Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Celebrating Ian and Kristen's beautiful family

Pinch me – it’s really happening. AKA the Cavallo | Little family is in Rwanda!

That’s the thought that kept running through my head when Kristen, Ian and their wonderful kids were in Rwanda.

Wait. Let me step back.

Kristen and I became soul sisters in the business about 8 years ago. We met when working in similar positions in similar companies for IPG.  I was immediately drawn to her brain power, her integrity and her faith.  We joined forces countless times to help each others companies grow over the years.  She has held me up in the darkest moments, prayed my father through from the brink of death and challenged me when I needed a good kick.  She has celebrated every important winning life and career moment with me – especially the last two years. They say it’s rare to find a real friend in the work place, especially among competitors, but she IS that rare find.  I am constantly blown away by her smarts, her ability to grow companies and most importantly her humility. I am honored to be her friend.

Kristen has been a part of my journey of New Hope Homes from nearly the beginning. She has been a strategic mind to think through our ambitions, a financial supporter, a visitor to Rwanda.  She has a wonderful family that enabled her to step away from them to come to Rwanda over the holidays about 3 years ago. It takes a special person and family to allow/encourage their Mom to give up winter break time to travel all the way to Rwanda.

In that 1st trip the kids fell in love with Kristen. It’s easy to see why, but they did.  She made very special connections with some of the kids – especially Esther.  We also actively skyped with her family and through that experience her husband Ian made a really strong connection with some of the boys over football (aka soccer) most especially Sande.  Currently they sponsor Sande, Innocent and Esther in boarding school.  In the trips that followed I would simply fire up the skype and let Isaac, Sande, Lionel and Innocent just chat with Ian. They would go off to another part of the yard and just talk.

Ian also found a way for us to set up a web conference when where the boys could watch a soccer match through Ian’s computer set up and facing the TV.

A few weeks ago Kristen called and said her who family wanted to come on this trip. Really? Really? We had talked about it before but it was clear this was real.  Chantal graciously offered to host them as adding hotel expenses to airfare and Christmas supplies is a bit much. 

I was giddy about the prospect of the boys – especially Sande meeting Ian in person and the kids getting to finally meet Matt and Kate their 15 year old son and 8 year old daughter.  It was sure to be a great way to celebrate Kristen's bday and ring in the New Year.

Harvin and I arrived a few days ahead of them so they had no idea we had more coming. One of my most favorite memories is of Ian walking through the gate  with a soccer ball and just standing in front of the house tossing it in the air.  He just stood there.  Some of the kids started to come out. Led by Sande.

Sande approached and said “Ian?” Yes! was his reply and the endless hug began.

Ian is a football (aka soccer) coach and was so eager to play with the kids.

He was terrific in organizing our bigger kids and the kids that came to play with us each time we appeared. His constant shouts of encouragement and tips were so motivational for the kids.

Ian also has an expertise in global higher level education so he was so helpful to Mbanda has he talked about his dreams for New Hope Homes. Ian has the connections, wisdom and passion to help make a difference in Rwanda. We look forward to learning from him.

Matt surprised me.

Imagine you are 15 years old and are told you are heading to Rwanda to hang with the kids of New Hope Homes. Sure you are happy that Ian and Mom like the kids, but what about the language barrier? What about all the little kids? Etc etc.

Matt was magical.  Of course the older boys loved talking to him for endless hours about soccer teams around the world and the various players. It was like they were simply all just hanging after school shooting the breeze about sports. Yes, that I hoped for, but what was really special was how he embraced the little kids that really impressed me. It’s not every 15 year old boy that will let a pile of kids sit on your lap, comb your hair, make faces with you etc etc. He was endlessly engulfed by their instant love for them.  Well done Matt.

Then there is Kate.  Dear sweet Kate.
She is at the center of all things wonderful.  She and Esther were instant sisters. They knew of each other the years and have the same pillows and some of the same outfits, but now they met in person and were like long lost sisters. It was so sweet. It was effortless.

In addition to connecting with Esther, she was in the middle of everything that was fun. Giving Harvin grief, playing goalie, jump rope, piggy back rides. EVERYTHING. She was very attentive to spreading her love around.  She was also an amazing organizer around the Christmas gifts and sizing.  She has an infectious personality that makes everyone smile.  I loved her first night at Chantal and Mbanda’s when Chantal said “Kate who did you meet today, give me the full report!” I wish had a tape recorder as her commentary was absolutely precious. 

Kristen, from the bottom of my heart I thank you for being a beautiful witness to the world about being a wife, mom, career maven and still finding time to give your love and resources to the kids of New Hope Homes.  You have blessed us in so many ways, but most especially in sharing your family with the kids of New Hope Homes. I  can only imagine the things you could have done instead of investing in this trip, but I am so grateful you did.

I look forward to watching your kids and the kids of New Hope Homes grow up together.

Ian and Kristen. you have shown us such great love, we thank you.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Small voices yelling “Harvin Harvin” or “Harv Harv”

Small voices yelling “Harvin Harvin” or “Harv Harv”           

Those are the words that echo through the grounds of New Hope Home day and night when you are there.

This, my friend, is your trip end summary.  I am writing in the 1st person, but I will  post on the blog for many to enjoy.

You - Harvin are a blessing to New Hope Homes.

I know your pov on faith is different from mine, but if you look of the word blessing, it means a beneficial thing for which one is grateful; something that brings well-being.

If you don’t accept the word, I hope you at least accept the definition, because it’s true. You are a blessing.

I am grateful. Chantal is grateful. And above all, the kids are grateful.
The kids well-being is certainly more complete when you are with them teaching them, coaching them and loving them.

THERE…do you accept that you are blessing???

You’ve made 3 trips in 12 months. 

I can’t believe that statement is true, but it is.  You could have taken your time and financial resources to take a fab vacation, climb another mountain, bought some fab stuff for your Chicago apt or simply played. But you have made the journey THREE TIMES in 12 months.

I remember our 1st brief conversation at my annual fund raiser last year when you asked about what we need.  I distinctly remember saying that we need “good men who simply want to come love our kids, to play with them, so show our boys what it means to be a strong and kind leader.” 

Little did I know that when I rang you a week later that my trip had been rescheduled that you would be spontaneous and join me 4 days later. 

From the moment you reached out and hugged our boys at the airport I knew you would be so loved here.

Then when you had break-through moments with Isaac, I knew you were important to us.

Then when you had everyone running through the hills in the morning and doing yoga at night, I knew you could not only love them but inspire them to see how strong their bodies are and how they can use that control over their bodies to be still and find peace when they are scared or stressed.

THEN, on this trip, as we make due with our tiny rental house,  you gave them a new gift. The gift of simply being present.  With no classroom to teach, no field to play baseball, no makeshift basketball hoop you simply gave them you.  I don’t think you even saw the transition, but it was very present to me.

You effortlessly transition between the older girls sitting with you and asking all sorts of questions about your life to the young kids simply wanting to be attached to you in some way. From rubbing their fingers through your hair, to cuddling under your arms, or bouncing on your knee- they all wanted a part of you. The older boys went from doing sports with you to simply hanging and talking. I see them mirror your best qualities.

The gift of Harvin. A real treasure. 

In your ability to simply be present, you opened yourself up to more connections with more kids. You found some more hidden treasures.
I always say that each trip is different, but this trip was perhaps the most unusual.

Thank you too for being such a wonderful host for Kristen and Ian’s family.  You put them first the entire time they were here.  You served as tour guide, chauffer, water boy, football assistant.  You wanted to be certain, above your own interests, that they had a wonderful experience, as you know how much they love the kids of New Hope Homes and how much they do for our kids.

I know this trip was harder than other others as you battled the flu for the 1st leg. Even in that, you pushed yourself to recover quickly and you insisted that I should go see the kids even when I wanted to stay to ensure you were ok.

And of course, the least glamorous part of the trip is all the logistics: measuring shoe and clothing sizes, writing thank you notes to sponsors, skyping with sponsors…thank YOU for being very present to these jobs. They are so important to the ongoing work of New Hope Homes and I often find myself having to be the operations person to ensure this happens. I so appreciate the spirit by which you proactively embrace the to-do lists and share the load with me. I can’t find the words to express how much I appreciate it.  I know it takes time away from playing and being with the kids, so I want you to know how much I value it.

And yes, for me, I love when you join me in Rwanda. People ask me …”who is Harvin?” I say…we worked at the same company for years, but didn’t really know each other. And now, we basically see each other in Rwanda.  It’s a funny, but very true answer.

My work is halved and my joy MORE than doubled when you are in Rwanda. Yes, it’s nice to have my personal chauffer and scooter driver, but more than that I value your unique insights into our work here, the kids, and me.  You have a clear pov that is delivered with compassion. You have opened my eyes to a so many important things. You also do a great job of holding me accountable. Yes – friends – he’s a strong one!  Having you in Rwanda also ensures I have a little play time for me – which I value.
It’s simply better when you are here. Period.

Your heart is so beautiful.
You open up your heart so fully when you are with the kids of New Hope Homes. They know you really love them. Not that you are just here to play or make them laugh, but you love them. Really love them. They can count on you. As orphaned and/or abandoned kids, they really value people that get below the surface and love them for who they are.  You are now in that special small group that can COUNT ON to love them, coach them, reprimand them and be in their lives.

Never doubt how important you are in their lives. Never.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

When will you be back? 1.06.13

When will you be back?

Today this is the question that is asked.  Especially of Harvin. 
Departure day is often known as “a very bad day!”.  The kids say the words with almost a stubborn proclamation.  The tone combined with the accent makes it quite impactful.

We started the day finishing packing, a quick breakfast with Chantal and Mbanda and we were off to pick up the kids for church.  The big kids walk, but we offered to go pick up the little kids in the van.  We arrived at the house to find most of the kids gone.  As it turned out, they started to walk before we arrived and we drove right past them on the road as Harvin and I were gabbing about the morning plan.  The kids gave us, but especially me, grief as they were on my side of the van.  I don’t know how we missed the parade of our kids, but I believe it was because we were watching a big parade of kids dressed in boy scout like uniforms marching down the road on the other side.

Church in Rwanda is a lengthy adventure. The praise and worship lasts at least an hour with multiple choirs.  Mbanda is Bishop here so we attend services at the cathedral.  It’s a very large building with simple artwork but a very very lively and engaged congregation. Given that it was our last day we were able to sit with the kids at church vs in the front row.  Sande translated for me and Kayetesi, Fabiola and Alice took the opportunity to sit close to Harvin and translate.

It’s surreal that this is Harvin’s 3rd trip in 12 months.  The kids absolutely love him.  The boys want to be boys with him and the girls just want to talk to him and know everything about his life. They love to sit in his lap and just have him hold them, or run their fingers through his hair or make funny faces for him. The sound “Harv, Harv” echos throughout our home day and night.  His ability to connect with the kids is effortless.  He is as comfortable having one of the tiny kids want his attention as the big.  His presence is greatly missed when he is not on one of my trips.

Services lasted until nearly 1 (having started at 9) so our remaining time with the kids was short. Harvin later commented to me that perhaps this is the best way to exit. We decided to go out in style.  We had a few more pics to take etc.  A woman I work got one of her kids classes to make papers with each of our kids names on them done in a very special way.  We wanted to take pics with them so the kids in NY could see how much they appreciated all of their creativity. 

We then decided to dance our way out for this exit to keep the kids from getting sad. First we did a dance party and then we improvised a bit with the song they traditionally sing – it’s  a simple song…goodbye Harvin, Harvin, Harvin, goodbye Harvin, we shall meet again.  Harvin suggested we sing the song to them versus them singing it AND we did it for each child. We simply trapped each child in our joint arms and sang the song. We covered everyone including the Aunties, Uncles and of course Mama.

The kids giggled nonstop as we approached them. The little kids anxiously got in line to ensure we knew to include them. This was preceded by a horrific version of so long, farewell, from the sound of music.  We were terrible, but we laughed and the kids loved our show. In the end we made a little speech about how much we love them…is it this big (fingers close together – to which they reply NO!  then the game is repeated until our arms are spread as wide open as possible. Then they shout “yes, that much”. 

It was then time for hugs and tears.  I have gotten much better with this but it is still so hard to simply say goodbye. I know I will be back in early April but that feels like forever. For Harvin, he knows there is a next trip in his future, but not sure when that we will be, so this goodbye was a bit more emotional.

The rain came as we drove off to lots of “flying kisses” as they call them. Big kisses on their hands that are thrown to us.  The rain was perfect setting as our hearts were full of love but very very sad.  I wept in the van as Harvin once again maneuvered the bumpy road and the 2 log bridges.

We zipped back to Chantal and Mbanda’s to grab our bags and begin the journey to Kigali. The wndy roads, rain, mudslides and an over turned safari vehicle reminded us about how fragile life is and danger that hides on these beautiful but windy raods around the hills back to Kigali.

We were warmly greeted by Abby at the airport. Due to the extended travel time we had to forgo our favorite burger joint in Kigali – Mr Chips, but we wanted to connect with Abby to say goodbye, ,even if it was a short visit at the airport.

We now on our long journey home as we sit beside each other on the plane trying to again process the lessons are come with each trip.  May we hold them dearly.

Friday, January 04, 2013

A profound day

Jan 4, 2013

A profound day

Today was the 1st day we managed without Kristen’s family and Abby.  We sure miss them. 

Harvin and I took the scooter to the house this morning soaking in the joy that is our adventure.  We played with the kids and worked on some more thank you notes to people for the Christmas presents and people helping with school fees.
The kids really took their time to find the right crayons and paper to craft their notes.

Then, we had the most profound portion of our day and likely the entire trip.  But first..let me back up.  Last Fall, Harvin set up a meeting with a wonderful private college in Mn and Chantal’s husband Mbanda in NY. The Director of Admissions agreed to one child at sonrise boarding school a 4 year scholarship to their school.
Today we had the utmost responsibility and privilege to meet with the 3 finalists under consideration for the scholarship.  I had been thinking about it all night and all morning.  Harvin will make the final decision on our recommendation, but as you imagine it is a very weighty decision to determine who should be giving this life changing opportunity.  We met with a young woman and 2 young men all of which had special stories and would bring special things to this opportunity.  Of note was a 21 year young man who had both parents killed in the genocide. Despite that he has excelled in school in epic proportions and dreams of getting a medical degree.  The stories went on and on, with each offering something so unique.  I prayed that we would make the right decision for their futures.

We scooters back home and took the big kids for another walk down the road to go play football (aka soccer) on a big field near a church. It’s an easy and fun game of pick up that is nonstop fun.  Those that didn’t want to play found other ways to stay entertained with hand games, jump rope and hide and go seek.

The kids were also excited to connect with Auntie Sieba , their social worker who was back from Holiday.

The journey to and fro are always fun as the kids seem to open up about all of life’s special times.  It’s all good except tryung to cross the busy road with 13 kids and 2 adults. 

Back up we chatted a bit and set off for Chantal and Mbanda’s home and then a thank you dinner for them for all the love and care they showed for all of us the last 10 days.

Tomorrow we plan to skype for as long as possible!  Join us.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Matt's blog entry 1.1.13


Hi, I’m Matt Cavallo from Richmond Virginia. I am on a trip in Rwanda, Africa to visit orphaned children in a program called “New Hope Homes.” First of all I would like to say that this has been an amazing opportunity for me to see what life is like here. I have only heard stories and seen pictures, but I never thought that I would come here. I am having a ton of fun with the kids and have grown to love them all very much.

I will talk to you about the day I had spent with them. We started the day by going to the church service with the kids. I was very interested to see how the service went, being that in the U.S. ours is usually an hour long. Here the service was almost four hours! I had never been to a service that long before, not to mention it was much different then the ones I usually attend. It was very interactive and everyone could get involved by singing with the choir, speaking about experiences and praying. It was a very good way for me to see how the people in Rwanda conduct the services.

Next was lunch, after church we went to eat at a local pizza place. They also had pasta, but I still ate pizza. I had the Hawaiian style, with pineapples and ham. It is my favorite kind of pizza hands down. We stayed there for a little over an hour and talked about all sorts of things. It was very relaxing and lots of fun.

We finally got to see the kids and played a great game of soccer with them. We played at the field next to the church for a few hours. There were lots of local kids who joined in throughout the game. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed playing with the different kids, it was some very creative soccer. Soccer is something everyone can relate to, I love it. It is my favorite sport and most of these kids love it too. It got dark so we had to get the kids home and ourselves. We dropped them off, said goodbye and went home to dinner.

It was dinnertime, and also my mom’s birthday. We all ate and then my mom went to her room to watch a movie. While she was in her room we made a cake for her, and had to finish it before the movie ended! Once she came out of her room we had the cake ready and sang happy birthday. We all sat down in the dining room and enjoyed our cake.

Our day started and ended on a good note. I had a great time but was exhausted. So I went up to my room and crashed.