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.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Clarity of Vision

Isaac, Harvin, Abby and I arose early to drive to Musanze (aka Rhugengeri). It’s just over a two-hour drive and is the city that is home to Chantal and (Bishop)Mbanda. Isaac needed to get back to school a week earlier than his brothers and sisters as he is in grade 6 and needs to study for national exams.

I slept a good chunk of the way (ya, like that comes as a surprise to anyone) and Harvin and Abby enjoyed a lovely conversation as they always do. Abby is such a special person, not only to Harvin and to me, but to the kids of New Hope Homes, her students and the people of Rwanda.

She has a huge heart, is really wise and speaks with a sense of love that is unmistakably Abby.

We arrived at the Cathedral that is the home of Bishop Mbanda’s just as the praise portion was starting. The people of Rwanda love to sing and dance to worship openingly. There is an electric energy that radiates. There are multiple choirs and dancers. At times, people come running from the congregation to simply dance in the front with the choirs etc. There is a traditional dance where you step twice and then jump as high as you can and then repeat repeat repeat. This brings adults and kids of all sizes out of their seats and to the front to join in.

Chantal always makes us sit in the front row. Yikes! Nothing like sitting in the front row of a church when you are friends with the Bishop and on display for all to see. It certainly does keep us all engaged despite the language barrier ☺.

I of course was the one that got us in trouble when we were first seated on the side. I was slightly waving at some young kids across the church. You know, the thing where you just flip a few of your fingers as a little game and then they do it back? Well ding dong Donna, forgot that sign language means that they should come to me. Any yup…right in the middle of the serious prayer across the church wander 3 young kids about 3 years old. Their Mom was in the choir right in front of me and snagged them as they passed by completely perflexed as to why they had gotten up. Of course no one knew why they wandered except for me…and yes of course Abby and Harvin who were seated right behind me and gave me endless grief for my bad behavior. Of course the 3 of us were now responsible for containing our giggle fest at my muzungo faux pax.

I could no longer contain myself so I leaned forward to Chantal to confess. She then joined in our effort not to laugh.

We are graced by a Pastor who translated the service and left 3+ hours (yes I speak the truth) delighted to have been present as we had the joy of being present when the community celebrated Chantal and Mbanda’s 28th Wedding Anniversary. Chantal and Mbanda were called to the front of the congregation to speak. Chantal asked Isaac to join them. Chantal was given the mic first and simply stood there in tears trying to find the words. She is a beautiful woman inside and out and feels things deeply. Chantal finally composed herself and began to speak about their partnership and love. How he treasures her and has been absolutely the best blessing in her life. She told people that while her other children in the States could not be here today, that Isaac would stand in for all of them as well as the other 28 kids of New Hope Homes.

She spoke for quite some time and then gave the mic to Bishop. He made a joke that they have succeeded for 28 years because he let’s her speak as long as she wishes. Everyone laughed. He then said their marriage works wonderfully 98% of the time, which later turned into lots of stories about the 2% to keep us entertained.

We took lots of pictures of their very special time together in front of the community with Isaac wrapped in their arms.

The community then celebrated by bringing small gifts of money to the baskets in front to begin to tile the entire front of the alter to replace the cement only current surroundings.

After the service we went as a group to Volcano Pizza to share some quality time with them. The time was spent learning about the vision Mbanda has to build a University to teach trades like hospitality, carpentry, plumbing etc. The government gave him a nice piece of property filled with old army barracks on which his vision could become reality. This man always dreams big. He has clarity of vision that ensures nothing overlooked and is of singular purpose. All of his plans involve uplifting people so they can stand on their own and ultimately support themselves and grow their community too. This trade university vision would be remarkable if we can find the funding. It would take about $100,000 US to launch phase one and $650,000 to do complete campus. As part of this he is looking for new or slightly used text books to use for the students. Do you know anyone with a connection in this area?

After lunch we drove to the new property which will be location of New Hope Homes. For those of you who have been with us on this journey for a while, you know that Chantal started the homes in Kigali, but 2 years ago her husband left is business career to be Bishop in Musanze thus needing to move their and commute back and forth. We have secured and absolutely beautiful piece of property one which to build our new home for the kids. The brilliant part of her vision is once we have the house built we should be able to be substantially more self sufficient. We can move our cows to the property and eliminate the cost to have someone bike 45 mins each way to fetch the milk. We can grow our own crops and thus provide much more of our own food and Chantal wants to line the street portion of the property with some small shops that people can rent for us, thus generating income to offset costs. Above the shops she envisions creating some tiny apartments that we can rent to create income to offset our costs.

It’s a beautiful vision, now to secure the funds. Step 1 is to sell our current homes, Step 2 is to raise the incremental funds and begin the 9 month construction process. We have someone taking a nibble on then 2nd and 3rd home compound. If he buys it, and perhaps in preparation, we may move the kids to rental home in Musanze to just get the ball rolling as showing the property with all of the kids running around and the chaos that is our life is challenging.

Chantal’s vision is to move from 3 separate homes for the kids to one vertical piece of property. This too will have costs. Harvin and I spent time with the architect to look at his current phase one drawings. The design approach is wise for the long term view of the kids as the boys and girls need to use alternate entrances to the home to get to the bedrooms. While all these kids are considered brothers and sisters…in the technical definition they are not, as the older kids approach their teen years she is purposely wise in creating the separation in sleep quarters. I have been trying to figure out what I should do about my future living quarters – Chantal has decided rather than having me build my own home on the property, I will have a permanent bedroom with an attached bathroom that while be dedicated to me. Thus rather than put all my things in storage each time I leave I will be able to simply keep everything in my room and make my transitions effortless. It’s exciting to take this step forward for me too.

Thus we have the property, the vision and now we simply need the funds.

Do you know anyone who has a dream and or funds to help us? We are a 501©3 thus all donations are tax deductible.

The rest of the evening was spent meeting some wonderful people that had flown in from Memphis to help teach VBS – vacation bible school this coming week for about 1000 kids. The people from the states, are training the people from Musanze over the next 2 years and then they will go forward on their own. The local people welcome the American’s with a joy filled celebration of traditional song and dancing. Early on they invited people forward to try some of the dances. Harvin was seated a few seats from me and gave me the ‘shall we?’ look…my immediate reply back was a ‘yes glance’ and so we leapt to the dance floor to help get this party started!

Then came another dance that required volunteers…out of nowhere Chantal emerged and grabbed my hand to join in. Moments later they had Harvin on the floor too. We put on a toga like sheet and did a dance with two steps and then you jump up as high as you can and tuck your legs in. It’s really fun, but challenging in the altitude when the dance goes on for a long time. At one point the dance area as packed and I got bumped over by Harvin again – he looked at me and said “omg, the altitude is killing me. We both laughed and kept at it. Of course Harvin’s 1st few jumps were super dooper high so his reserves got depleted early.

Harvin and I wanted to spend a little time with Isaac in the evening as we were leaving at 6:30 the next day to get back to Kigali. As you know, Harvin has great connections with all the kids, but his connection with Isaac is especially strong. Isaac also hates goodbyes. When the kids take us to the airport they like to take us to the front door and get lots of kisses and simply stay with us as long as possible, but Isaac seems to slip away and get back to the van to cry in private. He also starts to withdraw the last day as he begins to steady his heart for another separation.

Remember, these kids have all been orphaned or abandoned thus goodbyes – even it when they are – see you later – hurt in a way that no of us can even begin to understand. The kids of New Hope Homes as each remarkable in their own way. Truly. But they all share a common element of protection. Some lots more than others. If they came to us as babies, then this is all they know. If they came to us as 4+ year olds they remember their life before. They remember the loss of their parents, they remember being on the street, and they remember what it’s like to not have food or a consistent safe place to sleep. All of this they remember. All of this they hold deep in their hearts and is rarely processed. I wish we had the funds to get grief counselors to work with our kids, but alas the first needs are school, food etc.

Harvin had one of those break through moments with Isaac on his last trip which unlocked mounds of tears – thus they have a very real connection.

I asked Isaac if he wanted to come hang with Harvin and me for a bit…his reply “ it would be good”. We wandered to her bedroom to hang but the second he began to feel some emotion he decided it was best to go back out to the party. Harvin and I stayed back inside the house for about 20 more minutes to chat with “Tom” who was the organizer of the people who were coming to help with VBS. Even if you are not a person of faith, then simply think of the gift these people are giving. 30+ people paying their own travel, lodging expenses to simply come make the difference in the lives of 1000 kids in Rwanda. Yes, there are so many good people in the world.

Isaac didn’t realize that we were standing in the entrance as he tried to slip back into the house unnoticed. I snagged him as he flew by. “where are you going?”…his reply “I’m going to bed, I’m tired” which of course was code for I thought I would slip into bed and pretend to be asleep so I didn’t have to say goodbye. My heart ached for him.

Harvin and I spoke about it. We both needed some goodbye time with him, but we didn’t want to prolong it as it simply meant more heartbreak and a flood of tears from him. I suggested that Harvin get the real quality time and I would do the brief one. I walked into his room to find him cuddled up and crying while trying to type an email to Sue Whitehouse as it was his last change to use my iphone to connect with her. I tried my best to fight back the tears but when you see his beautiful big eyes trying to be brave but the floodgates open it is impossible not too. I told him I would do my chat quickly so he could be with Harvin. My normal exit is to spend 5-10 minutes of quality time with each of the bigger kids to tell them why I a proud of them. It’s a special time to simply let them know “I see you. I see YOU…I see lot of special things about YOU…that I want YOU to know.” The standard list is 5. I asked him if he wanted to hear the list while he was typing with the iphone. His reply was a simply nod and tears. I zipped through it, hugged and kissed him until he attempted to laugh and then exited wanting to go crawl up into a ball and cry the night away too.

Harvin and Chantal were seated on a couch outside of his room. I said a silent prayer for Harvin as he entered. Chantal and I used the time to chat more about our vision for New Hope Homes and simply enjoy our limited time together. Bishop then joined us. Harvin eventually emerged from Isaac’s room depleted of all resources but focused on this final words of ‘until we meet again’ in French.

Bishop, Chantal, Harvin and I sat together for another 30-40 mins trying to soak in the day and simply be. Somehow we kept finding time to laugh about the 2% Bishop had mentioned in his chat about Chantal in church that morning…you know…the 2% when things aren’t perfect….it was one of those had to be there moments…but it was just the levity that was needed.

In their presence you feel love. You are absolutely 100% confident in their work and vision. You are assured that if funds can be raised, the lives of so many people will be uplifted in Rwanda…from the smallest child to the new widow.

So much work to be done.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Beauty is in the simple gift

We rose early at the Mbanda’s to head back to Kigali at 6:30 AM. The crisp fresh air in Musanze refreshes the soul, as does any time spent with the Mbanda’s.

The love and faith radiates from every corner of this home. Your soul finds true rest The love and faith radiates from every corner of this home. Your soul finds true rest here. They are a gift to so many.

The volcano and mountains in the background provide a stunning view.

With hugs, kisses and blessing exchanged, we began the 2 hour drive back.

Early morning drives are among the sweetest in Rwanda. Endless streams of people walking the streets with everything in tow on their heads. Water jugs, wood and everything in between. The fog that fills the valleys and the hills creates a sense of majesty amidst so much poverty. The lush green terraced farm stand with dignity attempting to feed a family and perhaps create a little left over to provide a some income.

As the light creeps over the landscape it softly lights the faces of the people. Strong people, those that are suffering, children and families. Each is face shines in the light as a new day unfolds before them.

The beauty of the scenery and colorful clothing almost distracts you from the poverty. The majority of the people are walking with no shoes. Imagine emerging from the woods with a fresh cut load of wood or a heavy jug of water from a pump or stream and now shoes. Those that are blessed with shoes a few and those shoes a the simplest of simple.

Counting blessings starts early today.

While I think we both expected to sleep most of the ride home there was none. The conversation flowed nonstop about plans for the kids, how to inspire donors to help us build a new home in Musanze as well as the long term special needs care of Desami and Deborah. We both dreamed of the kids future and our ability to help them not just survive but thrive. There is so much work to be done, so many funds required, so many dreams yet to dream.

I told Harvin it is exciting and frightening for me to try to comprehend his future role with New Hope Homes. Exciting as he is such a blessing to the kids. He is a pure natural not only with the big kids, but has a rare gift with the little ones too. He is never fazed (or at least he doesn’t show it) by the energy required and the constancy of the movement and need. His patience, creativity, and love for this kids and our Aunties and Uncles is simply without measure. The frightening part is for me to trust that there really is someone else with a similar heart for these kids that might be able to remove some of the weight of the responsibility I so often feel as the solo spokesperson on their behalf to raise funds. He not only has the love for them he has a big strategic brain and job to help lead. I do believe that God will work it out and thus, I put my full trust in Him.

He will either grace Harvin’s heart and hands to do this work or bring someone else to the team fill those shoes if Harvin ultimately feels drawn to some other outlet to receive his gifts of mentoring and loving kids.

His gift is the simple gift of giving. He opens his heart and hands to the kids each day and simply meets them where they are at the moment. Not too much, not too little.

As we pulled into town we dropped off a Bible with Harvin's Youth Pastor friend. She was looking for an English one that had notes so we gave her the one I had purchased for guests as we can replace it next time I come. We also stopped by the Mayoy's office to say goodbye to our friend Louise - his Assistant who invited us to her home a couple of days ago. When we arrived home we learned that Auntie Jaki had already taken Desami to the hospital to have his plaster cast removed from his leg and a brace fitted. Harvin quickly jumped back in the van to meet them while I began the sad task of packing. The big kids came up and I wanted to help. Their faces turn sad on departure day and “today is a bad day” can be heard often. I tried to make fun of it, but just want sideways look from Kayitesi make that impossible. She has this great accent and look that says…don’t pretend that we shouldn’t be sad, it is our hearts that are heavy when you go. Their helped turned into too many hands do too many things so I resorted to bad parenting 101. A DVD. I brought the original episode of the Brady Bunch a couple of trips ago, but we never watched it. The kids loved them. The comedy is so visual that they laughed so hard. The blended family is what they are living, so it was an awesome selection and a perfect distraction to their hearts and mine.

Harvin kept reporting in from the various stages of Desami’s appointment. The plaster removed, the new form built for the brace, and physical therapy. The PT was gut wrenching for him as the therapist worked with Desami and showed Harvin the at home exercises. One of the things they did was to force him to stand on his bad leg for 15 or 20 mins to continue to strengthen it as Desami wailed in pain. It’s a these moments when you know that Harvin really has fallen in love with these kids as their pain is his pain.

It was pain the echoed again this morning with Isaac’s tears as Harvin said his final goodbye – at least for this trip.

While we waited for Harvin a few of the kids joined me for a visit to the kids down the street who live in raw poverty. We have become friends and visit often. It's good for our kids to see the physical blessing of their world and keep perspective. We always talk about how we can look for ways to help others and by visiting with these kids they get a glimpse a life that they no longer know. While our kids are sweet GREAT kids, we want to keep them grounded. We brought the 4 families that live there some Hershey's kisses as they wanted to know a few days ago if we had any Easter sweets to share. We also brought them a memory game where you flip the cards to match them. There were very appreciative of our kindness.

Harvin returned to house as I was finishing the packing. Just after we loaded the bags in the van for my 6 pm departure and I was putting the rest of my things in storage I got a text from on of the key mgmt. team that told me to take 2 more days to finish up my work here before returning to Detroit. I couldn’t believe it. I showed the message to Harvin to he said…’go quickly, call Delta to see if they still have the 1 seat they had late last night’. When I had called earlier in the week, it was going to be the change fee plus $1700 – which clearly wasn’t in the cards but last night it was just a simple change fee. I reached Delta and snagged it again. Harvin had been steadily encouraging me to stay for about a week. I think secretly he wants the hot shower in Amsterdam and not having to deal with the my post depature exit solo, but I also trust him when he says…it’s more fun together…as I would feel exactly the same way if the roles were reversed.

The afternoon was spent honoring the Aunties by having the girls do a spa day for them. Our kids painted the finger and toes of our Aunties in thankfulness for their love and care. The kids were not allowed to paint their own – just the selfless gift of doing for their Aunties.

We pulled a big couch onto the front step and had them sit in a row with the girls on little tables at their feet. It was so so so so sweet.

The boys played football (soccer) with Harvin and they gave him a run for their money. The boys love their time with him as every moment is either sheer joy or a learning moment. In this case, it was both. When the little kids woke up from their naps we did the all time fun bobbing for apples routine. Harvin filled a small bucket with water and made some extra splashes as he explained how it worked. He line the little kids up on the ground and began cutting up the small pieces so their would sit nicely and watch. He was a magician at the game while I attempted to shoot pics of the kids.

The kids gathering around and laughed and cheered as each one tried to find a way to grab the apple.

May I importantly explain that Harvin’s Mom funded this treat. Apples are the kids favorite special food ranked higher than even icecream. Apples are super expensive, hence the delicacy! Thank you Mrs Harvin, you made the kids day.

We eventually coaxed the Aunties and Uncles into the game too and the kids thought it was too funny. Lastly, Harvin reminded them that I hadn’t gone for my turn and their supported my silly attempts to break the rules before the did the full headdive and emerged victorious. Harvin then lined up the little kids around more freshly cut pieces. Can you tell you overwhelming cool it was to see Desami finally lined up with the other kids to get a snack. Supported by his walker, he pushed right along eventually to the front of the line. It is the simple gift of watching a disabled child do the simple everything day things that his brothers and sisters to that makes the investment in New Hope Home something to be honored.

With the energy high, we attempted another group shot. It was better, but they are darn near impossible to achieve an endless sea of smiles. They are used the endless camera in front of them when I a here, but of course they now decided that frowning and hiding from the lens of picture is more fun than standing still and smiling.

The kids also loved saying hi to Harvin’s mom and thank her for the apple fund!

Dinner was served early tonight so we had a chance to watch a movie at the 1st home while Harvin grilled up some meat cubes for me to celebrate my 2 extra days here and a new beverage we co-creatd with Abby.

Esther and Prince helped pop some jiffy pop to enhance their viewing pleasure.

All and all it was a sweet, but a very very good day.

The evening one of the boys –while sitting with the Aunties asked what Donna means…I told them “Lady”. Then they asked my 2nd names…I told them Wiederkehr. They asked the meaning of this. I said it means “shall return”. They then pointed out that combined it means Lady who who returns…and yes indeed dear one…I will again.

Sometimes, when you strip everything away, we are given the gift a simple, positive moment or day. Today was indeed that kind of day.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lessons in LOVE & PATIENCE

Today was extreme parenting for both Harvin and me.

The day started with goofy fun. It was the boys turn to do the early morning run with Harvin, so why should a little rain stop them? And, by a little…I mean …a lot.

Always the creative soul and with a bit mischievous inner boy – Harvin (aka Tarzan), decided they should put their shirts in a big plastic bag and run bare chested so by the end of their run where they would celebrate their accomplishments with bagel donut they could at least be dry and warm on top. The boys of course think he rules the universe with plans like these.

The run now features running past some farm where they come back and show me their photo by a cow or goat. So sweet.

For me, my morning is then rewarded with a warm toasted bagel delivery service by the sweetest kids and a sweet man called Harvin.

The rain poured and poured so the girls were trapped down at the other homes as the mud road and hill would be a bit challenging to navigate. We then had time to teach the boys scrabble and simply chill. These times are always the best times at New Hope Homes. Just the kids hanging.

So the morning was simply pure LOVE.

Then came the combination for the rest of the day and into the evening. Harvin and I decided that Alice and Grace should be reward for being number one in their class and number one in the semester exams respectively. We agreed to take them to Mr. Chips, our favorite burger joint. Abby was to join the party too.

We clearly explained the kids why they were receiving special treatment so they knew were weren’t picking favorite. The kids understood and patiently accepted the news.

Given the rain, neither of regular drivers could venture out, so we called Chantal to see if we could drive the van. She said “no problem, Miss Donna”. And by the words can “we” drive it…of course I meant Harvin as he is a regular now on the streets of Kigali on the scooter…why not add the van to the mix? Our drive way is super steep and has huge gullys on either side of it, so navigating the exit is a bit challenging..oh and I mention that is an OLD OLD van with a stick and blinkers and turn signals on the opposite side of the transitional US arrangement.

The kids cheered him on their Uncle Harvin as he was now the driver of the van too!

He PATIENTLY navigated the streets with a great finesse.

Arriving at Mr Chips we learned that they were closing in honor of the 1st week of memory of the genocide. This despite the fact that asked them 3 days earlier if they would be open or closed for lunch today. Ahh…another LESSON IN PATIENCE.

We decided to call our friend Abraham who owns a nearby store so the girls could make a little congratulations purchase and we could kill some time until Mr Chips opened at 2. Abraham is a very good man. His English is flawless and he has a great heart for street kids as he and his wife have taken in 5. The girls spent a long time looking at everything in the store to decide what small gift they would like to have in honor of their great accomplishments in school.

We PATIENTLY waited as they assessed everything. Remember, these kids have very simple things like shoes and clothes, so the opportunity to all this time to purchase something is a rare thing. Thus our LOVE for them and our PATIENT hearts.

After their selection Abraham recommended a sweet restaurant right next door. It was an honor for the 3 of us to chat with the girls and talk about their dreams as they have done so well in school. Alice had decided she wants to be a Doctor. She would like to help people with cancer. She even knew the word oncologist. Imagine years from now if she does indeed accomplish this goal and change the face of cancer treatment forever. It could happen! I wouldn’t put anything out of the reach of this tiny fireball. Dream big sweet Alice, dream big. Grace too wants to be a Doctor, but she simply wants to ‘help everyone’. Harvin explained the concept of General Medicine to her.

Abraham joined us for a bit so had the privilege of getting to know him better. We also told the girls that he too was excited about their performance in school he paid for their gifts. Ya, there is endless LOVE in Rwanda.

As Harvin has mentioned, time moves slowly in Rwanda as does lunch so we didn’t get home until after 3 pm.

We were warmly greeted by the kids. They are especially happy when Abby is with us as she is now a good family friend to them. Multiple times this trip the kids run to me and say “abby abby with endless joy…but then say…oh…hi miss donna” …nothing like feeing like chopped liver …whatever that expression is…but it brings me joy as we all LOVE having Abby here with the kids so often.

The afternoon was spent playing with the little kids. A sweet sweet girl named Charlotte in Minnesota heard about the kids of New Hope Homes so she wanted to help. She raised $160 from her friends and sent over all sorts of art supplies. The kids LOVED drawing with them. They spend hours making beautiful pictures.

How’s that for a lotta LOVE and a huge heart. Thanks Charlotte, you have really made these kids fill important. We are so excited to skype with you tomorrow.

Today was also the day that we got to share the LOVE of Aaimee Reker’s family who expressed her LOVE for our kids by sending over over 29 pairs of brand new beautiful dress shoes for each kid. The kids were so excited to have a shiny black pair of new shoes. We took lots of pics with the kids holding or wearing the shoes so she can know how much she is LOVED for her kindness.

Harvin and I then taught a lesson in tough LOVE. Some of the bigger kids were starting to complain about something they had received. It was just kids stuff as kids will be. But, Chantal had encouraged us to really be firm with the kids when needed. While to outside world, they have relatively few possessions, in Rwanda, they have the privilege of getting a new outfit at least once a year, a new pair of tennis shoes and dress shoes once a year AND going to a really good school that is generously paid for by so many of you. Chantal wants to ensure they really appreciate everything they receive whether big or small. So…in this case, the grumbling pushed Harvin’s last patience button. Now embracing his inner ‘bad cop’ he talked to them about how disrespectful they were being and the grumbling continued. This lead to our decision to conduct our first ever group ‘time out’ for all the older girls. 20 minutes to sit in silence and think about their behavior as well as their less than grateful spirit. If there was not complete silence, the violators would not get any of Abby’s homemade pizza that she is preparing tomorrow with them.

Alas we had 3 offenders – or – so we thought. Turns out the 1 girl who was talking was telling the girls who were playing cards to not play them or they would get in trouble. Hence she was trying to do right. Net, we are left with 2 girls who will not be happy at pizza time tomorrow. Harvin and I then spent another hour + PATIENTLY waiting as each shared their apology and desire for better behavior.

Harvin again made it clear to them that while we don’t love their behavior this afternoon, we will both always love them.

Phew…that took a lot of PATIENCE and a lot of LOVE to do it correctly. Thankfully Abby is amazing with the kids and is an expert as a teacher of young kids. She gives us great wisdom.

We both feel like we are trying our best to do the right things by these kids, but clearly we make lots of mistakes…yup, the very definition of parenthood.

I again taught English tonight to the Aunties who want to learn conversational questions like. What is your name? Are these your kids? How many do you have? And things to say when trying to buy something “I want this, how much does it cost? I need a lower price.” Perhaps the last line is not needed for Rwandadese, but highly probable!

The night was to end with peaceful yoga, while it was executed, it was a fairly foiled attempt as I bracely said I would keep 15 of the little kids in a room, nice and calm so they could do a meaningful yoga session in the next room. Big fail!. The kids were so excited that I was with them they went into crazy overdrive mode of running around screaming and dancing nonstop and then of course bumping into each other which of course let to tears. They number one goal was to make the great escape out the door to be with the yoga session. They of course thought they were hysterical as drug them back in 1 by 1. That left me with one choice. Physically block the door so they couldn’t get out but that meant they could all run around and be silly and bounce on beds. Eventually Abby the magician came to my rescue.

It was ‘good night’ time.Harvin then gave Abby a ride to the taxi /moto stand on the scooter and wandered in. I quickly prepared a fest to end our day. I gave Harvin a plate with chicken he grilled for me yesterday along with a yummy apple and our favorite juice combination. As we sat together recapping the day, we both recognized that we are running on reserves and need to find the afterburner to give the kids the attention, LOVE and PATIENCE that we want to do every day. I leave in 2.5 days, so I am beginning to feel the pain of the impending separation, a tinge of jealousy that Harvin again gets two more quality days with them…but of course I am thankful for his LOVE and PATIENCE for these kids. He won’t be on the next trip in August, so it will definitely have a different vibe, but if I have learned anything about my 6 years of traveling to Rwanda, I have learned that EVERY visitor is blessing. So I look forward to who will be next.

It will also be so curious to see where Harvin’s journey will take him with these kids. It’s hard not to get excited that is there someone else who may want to make a longer term commitment to being present to these kids. If he chose to do it, he would bless them in more ways than I can even begin to describe. It however, he, like those before, turns into their skype friend, it too will be fine as he will simply love them from across the internet and they too will know that LOVE is very real.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Hi. Harvin here. I realize it wasn’t actually the weekend, but at one point Thursday afternoon Donna and I both looked at each other and started simultaneously commenting on how it felt like an average Saturday back home. And like any weekend when you were a kid, homework was often not done till the last minute. Hence why Thursday’s post is just showing up today. We had spent the day doing the Rwandan version of normal Saturday activities that you might do with your own families. You know the type of day, when you look back and it seems like such a full day of small special moments and tons of variety. They type that leaves you exhausted and content at the end. Of course as you will see although the activities themselves are very normal, the way they happen is anything but. .


Today it was time to get back to running, and trips to African Bagel Company. The night before the Girls and Boys decided that only Girls run together and Boys run together, so today it was time for the girls. I enjoyed sunrise with a view of the city as I walked down to the lower house to pick them up. (On a side note, one special moment was delivering 12 skeens of quality yarn I had brought over to our wonderful Auntie Jackie who knits hats for the kids. They joy in her face was priceless as she is used to very coarse yarn of low quality. I can’t wait to see the hat she makes me!) .

The run itself was, as always, very fun. Marie Rose, Grace, Esther, Fabiola, Anna and I took off, heading in a new direction this time. The always adventurous Esther saw a trail heading up the hill and suggested we there. It turned into a few of them saying ‘dis way’ and others saying ‘nooo, no that way’. I finally decided it was time for the girls to learn that running is about exploring so we took off on the trail. For you runners and hikers out there, imagine a well-worn dirt path through some short grasses up a gradual incline. This was not a hardcore trail, and yet a few of them, especially Marie Rose were scared to run there. It made me realize once again how limited all of their exposure is to the world outside the walls of New Hope Homes. With Marie Rose and Grace holding my hands and screaming/laughing ‘aahhh’ we ran up the trail we ended up finding a dirt road leading back to the main road, which of course ended at the CafĂ© where sugar donuts were waiting for them and a cup of coffee and a bagel for me. .


Upon returning to the home and greeting everyone, we noticed Emmanuel, our 20 year old Uncle/Watchman/Worker at the upper house was doing his work with a limp. I guess he had been away from The Home with an injured foot, but we had been told it was healed. After convincing him we needed to take him to the doctor, and making him realize we were offering to pay, I put the scooter to good use and started a morning adventure in Rwandan Health Care. First it was off to the hospital for a consult. Of course I didn’t know where it was and Emannuel was a little unclear to the location as well, but we finally found it. The way it works is you show up at the front desk, pay in advance for what you need, and then keep coming back and paying in advance for any care that is needed as it goes along. It was crowded with many people sitting around, but I think my Muzungo status (rich white person) may have helped get us closer to the front. The doctor spoke French, and very limited English. Between Emmanuel’s Kinyarwanda, my two years of college French from 20 years ago, and a few hand signals we finally figured out that he was suggesting an X-Ray. Of course that happens across town at a different place. Trying to understand directions between three languages, a very poor hand drawn map, Emmanuel without much knowledge of the city and myself with none was actually quite hilarious. Almost as hilarious as the 30 minute scooter ride to the imaging center across town, weaving through traffic, Motos, and pedestrians, and having to stop twice for directions turning us around twice before arriving at the right place. (By the way, if there are traffic laws here I don't have a clue what they are since people can and often do pass you in your lane on both sides). After we finished getting Emmanuel's X-Ray (again prepaying and a long wait) it was back across town back to the clinic again to see the original doctor. Again a long wait, but the news was good, no broken foot. He wrote a prescription for what I interpreted to be anti-inflamitory medication, which we purchased at the on site Pharmacy. .

The whole trip took about 4 hours and cost me the equivalent of about $42 US. Emmanuel’s relief at not having a broken foot was palpable. On the scooter ride back to The Home he leaned forward, patted me affectionately on the shoulder and shouted into my helmet ‘Harv, you have much love’. ‘You are good person’. Best $40 bucks I’ve spent in a long time if not ever. .


For those parents who have learned to divide and conquer, that whole time Donna was on a shopping adventure of her own. We are going on Sunday to Chantel and Mbanda’s house on Sunday, to take Isaac to school and stay and meet some volunteers coming into town. Sensing an opportunity to make a little money for The Home, Donna was off to the market to buy colorful fabrics that could be made into dresses to be sold to the volunteers. She also had to do a bank run, take the van in to have the tire fixed from Wednesday’s flat, and get some fresh drinking water for us. We definitely felt like harried parents and we were calling each other back and forth on our individual Rwandan cell phone lines checking up on each other’s progress and figuring out when one of us would get back to the rest of the kids. Now I know a trip to Joanne Fabrics, Wells Fargo, and Tires Plus doesn’t take 4+ hours, but obviously the Rwandan equivalents don’t work that quickly. She arrived back almost at the same time I did, and that’s when the day actually got busy. .


Now imagine our afternoon. We spent it at the upper house with the 14 older kids. Activities ranged from Donna and a rotating assortment of kids Skyping with friends and sponsors, Harv’s laundry being hand washed by three enthusiastic little girls and one boy (I was helping, sort of), chicken being grilled over a charcoal fire pit, boys playing soccer and learning to throw a football, baskets being shot on the recently fixed basketball hoop…..


How many of us have had to work on the weekend? Well Donna was no exception. Unfortunately our work back home doesn’t disappear just because we are here, especially for her, and given the time difference usually swings into full gear starting around 5pm. Wednesday it was her on a conference call standing on a dirt road as 25 locals surrounded the van while the tire was being fixed, putting her boss on hold long enough to charm the locals into letting us leave and then resuming her call as if nothing happened. Thursday it was a two-hour global conference call and she really needed a quiet space to do it. So I locked her into the main room (literally locked her in, or more importantly locked the kids out), and gathered them all down in the School Room. .


When I was a kid I hated cleaning, and for those of you who know my mother you know standards were very high back then, and were implemented with a military like zeal. Well those standards have now been implemented at New Hope Homes, at least in the classroom. The place was a mess, so I spent the next hour marshaling the 14 kids into sorting supplies, sweeping floors, organizing all the books and shelves….. Basically cracking the whip like a general over his troops. The classroom was in quite disarray and we needed it clean for the art projects we planned to do there. Truthfully I had assumed it would take much longer, but once you get these kids focused and working together (no small feat) they are a quite a formidable force. .


If you never have something, when you do get it, it seems like such a treat. The kids here live that. They have so little, so the smallest things can make them joyous and Yoga has become a special treat for them. So to celebrate our wonderful day and all the work accomplished cleaning the classroom, we spent the next ½ hour refining our up and down dogs. Donna finally finished her responsibilities back home, and came to join us. In a rare moment of silence, all the kids sat quietly in the dark as she walked towards the classroom, sitting like perfect little angels around the table to surprise her as she walked in. Yes it was staged, and Donna was in on it, but it was still a really fun moment for them thinking they surprised her with such a clean classroom and good behavior. .

Of course the greatest treat for the older kids was the gift of a new watch for school. Did you know these kids get up and start their days at 4am for their first lesson. Thank you so much for those who contributed to help them rise early and make it to classes on time


What weekend is complete without sharing some time at a friend’s house for drinks? Donna and I had been invited to the house of Louise, the assistant to the mayor whom Donna has befriended and it still hoping will help her achieve her goal of becoming a Rwandan citizen. We left the kids eat with the Aunties and Uncles, and took the scooter on our first nighttime adventure, stopping at a gas station to buy Fanta’s and Cokes as a gesture of appreciation. Louise’s house was only about a ten minute ride away and she was gracious enough to walk out to the main road to greet us and show us the winding way back to her house. It is a humble place, with a bean garden out front, a very small living room with three old and well used couches crammed into a sitting area, and what I imagine to be a small bedroom in back. Her husband and two sons joined us, the oldest being 18 and the youngest, Kevin, being 8. There was a moment of humor as we both tried to offer gifts of drinks to each other before Donna and I finally conceded to their role as host and accepted first. Perhaps the most joyous part of the evening was teaching Kevin to hit a whiffle ball with the ball and bat we bought him, or hearing that we were the first white people he had met. As expected there was no food but for a couple of crackers each that they graciously offered, but the hunger for friendship outweighed the hunger for dinner, and we ended up staying well past 10pm feeding our spirits. .


Did I mention we really had not eaten all day? After our rather long goodbye with Louise and her family it was back on the scooter and an agreement to stop at the first place that was still open. Fortunately it was only a few blocks till we saw a sign for 24/7 food. Unfortunately when we got there, sat down, looked at the menu and tried to order we found out that although they had many things listed on the menu, they were out of pretty much everything but fried chicken. And really unfortunately for two very hungry Muzungos, when the chicken did arrive it was one small piece each with more gristle than meat. .

So that was our Saturday, or Thursday, or what day is it? The days do seem to all run together.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beatiful Kibeho Alice rockin' the roadtrip. Donna and the kids from the Kibeho road trip. Cleaning bones. Each had a story.
Clothes warn by those perished 18 years ago. Simple hoes to do the digging. Unthinkable mass graves.

Trying to comprehend

Today was a day filled with trying to comprehend so many things.

It began like any trip to Kibeho. A bit of chaos, lots of excitement and an hour behind schedule. We decided to start our adventure at 6 AM so I could a the right places at two points of the days for work calls. The kids know who goes on each trip to Kibeho as they rotate each time. The drive is about 4 hours so there is some prep…the right number of kids, proper food for the drive and back up in case we have a problem, extra water for survival if needed and of course the most important…chicklets (gum) which seems to help prevent the kids from throwing up and of course a Ziploc bag for each in case they do.

We had some confusion about the rotation of Issac and Sande when we made th final decision yesterday so we had to right the problem today. That meant they both came and they agreed to the rotation going forward. When we shared the news with the kids that were staying there was great confusion and challenges so Harvin and I had to stay until it was clear we were not picking favorites – it was indeed an honest mistake. It’s very important to Chantal that all decisions which involve some kids getting to do something and others not…that the communication needs to be crystal clear so they know they are all loved and there is clear rational. This of course takes time….hence the delay.

Packed in the van we said our prayer for a safe drive and off we went down the coble stone road.

For those of you that are new to the Kiebeho story simply know that this is a very very special and remote place in Rwanda where Mary – yes that Mary – the Mother of Jesus appeared to some kids for over 7 years in the early 80s. The apparitions as they are called, are barely known, yet the stories are clear and proven and at their peak you could find crowds of 100,000+ there. Mary also warned about the genocide before it happened. I learned about this story after my 2nd or 3rd trip to Rwanda and now visit there each trip. It becomes a part of the adventure with each visit. It’s also some great quality time with the kids as we have them trapped for 4 hours each way! One of the 3 girls that Mary appeared to on a regular basis has devoted her life to staying there and sharing the story day after day to visitor after visitor. She is named Anathalie and we have a wonderful visit each time I come. I now have her phone and we trade messages when I am coming to alert her. It’s quite a privilege to have this relationship. She started to text me this trip which blew me away. It’s not like you get a text message from a church sanctioned visionary every day. ☺

Anathathlie has a great desire to speak English. I brought her some translation books a few trips ago so she has been studying on her own.

The speed at which she has learned the language is simply incomprehensible. Harvin looked at me part of the way through as he was writing the English phrases she wanted to learn “wow, she has a gift”. I looked back and said…”ya, I think she has a few of those” and we laughed.

The kids were really helpful in translating and were very well behaved. It’s hard to sit in a small room for over an hour squirmingless and giggle free. They mostly made it. When they broke the code of silence, Harvin just gave them the ‘bad cop look’ and they were again little angels.

Given our conversation with Lillian last night and the country being in such broken- hearted place as they mark the 18th year in memory of the genocide this week and month, I asked her to share her story of how she survived. She had told me in detail about a year ago but I wanted Harvin to hear it. She did the highlights. She hid in her home at the beginning and then would go out a night to help others. Eventually people came and said she needed to run now. She fled with the Bishop and some other people on foot to the Congo. It took them 4 days to get there. Upon arrival she stayed with some Nuns for a few months and then when to Kenya for a year. She has lived in her tiny home at the top of a hill in Kibeho since she was a teen – the only exception was during this time period.

To be in Anathalie’s presence is to feel the love of God. Yes, I know there are many people reading this blog who don’t believe as I do, but even if you don’t, know that you would feel something special in her spirit.

Harvin then took the kids for a visit to the church so the kids could pray for about 10 minutes before they went to lunch. This is my window to spend some private time with her. Despite the language barrier she knows that I love her and believe in all that she has shared. My Father, in particular believes that he was spared death about 4 years ago so he could spread the word about a particular rosary that Mary shared in Kibeho called the Seven Sorrows Rosary. She knows that I buy many of them each time I come so this time she was prepared!

If you want to know more about this story, read a book called Our Lady of Kibeho or reach out to me at

If you are a person of faith…you can try to comprehend what it must have been like for her to visit with Mary for many years and now spend her entire life dedicated to sharing the story. That -my friends - is an understanding of a life purpose and a commitment to it.

If faith is not your groove thang. then simply try to comprehend another first hand story about surviving the genocide. Try to comprehend the type of death that the majority of those endured. Try to comprehend survivors’ guilt. Just try to comprehend.

We had a wonderful lunch at our usual spot overlooking a few of the many hills that give Rwanda the name – the land of 1000 hills. Harv got them all settled and ordered while I took time to pray and take more photos. The irony is I seem to take the same photos each trip, yet try to do it a little better each time. The ride back was silly fun. The kids were jazzed up from their lunch and ready to get the party bus going on the way back as they slept a good portion of the way down to Kibeho.

Alas, within about 45 mins of our departure, we drove by a big accident and those gathered started to shout about our tire. I had just started a conference call with a bunch of folks from our team around the world when we had to pull over to check the tire. Yes indeed flat. Let me be clear, it is very difficult to host a conference call when there are about 30+ people surrounding your van filled with sweet kids shouting at you. I took the ‘exit stage right’ approach and simply exited the van and stood in a field about 150 ft from the car as the crowds grew and our drive tried to change the tire. Moozoongoo (white people) attack crowds in general, but a moozoongoo in a van with a bunch of kids and a flat tire is newsworthy. The van was surrounds by lots of people all peering in while I tried to get some work down. My eyes never left the van in case curiosity turned into trouble. At one point the policeman came and chased everyone one away, but that lasted about 3 mins. When I saw the tire was changed and the people appeared to be giving the driver a hard time and the shouts grew louder, I gracefully exited the conference call with a simple “hey guys, I think we about to have a riot here, could you please call me back in 5” I worked my way through the crowd and got the front door open to confirm my suspicions that they wanted some francs for the privilege of staring at us as they didn’t to anything to change the tire other than put rocks under the tires to caulk them from rolling back. I am more than happy to pay someone for their help, but in a crowd of this size, if you handed out money, there would be no way to distribute it and the crowd could potentially get angry.

So, my best NYer instinct took over. I went to the crowd and forced them to back away from the van. I cleared a path and then thanked them and asked God to bless them for their kindness….all in kinyarwanda might I add. They thought this moozongo was quite funny, but they listened. With hands out stretched for money, I filled it with a thank you hand shake as I motioned the van to star moving. The shouts grew until I simply started yelling “oiya” which means NO. In their 15 sec hesitation from this sweet moozongo turned yeller, I was able to get the passenger door open, Harvin jumped to the back seat and we were off. The kids all laughed and cheered.

As we pulled away, Esther said they wanted 2000 francs…about $4US. Of course we would have paid if were a handful.

The rest of the ride was much less eventful, with laughter, zzz’s and the longest game of ‘who are you’…you know the one…person place or thing? Sande’s mind twister lasted for about 2 hours. I kid you not.

At one point the kids asked about the genocide as we passed village after village with people gathered to commemorate. Someone said “did you see the bones?” I said “which bones?” They all seemed to know that we had passed something important on the way down to Kibeho and wanted to be sure we knew it. As we were just about to get off the endless dirt, bumpy road, the kids yelled “there”.

What Harvin and I witness next was truly incomprehensible. We saw all these bones lying on plastic tarps, what appeared to be open graves. I asked the driver to turn around and Harvin we parked outside the gate. I was torn whether to take a photo or not as Anathalie – the visionary – asked us not to take pictures of her this trip in respect for genocide…so the last thing I wanted to do was to snap pix of people who had died.

Harvin and I chatted with the policeman who was stationed outside the gate. He invited us to enter. There we greeted some wonderful people who told us that they have been digging up the mass graves from the genocide in this area for about 2 weeks, then preparing the bones for a proper burial in an above ground mausoleum type structure. 500 hundred were cared for with 5000 to go. After they spoke with us and understood our hearts truly felt sorrow they gave us the privilege of walking through their work. We saw bones properly laid in rows. A large area of skulls. Piles of clothing they had removed from the bones. Their tools of the trade were scattered about. Picks for digging. Gloves for protection and masks to attempt to break out the stench of death now 18 years passed. Amidst the death were signed of lift in beautiful flowers that find some reason to reach for the sun amidst this pain. I could have stayed for 2 hours to try to soak it in. When you stand amidst death like this, there are not words.

It is truly impossible to comprehend.

When you see it all first hand vs in photos or film, it’s impossible not to feel helpless. As the tears rolled down my face, I tried my best to thank the worksers for the love they are showing these people and to again apologize as I have done so many times for the world not being here to help stop this horror.

The death and their work are truly incomprehensible.

Harvin and I tried to talk as we walked through it, but the words were few.

Getting back in the van, we tried to transform to the happy entertaining funny people that we were when we exited the van, but alas it was impossible. Without a word or a plan each of us seemed to attempt to return to the joy in the van while the other person simply looked blankly onto the roadside as we tried to take in what he had just seen.

Arriving back at New Hope Homes we hugged the kids we left behind and tried to learn about their day. Harvin took charge of ALL the kids after dinner while I taught English to 3 of the aunties.

Lastly we somehow decided to change names as we walked down to the house for dinner…they names seems to have stuck as we walked home for the evening. I chose a random name of Jane. When Harvin heard it – he said he had to be Tarzan and did his best ahhhh…aahhhh king of the jungle scream. Sande is “who are you”. Lionel is “grrrrr”, Isaac is Shaggy, Nshimeye is Tom, and Prince is frog, We reintroduced ourselves to our night watchman as we walked into tonight. He thought were quite amusing.

Thanks for sharing our journey. Look forward to an update from Harvin in tomorrow’s blog.

Needless to say, the juxtaposition of our lives at New Hope Homes is indeed sometimes incomprehensible for me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Harvin started the day with a great run with the older boys. We made a decision that this would be a legitimate run….therefore the joy would be in the run and togetherness. This is in contrast to the reward at the runs that Harvin started last time …where the run ended up with a bagel from a mozoongo (white person) bakery that recently opened. We decided they needed to be into it for the right reasons. ☺

I decided that I would take a spin on the new scooter. White women driving anything is quite infrequent in Rwanda…but a moozongo on a scooter was quite the attraction. I simply motored by and greeted everyone with a hello or good morning in Kinyarwanda. They laughed and smiled as this crazy woman. Harvin got a local mobile phone (hmm, does that mean he iis really coming back? Or is $25 bucks for a working phone too much to pass up?) It gave us both a sense of security that we could reach each other while we were on our solo missions.

Remarkably we returned at nearly the same time. He of course did another run with the boys that don’t quite have the endurance of the bigger ones. He is indeed a good man. While he was gone, I attempted to make my 3rd pot of coffee in my life ever. No, not my 3rd pot in Rwanda…Yes my 3rd ever. I bought the coffee pot yesterday for our volunteers who go thru crazy withdrawal without it! I didn’t quite have the proportions down right, but he was very sweet when he took the first sip. “Perfect is too week, too strong or just right – this one is indeed perfect”. After probing nonstop he finally hinted that I might want to cut my coffee contribution in ½.

It was then time for school. Harvin ushered all the kids to the classroom for me to begin while he took a quick bucket bath. He then found himself in a deep deep time with Isaac who simply needed to shed some tears and have a man to talk it out with. For those who read the blog from our last trip, you read about how Harvin – who didn’t know he had a gift for working with kids, turned out to be a remarkable contributor to our kids – especially the boys. He showed them that strong men also have a soft part and tears are part of that. We talked about how important it was for these boys to be given the opportunity to cry for the parts of their lives that they left behind when they were orphaned or abandoned. Today, Harvin gifted Isaac with some more time to process. It sounds their private time was spent with few words, rather the gift of simply crying it out.

Meanwhile, I was focusing on teaching school. The kids wanted to practice English so we created a 2- lessons- in- one session. They had to write complete sentences about all the things that were not in their proper place in the classroom. The ones that came up with the longest list, those that had the most unique observations (meaning no one else saw it) and the ones that had the longest word all got to go to the local produce open market with Harvin and me. We had 5 winners. Just in case you are wondering…the longest word was thermometer and the most unusual item...a tooth on a desk. I speak the truth. Ya gotta love it here!

Then it was skyp -o-rama. We talked to old friends, new friends, people who pray for our kids, people who are helping financially and some co-workers who want to help with the website. Our kids especially love meeting other kids. Thursday is our next session, so we hope to talk to you then!!! My (donna’s skype is rwandadonna)

Harvin then spent the afternoon on perhaps his all time favorite New Hope Homes project. He jerry-rigged a mr fixit, tooltime man solution to our basket ball backboard that had flipped upside down. It took hours and he had 4 great assistants in Fabiola, Isaac, Sande and Uncle Emmanuel. It involved a saw, screws, ubolts, cut up rubber from tires etc etc.

The kids have been climbing the trees nonstop to get a green fruit down that they like…looks and tastes close to limes. While Harvin played ‘Man with Tools’, I snapped pics of the kids and tried to coax the kids down that had climbed wayyyyy to high!

On the first trip, Harvin talked about how much we seem to nurture, support and discipline the kids similarly. We laugh about how two single people who hardly know each other seem to find an instant in sync rhythm here. But last time I gave him grief about him getting the joy of being the ‘good cop’ while I was the ‘bad cop’. This trip it is fully balanced and in some ways a bit more tilted with him in the bad cop role…just ever so slightly. I thanked him as it makes my life so much more enjoyable here. Earlier this afternoon, we had talked about how one of our older girls was misbehaving all yesterday evening and most of today. We talked about needing to talk to her about her behavior and talk about consequences if it continued. Late in the afternoon I walked by Harvin as he was working the boys on the basketball net I said “ I am going to have the conversation with you know how right now…it’s time”. I didn’t think he could break away from his task but he looked up and said …”wait, I’ll join you”. When the three of us gathered he delivered some tough love in such a beautiful strong way I was blown away. Truly. He made her look at him and eventually gently but firmly held up her head to ensure her eyes were locked with his. He was loving, clear, yet very firm. The clear consequences, If the behavior didn’t change immediately she wasn’t going on our Kibeho roadtrip tomorrow. I added some texture and the message was delivered as a team and received remarkably well. The result…yes indeed she will be joining us in Kibeho tomorrow.. Ya, I know, it’s only one day, but having him there mattered more than I can say.

As Harvin and I were setting out for dinner with the local pastor of the kids Church the rain looked menacing so we decided to walk vs taking the Scooter. OK MOM’s see we do use our brains occasionally. But then the kids were running behind starting the fire so I could cook up some meat I bought yesterday and the rain looked better so we decided to do the scramble and help them…then scooter down to Mr. Chips. Mr Chips is our favorite new place that opened by a Canadian who make legitimately good burger and fries. Oh how my life over the past 6 years had changed in Rwanda!

Dinner was indescribable. Lillian shared her story of how she survived the genocide as a young mother of 2 kids. (8 months old and about 3 years old) after her husband fled in fear leaving her with HIS disabled Mother, and her 2 sisters. She talked about how she hid in various people’s homes, fields and anywhere she could during the first month of the 3-month genocide that killed 1 million people. She talked about the kindness of moderate Hutus who tried to help them in so many ways including swapping out their photos on their identity cards for Lillian’s sisters photo so she would appear to be Hutu and not be killed. Her story was detailed, mesmerizing and so poignant as this month is set aside to remember the genocide and this week most places close at noon so they can listen to national and local ceremonies to honor the dead and to move forward. Now tonight, we sat and listened to her very personal horrific story and saw the pain yet were blown about by her strength and endurance. She raised 8 of her own brothers and sisters before the genocide after both her parents were killed. Then 2 were killed in the genocide.

When I have time, I will put my head together with Harvin’s to detail more of her journey including taking a 10 days truck ride to the Congo with her two kids pretending she was Congolese as she had some old paperwork. Her sister traveling as a supposed Hutu shared that truck stuffed full of people with no food etc pretending they didn’t know each other. She talked about the kindness of strangers who helped her by taking her in for 3 months after she crossed the border.

In the end, we were honored to spend time with the amazingly, strong woman who is now a pastor of a church and changing lives in so many ways. Clearly she has a testimony to share with so many others that are hurting. They will know she truly has lived hardship. That said, she is an amazing Preacher and truly optimistic about life.

Thus our days were booked ended by two hugely powerful personal stories. Isaac’s which is still pouring out of his heart and soul in private moments of endless tears and Lillian’s who has put a voice to her pain.

I/we are honored to have the privilege of knowing them both.


Monday, April 09, 2012


Lessons in Need

Hello, Harvin here guest blogging tonight. (Although as I spend more time here I am beginning to feel less like I did last time, a volunteer and guest, and more like New Hope Homes has become a second home to me). Let me try to explain by talking about our day full of lessons, namely of need.

LESSONS IN NEED – Surprisingly, not just financial, although that is a very big part of it. A large thank you to everyone who has contributed supplies, money, and time. There are many needs here I am just beginning to understand.


Time is rather loosely defined here, which is sometimes quite challenging for Donna and me who have survived and thrived in the corporate world by living by a rigid calendar. Perhaps you might suggest, as some of our friends have, that we as two type A personalities have a ‘need to relax’. Truthfully though the lack of time to accomplish everything is a rather big deal. We are constantly being torn by balancing time spent with the kids and time spent contributing to the actual work that needs to be done, from processing paperwork, to organizing and categorizing supplies, to getting things fixed on the van or the house, to shopping for things we need here, to keeping track of shoe and clothes sizes for a household of 29 growing children, to running kids to doctor appointments, to even finding a moment’s peace for ourselves to rest…… Yep, better time management and a few more hours in the day would help. But so would a little more cultural giddy up and sense in urgency others. Alas, I may just ‘need to relax’.


After Deszamies’ breakthrough with the walker yesterday, the plan was to take him today to physical therapy, get a proper diagnosis, and develop a sustainable plan for how to treat the physical effects of his Cerebral Palsy. The team consisted of myself, Donna, Auntie Jackie, Fabiola as our interpreter (who was so good with helping him yesterday learning to move around in his walker), and Joseph our replacement driver. We arrived at the clinic and proceeded to the back where a couple of therapists were working with babies on the floor. Now mind you, this is no Western clinic, with bright lights, shiny equipment, and a surplus of supplies. My first look was to see two therapists sitting on an old mattress on the cement floor working with two babies. Other kids appeared to be lined up waiting their turn, but we were all crowded into the same small room. Everyone was excited to see Dezamies walk with the walker, but it was clear that there is much more needed. We were ushered into see a doctor, a wonderful woman appropriately named Joy. She walked us through the next steps needed if we hope to see him walk unaided someday. It starts with a cast on his leg today for a week to reset his leg muscles into the proper alignment, and then move on to a leg brace on one leg which he needs to wear every day except when he is getting professional therapy three times a week or doing daily exercises, and also a fitted orthotic in the shoe of his other leg. Part of my brain was thrilled to learn that he actually has a chance at leading a normal physical life someday, but then I started to panic at the logistics involved. There is the cost of weekly therapy, the logistics and cost of getting him to and from the clinic three times a week, the braces that will inevitably change sizes as he grows, the training of the Aunties to do the necessary exercises, etc. All balanced against the needs of 28 other children, some who also have special needs, and all who need to be cared for. And with our time here limited I am worried about actually making this happen. But I have learned to take Joy whenever I can find it here. This time it was in the form of a wonderful woman, who made me think that someday a little boy who has only been able to barely crawl his entire life will be able to run to greet me with a smile on his face.


Did I mention that while I was holding Dezamies waiting for his cast to be put on he peed all over my shirt? Ok, to all my friends out there with children. It’s official, with that act I have passed the Rubicon of parenthood and officially joined the club.


Ok, I’m back on this one. Donna and I were already feeling guilty about having spent the morning away from the kids, but there were a few other things we needed to accomplish, namely getting to the TIGO store (Rwanda’s equivalent of Verizon) to fix our Wi-Fi access, shopping for supplies for the Home while we are here, exchanging money, and a side trip (more on that later). Did I mention before how long everything takes to get done around here? It took most of the rest of the day to finish everything, but had decided we’d just commit to getting most of our chores done today while we were already out. I didn’t realize the heavy price we’d pay later for that decision later.


Ok, yes, here it is. The official call for help….


Chantel had stopped by the Home this afternoon to be with the kids, and unfortunately Donna and I were running late to get back, so she agreed to come meet us at Nakamatt, the main mall area in Kigali that you can get more variety of stuff. Think of a small poorly stocked Wal-Mart without the low prices. We sent Jackie, Dezamies, and Fabiola home with Joseph, and stayed for a cup of coffee with Chantel. For those of you who are unaware, she is the woman who started this Home with her husband six years ago and together they are one of the most inspirational couples I have ever met. Which was probably why I was so moved when she told me she considered me family now, part of both The Home and her home. And then we talked finances. The Home has been blessed over the years with donations both big and small, but has no sustainable funding source. Unfortunately we are solely dependent on only the charity of others, a notoriously insecure funding source. Chantel has a vision though, to sell the houses the kids are at and to build on land that has been purchased with donations from others. On this land we can raise food and a few dairy cows and chickens for sustainable nutrition, this land can house all the kids together in one complex, this land that fronts road where storefronts and housing can be rented for sustainable income for The Home’s needs, and possibly provide jobs for the kids as they grow older. It is a grand vision, one that will reduce the dependency on foreign aid from those like you reading this blog by reducing operating costs for food and sustenance. But this also requires an upfront investment, some of which has been secured but much of which is unmet. But it is a grand vision. I have never seen a charitable organization with such a good business plan, as most just concentrate on constantly fund raising and not the challenges of dependence on that model. Like I said, Chantel and Laurent Mbanda are truly inspiring.


Ok, true confessions. Donna may have impulsively decided to buy a scooter, and part of our afternoon was spent picking it up and driving it back to The Home. Of course, as always, she debated the merits of splurging from her own pocketbook for such a purchase, and rationalized it by knowing it could be used by Abby to get back and forth to The Home while Donna wasn’t here, and how much time it would save (I mentioned that before) by not having to rely on others to run simple errands, and how convenient it would be once the dream of the new home on the land in Musanze came to fruition… but secretly I think she just really enjoyed the idea of her and I scooting around the streets of Kigali amongst the Moto’s and crazy drivers. And you know what? It was a blast! After both practicing driving around the parking (yes Mom I was wearing a helmet) we ventured out to the streets and highways of Kigali on our African version Roman Holiday with Donna playing the part of Audrey Hepburn and me at the wheel as Gregory Peck. We laughed the whole way back to the Home.


Do you have any idea how fun and fulfilling it is to have five little adorable girls repeatedly ask you when you would do Yoga with them? I do ☺. Do you have any idea how cool it is to have them saying hello and goodbye to you all the time with their hands at their hearts saying Namaste? I do ☺. Do you have any idea how fun it is to do sun salutations and headstands with five little adorable girls and one light spirited boy named Innocent while falling over and laughing and learning poises and sitting quietly hearing them trying not to giggle and seeing admiration and joy in their faces…. I do ☺.


I went into this trip with no expectations. Or at least I tried. As my good friend Derek advised me, I needed to be careful because it was unrealistic to expect the level of joy and emotional fulfillment I had on my first trip here. Donna had also cautioned me that the second time around could be challenging, and to remember that these kids have lived three months of experiences without our being here, and that they may take a while to warm up to me again. Truthfully after the joyous first day of hugs and greetings I was not expecting it to be an issue. But I didn’t foresee the bigger issue either.

By yesterday afternoon I was already getting asked when I was coming back, placing an emotional commitment on me that was hard to answer. Today I struggled with both Sande and Nshimye both who were very quiet, reserved, and a bit aloof. Unlike last time I didn’t seem to have the answers for their struggling minds. I also struggled with Fabiola, as she wrestled with her preteen emotions by exhibiting shifting bouts of anger and obstinence. Truthfully, I also struggled a bit with the never ending clinging nature of all the urchins (I say that with love) hanging from me or wanting me to pick them up constantly as they seek consistent physical touch sadly so absent in their lives. I have come to realize that unlike last trip, this trip and any in the future are not about me. It’s not about me finding fulfillment, or finding a new direction in life, or even the warm feeling I get about myself when someone says to me so admiringly ‘it is so great what you are doing in Rwanda’. This is about meeting the inexhaustible emotional, physical, and emotional needs of 29 kids and an incredible sense of responsibility and fear that I will fail both them and myself.


It is one o’clock and I am just finishing writing this. Donna is here and still up (check). She just poured me a second glass of wine from the bottle we purchased today (check). I am getting up at 6am to run the streets of Kigali with six little boys anxious for the next day’s adventure to begin… Well, two out of three isn’t all-bad. I figure I can sleep when I get home. And let’s not forget I did get to ride a Scooter around the madness that is the streets of Kigali today. Not everyone can say that!