Saturday, March 31, 2012

Temperature Times Four

Against all odds, the power came back just in time for us to have the dance we had promised the boys the week before. Friday, all of the boys received their most recent school reports, and many of the boys did really well. We had some of the top students for each grade at the local primary school. Willy was in the top 10 of his class in secondary school, so he visited the center to share his marks with Rafiki and the other staff. The mood at the center was very positive and happy. Just as we heard of everyone's successes, the power came back! 

The timing couldn't have been better. We still had time to get everything together, including Willy's speakers, which were at his house a few kilometers away. They arrived at 5:30, and we started dancing at 6:00. We had 200 glow sticks that Woonsocket High School donated along with about 1,000 books. It didn't take them long to realize that you could crack them open and spray the insides all over themselves and the building. They were splatter painting everything possible.

We had some difficulties getting the music together. I had made a playlist of American music they were familiar with, and Willy brought some Rwandan pop music that the boys also really love. For some reason, we couldn't get everything hooked up right, and the boys handed us a CD that we had made for them. The CD had songs like Teach Me How To Dougie, Waka Waka, Kiss Kiss, Fire Burning, and Temperature. These songs were repeated over and over, and every time the boys were just as happy. They have a choreographed dance to Temperature, so every time it played, they would all get together and do their dance. They taught me the first time it came on, and by the last time it played, I knew their dance. If we were the DJ's at any party, I think we would be fired due to song repetition.

We had some left over glow sticks when we were leaving, so we decided to hand them out to random people along our ride home. We were able to give a glow stick to everyone on our first bus to Remera. They took it in amazement, and slowly shook it back and forth. I had a few stuck in my hair, and after a few minutes of playing with it, they stuck it in their hair too. Two of the women thought they were the funnies thing, and began asking us where we were from and what we are doing in Rwanda. By the end of the bus ride, we made two new friends and we have already received two calls from them asking us if we want to come to their house for a meal. We'll see if we have the time and energy for that in the next two very busy weeks.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Celebrations of All Sorts

Thursday was my 21st birthday. While most people don't remember how their 21st birthday ended, my experience was quite different I'm sure.

There's a lovely Americanized restaurant about a 15 minute walk downtown called Heaven. On Wednesdays they have drink specials, and Saturday nights they show movies on a big screen with a buffet dinner. We caught a double feature showing of The Muppets and The Ides of March last Saturday for St. Patricks day. Both were very good movies although unlike the kids who came for The Muppets, the Ides of March was a very good movie that I strongly recommend if you haven't seen it yet, even though I hated the ending.

The drink special on Wednesday was a Spiked Lemonade with a fresh rod of sugarcane. Since Thursday would be my birthday, Elena, Elizabeth, Willy, and I decided to head to Heaven a night early to catch the drink special. We had a LOT of food, and I wasn't quite prepared for how my meal would end.

Willy has obviously never experienced American dining, so he was in for quite the treat. We shared appetizers and meals so everyone could get a taste of everything. By the time we were finished with our meals, I was very full. Little to my knowledge, Elizabeth had spoken with the manager while on a "bathroom break" and they arranged a whole platter of dessert samplings to go with the homemade ice cream we ordered. I was in the middle of explaining something to Willy when I caught a glance of a large group of people gathering outside the kitchen and I saw the candle. I said "Oh great, there's a candle" and kept talking to Willy trying to mask my blushing face. The group of people emerged from the kitchen and began singing in Kinyarwanda. They were walking towards our table, and I knew it was for me, but for some reason Willy thought it was for someone else in the dining room. Much to his surprise, they gathered around out table and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday. It was very cool, and I was amazed at the large platter of desserts set in front of me. Willy was so shocked that they did that for me. He kept saying "I can't believe it!"

After three courses of food, a few drinks, and a lot of good conversation, we were ready to go. I owe many thanks to Elena, Elizabeth and WIlly for making the evening so enjoyable.

Thursday morning, Elena and Elizabeth surprised me with pancakes in the shape of 21 on my plate. It was dressed in a thick layer of Duo, which is similar to Nutella. We had some passion fruit and passion fruit juice as well. It was a great start to the day.

We had something special planned for the boys on friday night, although it didn't go exactly how we planned. During our store room clean-out, we discovered over 200 hats, and almost 200 jerseys. Elena did a project online to collect packages of underwear for the boys since they had none. I brought them over when I came in January, and we've been waiting for a good time to give them out. The Woonsocket group also brought 200 glow sticks when they came in February. So we had all of these things we wanted to be able to give the boys. I thought it would be a good idea to turn a weekend evening into a party. We wanted to give all of these things out and then have a dance in the dining hall. We kept it quiet from the boys because we weren't sure if we could get everything together in time.

We got permission to pass out the hats, and the underwear and glow sticks were ours to donate, so we could do what we wanted with them. We needed to get permission before handing out the jerseys, but we were unable to get the go-ahead before friday. So, we arranged our plan to give out the hats, underwear and glow sticks before our dance.

As the evening approached, we realized there was no power at the center. Willy would be arriving any minute with the speaker system, and there was no power to work them. We waited around in hopes the power return.

During that time, the boys were getting really anxious about the party we had planned for them. Some of the boys got together and started singing some of the new popular songs in Rwanda. There was so much positive energy in the air, and we were all hoping the power would return.

7:30 approached and there was still no power, so we decided to organize the distribution of hats and underwear to not disappoint the boys too much. The boys were organized in a line outside the dinning hall from youngest to oldest. The table was lit by candle, and the hand-out began. Once every boy received a hat and underwear, we received a few thank-you speeches from the boys. We were really happy they were finally able to use these hats and that every boy now has a pair of underwear.

Within minutes of receiving the underwear, Kaka, one of the boys, came up to me with his hat on. I told him he looked so cool, and asked where his underwear were. (You have to understand that Kaka's nickname is Spiderman, so the kids Spiderman underwear were picked out with him in mind). Kaka then lifted his shirt, and pulled the side of his pants down to reveal the spiderman picture right front and center when it was meant to be in the back. 

The dance has been postponed for next weekend. We are hoping for the power to be back by then. We are also hoping for the hand out of the jerseys to be approved so we can hand them out at the dance.

Stay tuned!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Uncovering Gold

A visitor can receive an entire tour of the center without ever knowing these rooms exist. There are two of them. They are the Store Rooms. Upon first glance, you might think they are junk rooms, but after a little digging, it's really gold you've come across.

As you might know, our biggest project at the center right now is organizing the new library and store room. Most of my updates have been about the library because that was something we could do right off the bat. We were able to catalog all of the books the center owns to prepare them for the new check-out system. Over the past couple of weeks, a lot has happened at the center. The room for the new store was finally cleaned and prepared for us to begin moving everything in. While we were waiting on the finishing touches, we moved in all of the school supplies to the shelves in the side room. That only took a day and we hand counted everything, including over 3,000 pencils.

School Supplies

Last week we started organizing the upstairs store room, which looked like this:

We had a lot of work ahead of us, but we knew it had to be done. After some discussion on where to start, the work began. In this hot, congested room with no airflow, our plan was to separate all of the stuff into categories. There were basically 3 categories: clothing, shoes, and other. I thought the other pile would end up a lot bigger than it actually was, due to all of the stuff piled in this room. We used a large barrel-like container to collect all of the shoes. The large barrel wasn't big enough for all of the shoes. In fact, there was a whole other sack full of TOMS!

This wasn't all of the TOMS shoes.

Once we sorted out all the shoes, we cleared a space so we could have enough room to make neat, folded piles of all the clothing. We went through boxes, and boxes of used, and unused clothing. There were baby clothes, teenage girl clothes, very large man clothes, and a variety of practically everything you can think of.

After every article of clothing was sorted and folded. Plus I put on this nice outfit.
The process took 2 days, and we are currently in the middle of moving all of the sorted clothing into the new store room. That's where today began.


It's Monday, and we arrived at the center at 9:45am. Like every other day we arrive at the center. We were greeted by a few girls who neighbor the area and go to class in P1 at the center, and Dariya, the cook's 3 year old daughter, although I'm sure she must be turning 4 soon. They came running at us the second we walked through the gates. They gave us big hugs, and after we asked them how they were, they responded with "We are fine." That's some of the very little English they understand, although Dariya understands a lot of what we say to her. 

After the welcoming greeting, we were excited to check out the library, as it recently received it's final paint job! It's blue, and it looks great. We then went into the new store room, where we found the floors clean and ready for us! The only thing we had to do before moving things in was wash the shelves that we were moving in to use.

Once the store room was ready, we had to make another plan: How to transfer the clothing without causing too much of a scene. Since the younger boys were not in class, we wanted to transfer the hats first because they were in a large white sack. It would be impossible for the boys to know that this sack contained over 200 hats. We took them into the new store room, and dumped them all over the floor. Then we sorted through them until the boys had class again. 

Having some fun with all the hats!
Almost done sorting them.
It was time to move the clothes. This process was simple. Elena and I made a chain from the upstairs of the store room to the downstairs, where we would temporarily hold the clothing. Once our clean spot was filled, one person brought the piles from the old store room half way to the new store room, where the other person would be waiting to take it all the way to the new store room. This was to keep kids out of both buildings. We didn't have any help from the staff so we had to make sure everything was kept safe from sticky hands. As the piles began forming in the new store (which has clear glass windows all along both walls) the boys began watching. They saw all the hats, and all of the clothing. There was no more hiding the items of the store room. As we moved the clothing over, Agnes, the store keeper, took some soccer jerseys out of the downstairs store. She did this right before lunch, which was not the brightest idea because she then had to sit there with the jerseys and eat lunch so none of the boys would take them.

After lunch we moved all the jerseys to the new store. The upstairs also contained 4 or 5 practically full team sets of soccer jerseys, on top of the ones in the downstairs. As we began folding and sorting all the jerseys, the windows became full of faces. Boys were peering in with amazement at all the soccer jerseys we were dealing with. It was like we were watching us dig through a gold mine from the outside of an electric fence. I would estimate that we have about 175-200 soccer jerseys of all sizes at the center.

All the clothing and jerseys excluding the ones we pulled out to give away.
The exciting thing is that we are planning a give-away dance party on friday, where each boy will receive a glow stick (courtesy of Woonsocket High School), a pair of underwear (from Elena's Amazon Christmas drive), and a soccer jersey (hopefully). We will then hold a dance (with Willy as the DJ). It should be a really fun night, so hopefully all goes according to planned.

Things are finally on a fast track, and we are very excited that all of these donations that have been sitting around for a few years will finally be put to use. Stay tuned, as we are hoping to finish this whole project before we leave!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Mish-Mash of Things

This post will contain lots of bits of information. It's been a while, so I'm catching up!

The Harwood group just left after a three week stay in Rwanda. This was the same trip I was on in 2009 when I decided I had to return. We were very busy while they were here. We decided we wanted to be very involved with their activities because we could offer some different perspectives and help them with some ideas on how to manage various activities with 27 people not including the three of us and Gyslaine and Alexis, the group leaders. They spent their first week in Kigali working with some schools, including EDD! They also spent some time in the market. We introduced them to Josephine, our fabric lady. We helped them pick out fabrics, we gave them the prices, and helped to put back the fabrics that had been taken out. It was quite chaotic, but also really fun to be in the fabric business for an afternoon. Josephine was so grateful for all the business we brought her. 

Before leaving for the southern region of Butare, we visited a few genocide sites. The first was the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where 280,000 people are buried. Revisiting the museum brought a lot of emotion. The written stories of various victims went straight to my heart. The most difficult part was the children's room. The children's room contained enlarged photo's of children who were killed during the genocide. The photo's were the most recent of the child, and sometimes the only pictures their families had. Below each picture was a simple description of the child's favorite things, and how they were killed.

We also visited two churches that were attacked during the genocide and are now used as memorials. The first was Ntarama, and the second was Nyamata. I had visited them in 2009 and it was a very different feeling visiting these places again. Ntarama contained a coffin of a body that had been recovered just a week earlier. There were about 9 new coffins since the last time I was there. They are still finding bodies even 18 years later.

On the Monday before we left for Butare, the group came to EDD to do some projects. They primed the walls of the library, and began varnishing the outside walls of the dinning hall. They had plans to build some bookshelves for the new library, but we had some troubles getting all the supplies together in time. The good news is that we have all the materials now, and we can build them soon!

We were very busy in Butare. We took a tour of a few coffee washing stations, one of which is where Green Mountain Coffee Roasters buys beans for a seasonal roast. We also spend time with a group of coffee farmers. We worked along side them pulling weeds, talking, and dancing.

We also spend a few days at Burate High School. It is the top secondary school in the country. The students speak impeccable English. We were able to spend some good time getting to know some of the students. We talked with them about all sorts of things. Most of the time we compared the United States with Rwandan norms. From hanging out with friends, to Country laws. I learned so much from talking with these three young ladies. We also got to challenge some students to basketball and volleyball. We didn't have a chance to win, but it was fun anyway.

After time in Butare, we travelled west towards Lake Kivu, where we spent three nights. The food was delightful, and it was really relaxing to hop in the lake for a swim throughout the days and to have time to get some work done.

After Lake Kivu we travelled to the eastern side of Rwanda to Akagera National Park. Harwood had a grant that allowed them the opportunity to spend a night in Akagera and participate in a five and a half hour safari. We were lucky to be able to join them! It was such a neat experience. 

Spending time with the group was really fun. It gave me a lot of time to think about this country and it's history and the direction it's headed in. It brought many answers as well as many new questions. I loved getting to know the kids in the group and sharing the Rwandan experience with them. It was a really nice change of pace, and now I am energized to return to EDD and get to work in the store room!

A Journal Excerpt From March 1st

I wrote this entry the night after I revisited the most difficult and powerful genocide memorial site I've ever seen. The memorial is in Murambi, on top of a secluded hill holding the walls of classrooms and dormitories of an unfinished high school. About 50,000 people were killed here. The bodies were bulldozed into mass graves then covered to hide the evidence. A survivor, who escaped and hid in the bushes of a neighboring hill, saw what the perpetrators did with the bodies. If it weren't for him, they may have never found the mass graves of preserved bodies that now lay on tables within the walls of the classrooms they were killed in.


Translation: "If you knew me, and you knew yourself, you could not kill me."

Today my head reached a climax of questions. Most are questions that may never be answered. What is forgiveness? Why is it so easy for some yet so impossible for others? How do you truly know if someone has forgiven? Why does human existence have to include events that require forgiveness? I've heard so many stories from various Rwandans who experienced genocide first hand. With every story I've heard, the teller is in a different stage of forgiveness. Whether it be forgiveness because of fear, for the sake of God, or a true understanding and whole-hearted forgiveness, Rwandans are trying to forgive.

50,000 people were killed in Murambi. Among those people were Willy's immediate family members from his mom's side. I wish so badly to know all their stories, but they will remain untold. How did Willy and his mom survive? Where did they go? Why is it so easy for some people to talk about the events that took place during genicide while others are left utterly speechless. I can only imagine the kind of pain Willy's mom endured. I know she lost practically her entire family. She lost her husband and a child, Willy's twin. She was raped. The rape left her with a life-long illness of HIV. She will live with this haunting memory for the rest of her life. She knows who killed her family but cannot bare to tell Willy who. How does he continue on every day without knowing the answers? How is he so happy now even though he cannot forgive those who hurt his family? It is something I will always be curious about. 

How is it that people can live so close to such a retched smell? This horrendous smell of death lingers all day, every day. How do these women wake up every day and go out to their garden to work and see the school with open classroom doors filled with bodies, and smell this awful smell every day? There's no way these women were victims. There's no way they lived there during the attack on April 21st, 1994. How does anyone from that town continue on after the massive attack? When will the poisonings end? When will every Rwandan feel safe? The human being is remarkable. The mind has the potential to be so powerful, and so weak. The process of healing and forgiving go hand-in-hand. In order to heal, I believe that people have to prove themselves in order to receive forgiveness. Someone would have to prove to me that they are truly sorry. There's no way it could ever be possible over night. I believe the process of forgiveness takes years to accomplish. Support is a necessity during this process, whatever form it might come in.

The country of Rwanda is testing the power of humanity. It is the first country to endure a genocide, and coexist in the end. The next ten years will be extremely important and worth learning from. This outcome will heavily depend on the generation of youth right now. Their parents were filled with fresh memories of genocide during their childhood. How do they learn what really happened? Will these kids learn to constructively question authority and to question the information given to them? When will the titles of Hutu and Tutsi really disappear? When will they really be a thing of the past? Will these titles continue for the sake of story? Will the world ever have a handle over genocide or will it continue to strike other populations of the world? Why is it so difficult to prevent? Will there ever truly be peace everywhere?