Sunday, August 04, 2013

Our wonderful friends from Arkansas 
Sande giving Harvin a hand with his laundry

Norbert and Harvin

Norbert and his sister Albina

Norbert, Harvin and Donna

A most remarkable day

Today was a big day. An important day.  A mark your calendar and remember it kind of a day.

Harvin and I took 5 of the kids to town to pick up Norbert and his sister.  (A bit more about them in a moment).  Given that their bus was about and hour late gave Harvin a great excuse for Harvin to check out the coffee shop that he had saved on his phone on the last trip. While the name had changed we found a sweet little place with outside seating and coffee.  Harvin loves to teach the kids about the joys of coffee and loves to try (like my dear friend Erika) to get me to try to embrace it – which will never happen – LOL.

I used the time to update the blog while Harvin chatted with Kayitesi, Sande and Lionel about all sorts of wonderful tops from explaining what it meant when I told Kayitesi that I “had her back”.  Lionel also  talked about their debate club at school so Harvin got them to debate drinking coffee vs fanta.  It was quite humorous.

Sande asked Harvin why he liked coffee.  Harvin talked about the taste, the experience of a coffee house and the benefits of caffeine.  Sande then said to Harvin…”But Harvin, you drink coffee and you are always tired.  Donna does not and she is always awake until at least 1 am working on the blog an other things.  How does she do that without coffee?”  We both laughed until our sides hurt.

Now…back to the Norbert story.

Norbert just graduated top of his class at Sonrise boarding school where  our kids go to school.  He is a double orphan (meaning both of his parent have died.) His mother in the genocide when he has 2 and his father just a few years later. He is the youngest of 3. Both his older brother and sister are teachers.

Harvin attended a private college in Mpls and the Director of Admissions had been so moved by Harvin’s commitment to Rwanda and the kids of New Hope Homes.  He has seen how the experience has truly changed Harvin’s life. He and Harvin talked about the possibility of creating a spot for one of the kids at Sonrise to attend St. Olaf College.  Last year we arranged a meeting in NY with Harvin, Chantal’s husband Bishop Mbanda , Michael from St. Olaf and me.  The outcome was a team of people who came together to create a full ride 4 year scholarship for one student from Sonrise.  Harvin, Bishop and I met with several candidates and then 2 made it to the final round of skype interviews and Norbert was selected.

He will be starting school at the end of August. Harvin and I were planning to fly him back with us he has a delayed visa appointment so now hope to get him to Minnesota just  2 days before school starts so we have lot to accomplish setting up his dorm room, buying him clothes, books and oh…that little o thing called winter!

We will be posting and sharing more on facebook,, but we welcome help from anyone who can help welcome to his life in America. 

Norbert is #1 in his class and aspires to be a nurse and absolutely wants to return to Rwanda to help his people.

So…back to today.
Harvin and I picked up Norbert and his sister to meet them and talk about the future.  Harvin started by asking Norbert if he had any questions.  He was prepared with many.  Imagine you are 21 years old and will be leaving your country for the 1st time.  That means 1st flight,  first packing for a trip. First everything.  We walked him through packing, the things that happen at the airport, finding seat on a plane, to changing planes in Amsterdam.  We plan to be waiting for him on the other side of customs and welcome him to his new life. 

I get teary just thinking about it. 

This is the beginning of a journey that will change Norbert life trajectory and potentially thousands and thousands of lives if he becomes a nurse and is able to help more people. The circle of hope gets bigger each day.

Norbert was moved to tears multiple times today as he tried to comprehend all that is before him.  I am so so grateful to Harvin for starting  the dream to Michael and St. Olaf for sharing in the dream and for donors who have come together to help make this a reality. 

We are on our final push to raise the last round of funds to secure books, etc.
If you live in Minnesota we would welcome any gently used coats etc as well as some home visits to help make him feel like he has family here.

Harvin then took Norbert and his sister back to town while I awaited the arrival of 40 wonderful people from a church in Conway Arkansas. They are a group of nearly 40 who are committed to helping the people of Rwanda and support the work of Chantal and Mbanda’s vision.  They are also helping our kids by providing 2 high quality cows, some pigs, sheets and wonderful creative toys. 

They toured the house,  saw our pigs, heard about the birth of the rabbits, shot some hoops, sang and delivered so many suitcases filled with love.

In the small world that is mine.  I learned that my cousin in Conway Arkansas who runs a lumber company had donated items the last few years that allows this group to raise money and come here.  He had NO idea that this was the group to which I am connected.  Imagine standing in Rwanda at our home making that connection. Yeah, I was a sobbing gooby mess.

Our kids really loved having them here with us.

After their departure we took a small crew of the big kids to unload the bags and organized them in storage.  It was quite a feat to set things up but everyone was so excited about the wonderful way they had blessed our kids.

Just as we began to start sizing kids the power went out. This is very common in Rwanda.  Frankly the first few years I came, we didn’t have any power, so it’s second nature. The kids, finding themselves in sudden darkness, just stand still until their eyes adjust or someone finds a small light (or torch as they call them) from their phiones.

That evolved into the updated shoe fitting and beginning to work with the smaller kids to start going through clothes.  It should so easy, but with 28 kids it takes forever.  We have a pretty good system now, but even then it takes remarkable patience. 

The kids began their goodnight hugs and kisses and the night came to a close.

Harvin and I now sit in the living room blogging in the darkness and celebrating the remarkable day we have been blessed to play a small part in. 

We see 1st hand how one small ripple of goodness in the universe can soon evolve into a great swell of greatness. 

Thank you for sharing in our journey and supporting our work with your good wishes, prayers, and funds.  This work could NOT happen if it weren’t for people like you. May the love be returned to you 100 fold.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Summit and More

Summit and More

The morning started prior to  sunrise when the  alarm broke the silence of the night at 5:30 AM.  First things first. Plug  in Harvin’s coffee to brighten morning.  Gently waking the big kids from the deep slumber was bitter sweet.

After our morning drink (think malt o meal like) we assembled for our team with the aspiration of making it up to the top  of the summit of the mountain near our home. 

13 kids plus Harvin and I set off to make our dream a reality.

The early morning adventure happened before most of the kids in the neighborhood were up so it was really nice simply walk the 1st of the road with just our team and some of the adults walking to fetch water or off to work with a hoe on top of their head.

We began the climb with the rules that if Harvin or Donna can’t see you, you need to go to the back of the line. That was the best incentive we had to keep everyone together. The had a narrow path that requires single file for most, but not all of it.

Harvin has been teaching the boys how to be ‘gentlemen’ with very real life lessons as they come. Climbing the mountain presented another moment. Harvin is very sweet about helping me on some of the more rugged sections and wanted the boys to now trade off and do the same.  They were all very sweet.

Starting out at 5000 ft did require a few stops along the way to acclimate.

As we approached the top we found a great landing with  an amazing view of Lake Burera.  We (Harvin and Donna) had no idea there was such a big lake nearby.  One more leg to the climb and we summited together.

The view was spectacular.  We stopped to soak it in.  Erica has made some cookies for the kids to enjoy as a surprise. She has planned to do the climb with us but was unable to join us as she needed to go to Kigali.   We were surprised to see a lovely old woman working in a wheat field at the very top of the mountain.  With a hoe in hand and two small children standing at her side, they were surprised to see Harvin approach them and offer them some cookies too.  The kids who followed us up the mountain for the last leg were also delighted when he offered them some too.  It was the first time they had cookies in their lives. 

One of the local kids had knelt down at the top of the mountain and kissed the ground as he reached the top in thanksgiving, so Harvin thought a cookie celebration was worth it.

We sat together and said the 2 things we are thankful today.  Harvin captured the beautiful summary on his iphone.

I was the scout on the way down to continue our adventure back to the house on an alternate path.  Isaac, Sande and Lionel were my Directors to assess which way to go on each path choice.

At the end we celebrated our victory with a joyful return home to mama.

Next up was the endless task of inventorying kids clothes, shoes etc.  Rather than just getting current sizes we wanted to really assess what each child has. This required them to try on every piece of clothing to show us it fit and the group assessed if it fit or not with a thumbs up or down.  We started with the big boys who took hours to get through it.  Kayitesi (Peace) organized the girls to they would have their act together in advance. 

The review with the girls just about pushed Harvin over the edge to be amidst all the frilly clothing assessment.  The girls of course also want to keep the clothes that means the most to them from their sponsors we had some tears and pouting as we told them some things were too small. Esther had the hardest time with these decisions.  Harvin pushed through and we made great progress.

Early evening it was time to chill. That means some hoops, some trampoline time and some playing in the sand while Harvin got a lesson on doing his laundry in the bucket. 10 minutes of training yielded zero results so the kids joined them to complete the task.

Simultaneously I went to play on the tramp and while showing Lionel and Anna a new move I landed a trick badly and appear to have done a little damage to my knee in which a had a big injection before I left.  Drat.

We got smurf movie in just before dinner. We again projected it on the wall and people got to ease into the night in their pjs all cuddled up.  Ya, doesn’t’ get any better than that.

The night ended with Harvin cooking our (the two of us – not for the whole kids) dinner over a fire. The kids came and watched us like they were watching movie. I asked them which is better….watching a movie or watching us. We won with most of the audience J.

We took a vote on the day. On the scale of 1-10 …how would we rate the day.  The scores ranged from 1 to a Billion but the majority vote was around 99. 

I gave it the billion and held strong.
The kids were off to bed while Harvin and I stoked the fire and talked about our hopes and dreams for the kids until 1 am.

I gave the day – a billion  - and hold strong.

A big climb 7.31.13

The kids laughter and giggles fill this house endlessly, but having them break the silence of the evening into the sunrise is one of the sweetest parts of being here.

I lie in bed and hear the house awaken to the possibilities of the day.

Breakfast with the little kids lined cheek to cheek on the benches would surely brighten anyone’s day. 

Chatting about life with the big kids is always entertaining, insightful and thought provoking.

Harvin was greeted with a hot cup of coffee from the fab coffee maker I got in London on a biz trip, so he was sure to greet the day with a smile despite not really sleeping last night.

I started doing my wash from the last trip as I didn’t get time to do before I left and I didn’t’ want Mama or the Aunties to have to do it. Esther loves to help with the wash so she eagerly grabbed part of  the pile.  Mama and Auntie Grace couldn’t stand watching me do it as I have yet to perfect the Rwandan process with the bucket, a bar of soap for white and a blue bar for colors. They wash everything by hand and do it for hours and hours and hours each day.  They kept telling me what I was doing wrong, but to me it looked the same as what they were doing. They laughed and laughed at my attempt to get it right until I was finally approved.  They made me start from square one…nothing in my hands. Then make two fists. Then turn  the right upside down holding the fabric and the other the opposite and rub.  After 7+ years of doing my wash here…I finally think I am approved!

Next Harvin and 5 of the big kids went to town with us for errands. Both of our local phones were not working, so we needed to get some help with some resets.  Then we went to get some paper for the kids to write thank you notes and to draw.  Next up was getting some bottled water for us along with some bread.

The last stop was to the open air market.  Luckily we ran into some friends, one of whom offered to take us to the best stall for pineapple and bananas.  We know the people and prices in Kigali where we lived for 6+ year but I am still finding my way here in Musanze.  The key is getting the ‘local’ prices vs the Muzungo (white people) price for things.  Winding our way through the stalls we found someone who appeared to have some good pineapples. She tried to take Harvin for a Muzungo priced ride, but he was a negotiator down to the final 100 francs (20 cents).  We now have our baseline prices for next time. The woman who managed the stand loved Harvin’s negotiation.

Back in the car we head home just a lunch was being served.

After lunch we pIcked up Erika and returned to assemble the big kids for a hike.  It was clearly the adventure of the day as it lasted 2.5 hours.  As always we fascinate the local kids and thus the trail grows longer as we climb. I think the top  count was about 60 kids following us.  We start on a very bumpy, but basically more-flat-than- not road.  When we turn from the road we head up a very large mountain.  Today we made it ¾ of the way up.  The kids wanted to continue, but the mean ole adults (Harvin, Erica and Donna) said we needed to turn back so we got home before dark. The path is narrow (2x2 max) and the incline quite steep at times. Harvin was a great extra pair of hands on some tough spots. 

Harvin suggested that Sande be our scout for the way down.  He assessed the situation and decided that going basically straight down vs the way we came up (some switch backs) would be more fun.  The local kids thought we were quite funny for trying, but went for it and made it.

A very entertaining feature of the trip was 3 of the local kids (age maybe 16ish) had phones with cameras (probably 2 megapixals) and kept trying to sneak pics of us, including hiding in bushes to catch us as we passed. We finally decided to make it easy for them by posing which brought a rumble of laughter across the hillside.

Our kids love their big sister Erica. She has them captivated with every step she takes.  She is real blessing to all of us and so fun to have on our last two hikes.

Returning home we were greeted by the little kids and Mama who were very happy to see us return after such a long time.

The perfection on top of that perfection was to set up my projector and watch Mulan2 together. The kids piled on their seats in the dining room, we turned off the lights and let the story begin.  It was so so so sweet.  They are captivated by the images on the wall and appreciate the storyline even if they don’t speak English.

Post movie Erica taught them about ‘trust falls’ and then executed them beautifully….including putting Desami – who can’t yet walk due to some medical challenges in a chair and tipped it backwards to catch. These kids take very very very good care of their 2 special needs brothers and sisters…ALWAYS including them where possible in everything.

Movie time ends with dinner served and then off to their snuggly beds.

Harvin and I drove Erica back and enjoyed a little dinner in route.

Just another perfect day in the land of 1000 hills with the kids of 1000 faces and love beyond measure.