon. They curiously studied our every move and it didn’t take long for Harvin and I to invite them into the game. We divided the teams into two equal teams – or at least our best guess of equal. Then looked for the goalie to stand in their area to be tended. The goal posts were made from tree limbs, the field from dirt and the slop of the field from mother nature…but to this group of kids where were now standing a at the world cup about to begin! Harvin joined one of the teams and after nearly killing himself about 10 times running, leaping, kicking and rolling to the cheers of the growing crowd he scored the first goal. The locals went crazy cheering for him as he ran the length of the field in his best “Rocky – hands in the air – cheering” he could muster.

Eventually Uncle Manuel – who was playing Ref wanted into the game and traded places with Harvin. Ok, not to bust Harvin here, but he is the first to admit he doesn’t know all the rules so he would just wait for Sande to speak up if there was an issue. With no whistle in hand, he took a leaf and found a way for it to make a noise as a replacement. Yes, inventions come in all forms!

Ref Harvin noticed the locals had sort of taken over our World Football Game with their kicks, passes etc. Harvin game them about 3 warnings- they had to pass and let ALL the kids play or they had to leave the field. With not much improvement in their ‘sharing’ they were eventually removed from the game.

As the game continued I took the plastic bat and super ball like ball and started my own game of American Baseball. Well just basically pitching while they hit and fielded. The line grew as did the fun. Trying to pitch and show them how to hold a bat with the proper stance was quite entertaining, but ever so much fun. Eventually Harvin wandered or to our game and offered to pitch so I could catch and help with the batting.

After baseball we wanted to try another round of headstands for April. April was the great love of Eric Mbanda and died just about a year ago. One of the fun things he does to honor her memory is to get people to headstands and handstands in lots of different places. This place seemed perfect. Harvin of course can do both effortlessly, but he is also a good coach who worked with the neighborhood kids to join in the fun. Success was had – with giggles that could be heard echoing through the mountainside.

We eventually decided it was time to head home. Fabiola remained insist that their was enough wind to fly the kite…something she had never done. We assured her their simply wasn’t. Deciding that giving our kids clean water to drink and watermelon to eat while the locals looked on would not be proper etiquette so decided to just pack it all up. The kids really wanted water …as we all did…but we explained that it would be right and they understood. Harvin filled up the van full of kids and I tried to inspire the runners they could make it back. As we pulled up out of sight of the neighbors Harvin and I called each other on the phone and agreed that the kids should now stop and drink some water. Ahh, the simply pleasures of life.

Back at New Hope Homes the kids spread out flat and kept saying “I’m soooooooo tired” as they laughed their hearts full.

It was time for lunch and time for a little break for Uncle Harvin and Miss Donna.

We sat and enjoyed the watermelon that was left over from the kids and savored the moments of our new World Football League and our mutual love for these precious kids of New Hope Homes.

We gathered up our strength and our surprise bags of apples and headed down to the 2nd and 3rd homes. Greeted at the gates by the little kids yelling Harv Harv Harv and Missy Donna Missy Donna we hugged and loved each one as they game running full steam ahead. The afternoon was spent with Harvin making up a modified game of baseball where he threw a tennis ball against the house and then there were runners and catchers and bases. It was all a little twisted upside down, but again, the kids think he rules the world with this endless games and entertainment.

I played and danced with the little kids and simply found time to love on them. I remember all the time I used to spend with Fabiola, MarieRose and the other ‘now big kids’ when they were this age, but there just isn’t enough time to go around. Nor enough hands. Harvin and I laughed the other day when we were concerned that there might be 6 people coming on this trip. We worried that it would be too many, but with every passing day we know that there is always room for 1 more. ALWAYS. So please let me know if you want to come on any of my trips. I am in Rwanda in April, August and December each year.

As the sun hit the beautiful afternoon glow we decided it was time. Yes, it was time. Time for what we believe would be our newest tradition. Bobbing for Apples. Harvin filled a bucket with water, got the little kids to sit on the ground quietly while he cut of up small piece of apples for them. You might be surprised to know that apples are a huge treat for the kids. They LOVE them. They are tied with or almost slightly behind ice cream in the favorite category. They are rare treat a they are super expensive. Harvin’s Mom was gracious enough to fund this special time for the kids. THANK YOU! As the little kids sat in the grass patiently eating their apple bits Harvin simply asked who wanted and apple? Marie Rose was the first to take on the challenge. She didn’t quite know what she was signed up. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head when Harvin dropped some in the water and tried to explain to her how he works. He confusion lead to him do a demo. The kids yelled and screamed in delight has he demo yielded success. Ahh, a wonderful apple emerged from the water in his mouth.

Now to see who else could follow. One by one they battled the bucket and one by one they had success. As the game continued Harvin noticed the stem of the apple was being used way to frequently for his liking and he began to remove the them. The kids cheered each time someone figured out how to manage to emerge with an apple in their mouth. Many took several tries and some got a little assistance from Harvin but in the end, each enjoyed the sweet taste of victory.

Harvin kept stepping over the little kids to keep them entertained with bites while the bigger kids bobbed. As the late big kid completed the task Harvin walked over to the Aunties and Uncles and offered them an apple. I came running and said…Oya! (NO). They too must bob. The kids and Aunties and Uncles cheered the idea into fruition.

It was hard to tell who was having more fun. The big kids, little kids, Aunties, Uncles or Harvin or me. The laughter and smiles were spread ear to ear.

As the big kids enjoyed their apples Harvin lined the little kids up in single file to get some more pieces. They line up to wash their hands, to get pineapple bites, pizza pieces and this time…apples. They each say “thanks” and then go to the back of the line, hoping they will get another shot. The most exciting person to have in the line was Desami – who, by the grace of his walker - was able to get in line just like the other kids. Seeing him standing there turned my enless joy into an endless stream tears. I so pray that the Auntie’s will continue to work with him to at least 2 hours a day and we keep the funds to get him to PT 3x a week. I do believe we’ll get our miracle. Join me in that belief.

Abby joined the fun midstream and the kids ran to the gate to meet her yelling Abby Abby Abby. The kids are so blessed to have this woman as a constant in their lives.

With the great day complete. Harvin, Abby and I set out on an evening adventure in the van to have dinner. Abby, now a local has all the scoop on the hidden Kigali treasures that I never knew about. After wandering the back streets trying to get through the endless deadends where the President lives, phoning a friend for directions getting someone from a hotel to jump in the van with us to find our hidden treasure of a restaurant we settled into a an evening of quiet peacefulness.

I toasted these amazing two people in my life. Abby who fell in love with Rwanda 4 years ago and is now a teacher here and visits the kids each week. And Harvin, someone I worked with for years, but never knew who visited the kids in January and returned faster than anyone else has ever done just 3.5 months later for this trip. These two people love our kids unconditionally. I wiped away the tears as I thanked from for caring so much for these sweet orphaned and abandoned kids. Chantal and I know that our commitment to these kids is for a lifetime, but up till now, we thought we were the only ones. It’s a daunting feeling knowing that 29 kids future is resting on God’s grace to help us provide what is needed for each of them. It’s humbling to know that these kids will only have a bright future in school and life if others join our team. Abby and Harvin are two more lights in our path and we are grateful for their presence in our kids life. I often tell Harvin, we are simply happy to receive whatever you have to give this kids of yourself.

I thank each of you for whatever you have done to help these kids reach their maximum potential or what your heart says you can do in the future. No gift of time or money is ever too little.

Dinner was delicious and I was a bit quiet trying to process all that is on front of me as we dream of moving the kids to a new city and building a new home. How will we pull this off? I know it is only with God’s hand, your prayers and your love that it will be possible. But how it comes together…so much to process.

With dinner complete, we drove Abby home and wandered around lost of a bit trying to get from her home to New Hope Homes.

Another day complete. As we opened the door and peeked in on each of the boys sleeping their tired bones for the night, I gently kissed their foreheads and told them ‘dnga coon da’ which means I love you. And yes, that love for these kids is so real is hurts at times. Tonight is one of those nights.

Harvin, the Uncle, the ref, the co-parent, the muzungo, the teacher, the coach, the hero, the driver, the soft shoulder for the boys to cry on, the arms that wrap around the kids cradling them in love and safety is spent for the night. It was a day well lived. In great part due to this wonderful new friend of New Hope Homes.