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

 

Ever notice what the word GOal begins with?

As I sit on the veranda of the guest house where we are staying here in Kigali, Rwanda, I am pondering what brought us here.  Some years ago we started sponsoring a boy named Dieudone.  For a small amount each month we help Dieudone go to school, have a meal each day, and receive healthcare.  Our two boys, Darren and Graham, enjoyed writing to their new brother in Africa. I was intrigued when asked if we wanted to come to Rwanda to meet Dieudone and witness the difference that sponsoring him made on his life.

Suzy pondering on the veranda overlooking the city of Kigali.

Suzy pondering on the veranda overlooking the city of Kigali. Photo Credit: Darren West

 

This was a big question.  Go to Rwanda…in Africa, half way around the world?  I thought about this and discussed it at length with my very patient and supportive husband, Jeff.  He listened and listened some more and when I finally finished talking, pretty much removing all the oxygen from the room with all my babbling, he said “Go, why not?”  Those three words from my wise husband shifted my thinking…yes, of course we should go, why not.

So here we are on our second trip to Rwanda awaiting the arrival of our team that we are leading all because we set that GOal to GO.  It has taken over a year of planning, shifting, changing, and adjusting to make this journey.  We are excited – we are finally here!

We will advocate for the children here, we will show them people care about them, we will be changed forever for opening our hearts to the joyful people of Rwanda.

Set a goal and GO!

Darren at his Rwandan office preparing his video editing.

Darren at his Rwandan “office” preparing his video editing.

– Suzy

Team Lead with Love heading to Rwanda

We are so excited to be heading back to Rwanda, Africa, one week from today.  This time Darren and I are co-leading a fabulous team that we feel so fortunate to be taking this journey with.  My oldest friend since kindergarten, Eileen Conlon, will be spreading her love to all the children.  Diane Stern, with her two boys, Austin and Oliver, will have the experience of meeting the two boys they sponsor and connecting with them.

Dream BoysWe have lots of plans! We will be throwinga party for the street kids with the generous support of friends and family who have provided all the party supplies we need to make this a wonderful and memorable time for these kids.  Darren has championed our campaign to raise funds for school supplies and we will have the opportunity to deliver them to a school in need.

Our team will update the blog as much as we can so you can all follow our journey.  We will be posting the blog to Facebook, but if you want to be sure not to miss a single post make sure to “Follow” our blog by entering your email address.

Onward!

– Suzy

Newsletter

Darren featured in the Africa New Life July Newsletter

Message from Darren – who is quite a character!

Hello! If you can not read, do NOT proceed. Once again if you can’t read do NOT proceed. But clearly you can read since you have made it this far. Anyway, enough about you, now let’s talk about me, my favorite topic! I am 12 and going to Rwanda, Africa, again. I went in 2013 (read previous blog) and had the best time. Now I am going again! My mom and I set up a website to raise funds for school supplies so we could help as many kids as possible. In the end we raised $3,655! This time I am the co-leader with my mom for our team Lead with Love. I am going with my friends Oliver and Austin. Which by the way every one in our awesome group, my Mom, Oliver, Austin, Diane, Eileen, and I, are going to contribute to the blog. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, If you are not already, please follow this blog. It doesn’t take much, just enter your email address and the website will send you emails whenever anybody posts anything. Well that is it. Congrats, you are a good reader! You should feel proud. Now sit back and enjoy this video of the celebration for Hope, the cow.

– Darren

Journey of the Heart

Little guy in the background broke out his big smile when he saw the camera!

Little guy in the background broke out his big smile when he saw the camera!

Thousands of miles traveled and our lives are changed forever.  The heart of Rwanda is permanently imprinted on our hearts.  It is hard to express how a people who have suffered unfathomable loss and struggle with crushing poverty can be some of the happiest, warm-hearted people I have ever met.  Their kind spirit is intoxicating.

Recess

Recess

We are home in the USA now, but know that part of our hearts will forever remain in Rwanda.  The experience that we have shared as mother and son has been fabulous.  I am so incredibly proud of Darren for his flexibility and open heart.  He has shown me that love is boundless and can create connections that enhance our lives in ways that we could never have imagined.

DSC_0725A kind word, a hand on a shoulder, a smile, a hug, seems like a small gesture but if we stop and really press our hearts into those gestures we connect and show people that they are cared about.  We know we will be going back to Rwanda, we have many loving friends now that we must visit.

Thank you for following our journey – it has been a ride that we are so happy to share.  Until next time…

Darren and Suzy

DSC_0083

Hiking the Countryside

Lunch at Serena hotel.

Lunch at Serena hotel.

Having lunch one last time with our sponsor son at a super posh hotel was really fun.  We told him it was his opportunity to dream. He stared at the swimming pool for a long time and giggled when we splashed him with the water. It was hard to say goodbye to him and hardest for Darren. He cried and cried… he told me his heart hurt to say goodbye to him. I told him that the hurt means that he truly has opened his heart and although it hurts he has created a connection that will last a lifetime.

Little ones taking care of little ones.

Little ones taking care of little ones.

We hiked through the countryside visiting homes and bringing them much needed food. It was beautiful to see their smiles even with the little they have. They are so happy to see us – we represent hope for them. When you say muraho (hello) to them they consider you a friend… I have many new friends and gave lots of smiles and hugs.

Smiles!

Smiles!

Darren gave her his water bottle - she loved it.

Darren gave her his water bottle – she loved it.

Steep inclines to visit homes.

Steep inclines to visit homes.

Darren Delivers Hope

Today was a very big day for Darren. Through the generous contributions from friends and family towards his fundraising efforts, he not only raised money for food and goats – he raised enough money to buy two cows for a school! This is huge for the school children; the milk from the cow provides much needed nutrition for many years to come.

Hope, the cow, walks off the truck to her new home.

Hope, the cow, walks off the truck to her new home.

Darren was involved in the whole process of purchasing the cow. On the day of the purchase he was asked if he would prefer to purchase two young cows or a pregnant cow. He found out that the pregnant cow would be a huge help to the school so that is what he chose. He rode in the truck with the cow and helped unload her from the truck. They asked him what the mama cow should be named and after some thought he said her name should be HOPE. He discussed with our other team members what the calf should be named and we all decided on Faith.

Children's African Dance Team performs for Darren.

Children’s African Dance Team performs.

The school had a celebration in honor of Darren for his gift. We were greeted at the school by the children’s African dance team and choir. They danced with us into the meeting hall and sat us in the center of the room. The performance was moving and beautiful – traditional Rwandan songs and dance. The principal of the school introduced Darren and brought him up on stage – Darren was overwhelmed by the outpouring of thanks he received. They even had a cake made that said “Cow Gift From Darren”.

Cutting the cake with the students.

Cutting the cake with the students.

Drummers and singers.

Drummers and singers.

I had the opportunity to be on stage with Darren and address the school. I expressed the honor it was to be visiting their school and how it brought Darren and I great joy to bring HOPE to their school.

Me, Darren, and the principal

Me, Darren, and the principal

Visiting Kageyo and Safari

We had an amazing experience visiting Kageyo. The people in Kageyo had fled to Tanzania during the genocide. They established themselves in Tanzania as cattle ranchers. Seven years ago the people of this village were forced to leave Tanzania in a 24-hour period. They could only take what they could carry. They entered an area that was part of a game park – no food, no shelter, and many were being eaten by the animals. Africa New Life and the government entered and found thousands of starving people and began to give relief. Today, the school ranks 5th in the country, and they have a church, homes, and the children are being fed physically and spiritually. We really enjoyed visiting the area.

My dear friend Diane sponsors two boys in this area and we had the opportunity to visit each of their homes.The families had never seen white people before. They were so warm and welcoming. They greatly appreciated their children going to school and the food that they received. Visiting them was incredibly heartwarming.

Vianny with a big smile on his face.

Vianny with a big smile on his face.

Samuel giving me a big hug.

Samuel giving me a big hug.

Darren, the "Goat Whisperer" with a newborn.

Darren, the “Goat Whisperer” with a newborn.

We went from Kageyo into the game park on the coast of Tanzania. We stayed at a fabulous tented lodge right on the water. We listened to hippos through the night and did a game drive the next day. A dusty and fabulous day!

Looking onto Tanzania.

Looking onto Tanzania.

Sunrise at the tented lodge.

Sunrise at the tented lodge.