Delivering Supplies for Bugesera School (post by Suzy and Darren)

After many months of raising funds for school supplies, today was the day that our team got to deliver them.  We made the journey to Bugesera school, over rutted dirt roads that we would think are impassable, but here in Rwanda they call that kind of car ride an “African Massage”. We were greeted by Robert who is the head master here which educates over 600 children.  He told us about how the children take exams.  The teacher writes the exam on the black board in front of the class because they do not have a photo copier…with our fundraising they were able to get a photo copier that they will start using on Monday.  Having a photo copier at the school will be a huge improvement for the students education. Additionally, they needed textbooks which were also purchased with the funds our team raised.

Grade 6 students helping us unpack the textbooks and photo copier.

Grade 6 students helping us unpack the textbooks and photo copier.

Robert, the school head master, was so thankful for this gift to the school.  It was so fun to go through the textbooks with the kids and have them read some of the lessons to us.  We also had fun looking through the dictionaries with the students and they loved to challenge us with English words we didn’t know.

Classroom of grade 6 students.

Classroom of grade 6 students.

From the bottom of our hearts we want to thank all of our supporters on this fundraising journey.  Your gift made a difference and will continue to make a difference for many years to come!

MURAKOZE!

(Thank you in Kinyarwanda)

Dear Rwanda (post by Eileen)

Monday morning at roughly 9am, while most of the people I know and love were still sleeping, our team of 6 pulled into the Bugesera district to visit the Nyamata Church, a genocide memorial that we had been mentally preparing ourselves to visit for days.  On our way we had driven through the swamp grass where the Tutsi’s had hid, and by the river where so many bodies were dumped.  A river that runs to the beautiful Lake Victoria.

Under the bullet-hole ridden ceiling of the Nyamata Church, lay the clothes of the murdered 10,000 Tutsi’s who hid in the place they felt the safest.  A place that should have been sacred ground, off limits to killing.  The altar was littered with machetes, clubs and even the crosses that were used to help commit this heinous crime.  The air in the church felt heavy, as if still carrying the weight of the thousands of God-loving souls that were left to die.

The lovely, soft-spoken guide led us behind the church and down steps into a room that I could never have imagined in my wildest nightmares.  An open mass grave with shelves and shelves and shelves of the bones and skulls of the 10,000 men, women and children.  They were so close I could have touched them. I was frozen in shock.  You could see from the damage to the skulls how the person had died; by machete, bullet or club.

Leaving the memorial I was thrown off by happy children’s voices from the nearby daycare and the birds chirping from the trees.  It didn’t feel right.  How could there be such joy in close proximity to such devastation?  I’m learning that this joy encompasses all of Rwanda.  The children are so filled with hope and love, and the adults so ready to forgive and offer a smile to the world that did nothing to save them.

Eileen with one of the cuties.

Eileen with one of the cuties.

Monday night I wanted to write in my journal about everything our team had experienced that day.  There is nothing that can change history but I felt the need to recognize, acknowledge and apologize for the suffering.  So I started…

Dear Rwanda,

I’m sorry the rest of the world turned their back on you.

3 days later and that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  Since Monday morning we have had wonderful home visits bringing food and gifts to Suzy and Diane’s sponsored children, we relaxed at a beautiful lodge sleeping in luxury tents next to a lake full of hippos, had a very rare sighting of a mother leopard hunting for her cubs on our safari, drove on dirt paths that rival the most dangerous road in the world, played with babies at a day care that allows mothers (some former prostitutes) to learn the trade of sewing, and taught geography lessons to the Dream Boys.  Every single moment of this trip has been an adventure.  Every interaction has taught me something about the humanity and about myself.  Every child’s smile has reminded me of what’s possible in the world.

Rwandan kids showing us their talent

Rwandan kids showing us their talent

Hippo at home

Hippo at home

Ruzizzi Lodge and Home Visits (post by Diane)

Ruzizzi Lodge Day

I am writing this post from the raised deck of my tent in the Akagera National Park listening to monkeys play in the trees around me.  We are on the edge of the largest lake in Rwanda and I can see Tanzania across the lake.   The lake is very peaceful and I can hear the gentle lapping of the water on the shore.  There are hippos and crocs in the lake and there is the possibility of them coming up on shore in front of my tent.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will get to see a hippo.  The tent itself sits on a large stone platform at the end of a boardwalk.  It is spacious with two beds and a full bathroom with a solar heated shower.  It is wonderful!

Tented Lodge in Akagera Game Park

Tented Lodge in Akagera Game Park

Today was an interesting day.  We started out this morning very early and headed east of Kigali to Kayonza.  In Kayona Africa New Life has built a huge high school which is rated #1 out of 1700 high schools in Rwanda.  The man that showed us around the campus is named John Africa – coolest name ever!  We also got to see the primary school which was lovely and well run.  It is testing week so we didn’t spend too much time there.

From Kayonza we traveled further east along “roads” to Kageyo.  The “roads” are basically hard packed red dirt trails that go up and down the hills.  They are rutted and uneven.  As we drive we leave a cloud of red dust in our wake that covers everything nearby.  We share the trails with pedestrians, children playing, goats, cows and people pushing bikes loaded down with enough stuff to fill the bed of a pickup truck.  Thankfully, our driver, John, is very adept at handling the “road”.

Kageyo is way out in the middle of nowhere.  It was, as I understand it, set up for the refugees that went to Tanzania to escape the Genocide and have now been kicked out of Tanzania.  Any cows that were obtained during their time in Tanzania were taken by the Tanzanian government when the refugees were sent back to Rwanda.  These people have nothing and they have a very difficult life.

Both of the boys that we sponsor, Habimana Jean Marie Vianny and Rwibutso Samuel, live in Kageyo.  Our sponsorship allows them to go to school, get a uniform, shoes, books, pen and paper and have lunch everyday.  Today we went to their homes to visit and to bring a gift of food to the families.  Samuel’s family has both a mother and father as well as 2 sisters.  Their house is very small and constructed of the red dirt that is everwhere.  We sat on wooden benches inside a room that was about 5×8.  There is no electricity, there is no plumbing, there are no creature comforts or decorations. The room is very warm and pungent.  Samuel’s family was incredibly happy to see us, we were greeted with hugs and kisses and wonderfully happy faces.  They thanked us again and again for giving Samuel the gift of education.  As we sat inside, the neighbors gathered around the doors and window to see what was going on.  Samuel’s family was unbelievably gracious and welcoming.

Diane, Austin, and Oliver visiting Samuel's family.

Diane, Austin, and Oliver visiting Samuel’s family.

We have a polaroid type camera with us that we take pictures and leave the pictures with the families.  The whole village is fascinated by looking at the pictures.

We have a polaroid type camera with us that we take pictures and leave the pictures with the families. The whole village is fascinated by looking at the pictures.

Habimana Jean Marie Vianny’s house is very similar to Samuel’s.  He lives with his mother and siblings.  For a second time today we were given a very warm welcome and greeted with very happy faces.  As with Samuel’s house, the surrounding neighbors flocked to the house to see why the mizungus are visiting.  It was a pleasure to meet these families and it is humbling to see the conditions that they live in and how joyful they are regardless of the difficulties that they face.  The Habs, as Austin calls him, want to be a doctor when he grows up and hopefully we can support him in reaching that goal.

Warm welcome by Mom

Warm welcome by Jean Marie Vianny’s Mom

In general, things went much better than I hoped.  I was a bit nervous to meet Samuel’s and Jean Marie Vianny’s families.  The cultural gap is extremely wide and challenging to traverse, however, the people of Rwanda are so kind, welcoming and joyful that it makes the leap across a little bit easier.

Team Lead with Love - Eileen, Austin, Diane, Oliver, Suzy, and Darren. This was a quick picture because there were many Hippos right behind us in the lake.

Team Lead with Love – Eileen, Austin, Diane, Oliver, Suzy, and Darren. This was a quick picture because there were many Hippos right behind us in the lake.

Rwanda – 4 days in… (post by Diane)

Post by Diane

We have been in Rwanda for 4 days now – it feels like so much longer due to all that we are experiencing.

First of all, we are part of an amazing team (yes, I did just compliment myself).  It is a joy to be around Austin, Oliver, Suzy, Darren, Eileen and Jonas as we make our way around this beautiful country.  Jonas is our Rwandan guide, translator, negotiator and joke maker.  He is 6’9″ of kindness, humor and intelligence.

The party that we had for the Dream Boys on Saturday was a lot of fun.  The party did not go according to plan at all – but that was OK – we rolled with it (as my sister knows, that is just the kind of person I am).  This was our first true interaction with the Dream Boys and they are delightful.  We played soccer, we had sack races, we served cake, we had a yarn craft, we took everybody’s picture for them to take with them and then we helped serve lunch.  We gave each boy a drawstring bag with a notebook, pens, pencils, a pencil sharpener and some stickers.  We had the boys color their bags and write their names.  It was fun to watch Austin, Oliver and Darren walking around the room and helping the kids write their names.  The soccer game was lively and Oliver and Darren were surprised at how well some of the kids played.  It was, from our perspective, completely successful and we came back to the guest house on a high – each of us sharing our favorite or most hilarious moments.

Party for the Dream Boys - yarn craft

Party for the Dream Boys – yarn craft

Yesterday we attended church, a lively affair that Eileen discusses in her blog.  After church we went to the Hotel de Milles Collins – aka The Hotel Rwanda – where we had brunch.  It was DELICIOUS!  Austin had many different shapes and sizes of bread (an unbelievably picky eater) and Oliver was able to enjoy one of his favorite dishes….meat on a stick.  We ate way too much and had to come back to the guest house to nap it off.  After our naps, Suzy had a surprise for our group to thank us for traveling to Africa with her and Darren (truly we should be thanking her for her amazing planning).  The surprise was dancers.  A Kigali based group of street kids that participate in a program that teaches them native Rwandan dances performed for us.  The joy on the faces of the dancers was incredible to see.  It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Dance team with the Lead with Love team.

Dance team with the Lead with Love team.

Today was a full day and covered the spectrum of emotions.  We headed out to Bugesera, an area of Rwanda that was the hardest hit in the Genocide.  We visited Nyamata Church, which was very emotional for the adults in the group.  Over 10,000 people were murdered in and around the church.  The church itself is one large room and it has been maintained exactly as it was found at the end of the Genocide.  There are bullet holes throughout the ceiling, the walls and the religious icons.  The walls and the alter are still stained with blood.  The benches are piled high with the clothes of the people that died there.  Underneath the church they created a tomb for the bones of many victims and there is a coffin with the remains of a women that was raped and impaled.  She is representative of all of the women that suffered a similar fate.  The air in the church feels different than the air outside – it is heavier and it has the feel of despair.

Thankfully, after we visited the church, we headed to a school to serve lunch and have a home visit with Dieudone, the sponsor child of Suzy and Darren (and Jeff and Graham).  Both of these activities were wonderful.  The kids were fun and very interested in us.  They are fascinated by our hair, curious about Austin’s and Oliver’s  braces.  They gather around us and want to touch us and speak to us.

Serving lunch in Bugesera

Serving lunch in Bugesera

The home visit went very well.  Suzy and Darren had been to Dieudone’s home a couple of years ago and it was clear that the family remembered them.  Suzy brought Dieudone clothes, shoes, a solar light and a soccer ball.   The family was lovely and gracious and didn’t seem to mind Eileen and I taking thousands of pictures.  As a bonus, Suzy got invited to a wedding in September by Dieudone’s grandmother.  Nothing says “Successful visit” like a wedding invitation.

Tomorrow we head out to Kageyo and then to an overnight safari.  It will be a long ride on a lot of dirt roads.  Dave and I and the boys sponsor 2 kids in Kageyo so it should be a very interesting trip (the safari probably won’t be too bad either).

Talk to you soon.

The Story of a Scarf (post by Suzy)

Traveling over the rolling hills of Rwanda, we head towards Bugesera to visit the school in that area and visit our sponsor sons home.  On the way there we stop at Nyamata Memorial, a church where over 10,000 Tutsi were slaughtered during the genocide.  This is their resting place, a place to honor their memory.  I met a women last time I was their, her name is Serafina – all five of her children were killed in that church.  She returns everyday to sweep the grounds and be with the memory of her children.  When I saw her again today I went to her and hugged her.  I told her I remembered her from two years ago.  We both smiled at each other holding hands.

When my grandmother died just weeks ago I came upon her drawer of scarves – she always liked to wear a beautiful scarf.  I tucked them into a bag with me not really knowing what I might do with so many.  Today is when I realized the purpose of those scarves – to spread my grandmothers love here in Rwanda.  When I saw Serafina wearing a brightly colored dress that matched the blue in the scarf around my neck I immediately took it off and put it around Serafina’s neck.  I told her about my grandmother and how her smile reminded me of her – she told me she was honored to wear it.

When visiting my sponsor sons family later, I wrapped a pink scarf around his grandmothers neck and told her about my grandmother.  I thanked her for taking such good care of my sponsor son, Dieudone.

Hearts wide open…

Suzy at a home visit for our sponsor son.

Suzy at a home visit for our sponsor son.

Austin, Oliver, and Darren helping the kids wash their hands for lunch.

Austin, Oliver, and Darren helping the kids wash their hands for lunch.

Brotherly love!  Darren and his sponsored brother Dieudone.

Brotherly love! Darren and his sponsored brother Dieudone.

Giving one of my grandmothers scarves to my sponsor son's grandmother.

Giving one of my grandmothers scarves to my sponsor son’s grandmother.

 

Rwanda: Sunday (post by Eileen)

**Note from Suzy: Power and internet are at best intermittent. Takes a lot of patience and multiple tries to get a post up on the blog.  We will keep updating as often as we can!  Thanks for reading and you support!**

Post by Eileen:

Sitting here with my morning coffee mentally preparing myself for 2 hours of church (no joke), and thinking that somewhere my mom is laughing hysterically at me for all of the years I huffed and puffed about a 1 hour mass.  While not a believer myself, I can fully appreciate how a country that has seen such mind-numbing atrocities would need to find solace in something larger than the human kind that they know.

Eileen with Dream Boys

Eileen with Dream Boys

 

Visiting the Genocide Memorial Museum in Kigali on Friday didn’t necessarily teach me anything I wasn’t already aware of but it put a face (and I mean actual pictures of bodies) to the 1 million women, children and men that were slaughtered in those unimaginable one hundred days. The open mass grave, loosely covered with a blue tarp, waiting for bodies to be uncovered 21 years later is a reminder of just how raw the pain is for this country and its’ people.

Think about 1994.

I was 14 in small, remote Indian Mills and unaware of anything outside of my inner circle of friends, field hockey practice, and summers at the beach.  Across the world, in a country the size of Maryland, children half my age, many the only survivors of their families, hid in the hills waiting for an end to a nightmare that did not seem to come.  Those children who are now parents of their own, some our guides and teachers, are proof that a belief in something bigger than yourself can save you.  Whether it be love, faith, family or inner-strength.  So today, regardless of my own beliefs, I will dance and sing and celebrate right alongside these amazing individuals who have so openly welcomed us into their future.

Diane with Dream Boys

Diane with Dream Boys

Buffet lunch with the whole team including our driver (John) and guide (Jonas).  Visiting the hotel where the movie "Hotel Rwanda" took place.

Buffet lunch with the whole team including our driver (John) and guide (Jonas). Visiting the hotel where the movie “Hotel Rwanda” took place.

 

Rwanda: First Day Feelings (Post by Eileen and Diane)

Post by: Eileen

The first thing I noticed driving from Kigali airport to our guest house was how familiar Rwanda felt.  I couldn’t figure out exactly how or why since it’s my first time traveling to this beautifully haunted and lovely red-soil country.  I’ve been to nearby Kenya and have done my fair share of traveling, so maybe it was the crazy scary motorcycle drivers, the promise of a real sugar cane coca-cola, the people spilling out onto the desolate streets, the women carrying giant baskets on the head of their beautifully and brightly clothed bodies, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was…

Eileen, Suzy and Diane at the Dream Center

Eileen, Suzy and Diane at the Dream Center

As I lay under my mosquito net last night whispering quietly to the lizard that has taken residence in the top corner of my room to please eat all the spiders, it dawned on me that it wasn’t the familiarity of the country, it was the familiarity within myself.  Being here, volunteering, sharing stories with strangers, giving hugs, donating time and love… this me, is the best version of me.  To be able to communicate your love and empathy through a handshake or a hug is one of the most rewarding things in life.  And the Lead with Love team is here in Rwanda for the next 11 days to do just that.
This beautiful country and its’ people will teach my team and I more about kindness, humility and compassion in our short time here then can be learned in ten years at home.  I know this trip will change me.  I know that I will return home with a bigger purpose, a fuller heart and an open mind.  Right now though, my heart is wonderfully happy in Rwanda and I hope the next week and a half go by very, very slow…

-Eileen

 

Post by Diane:

First day in Rwanda.

First and foremost, I would like to thank the many people that contributed to our efforts here in Rwanda.  Thank you for the pens, pencils, white boards, soccer balls, pumps, paper, erasers, markers, bags, frisbees and all of the other materials and monetary donations.  You are amazing and generous family, friends coworkers and neighbors.

Austin, Oliver and I, along with Eileen, joined Suzy and Darren in Rwanda last night after what felt like a billion hours of flying.  It was dark when we landed and my first impressions were that the weather was delightful and it smells oddly of smoke, like a mesquite type of smoke but subtle.  None of the Rwandans comment on the smoke but it sits on the land making the dry, hot weather look like it is carrying a lot of humidity (something that everyone on the East Coast understands), but it is not.

We have already met quite a few people that work for Africa New Life and are dedicated to helping Rwandan children become educated, loved, and well fed adults.  Everyone is very friendly and helpful and also passionate about their jobs.  Jonas, our guide and translator, is a product of the system he now works for.  We are adding to his education by teaching him to say things like “How YOU doin'” in a North Jersey accent.  Tomorrow we will add “Not for nothin'”.  In turn, he is teaching us helpful phrases in Kinyarwandan (I wonder if he is adding an accent).

Darren, Oliver, and Austin with the rolling hills behind them.

Darren, Oliver, and Austin with the rolling hills behind them.

We are a source of hilarity for the Rwandan children when we walk anywhere.  They like to say hi and shake hands with us.  We participate in the exchange and then can hear them howling with laughter as we walk away.  It is very funny.

Today we were able to tour the Rwandan Genocide Memorial Museum.  The atrocities that occurred here during the 100 days of the Genocide in 1994 are heart wrenching and devastating.  However, what I came out of the museum with was a great admiration for the Rwandan people because of the strength it took to move forward and the overwhelming message of forgiveness that is conveyed.

Tomorrow we have a party for The Dream Boys at the Dream Center.  We spent the afternoon getting organized for that – sorting our supplies (Thank you!) and getting the schedule of events in order.   Hopefully, it all goes smoothly tomorrow.

In my next post I am thinking about addressing mosquito netting, body odor and interior decorating – we will have to see how that plays out.  Right now they are the things making me chuckle.

-Diane