Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jude the "cowboy"

I recently returned to the US to attend graduations of grandkids (congratulations Nick and Emily) and to congratulate Heather and Adam on marriage. It was great catching up on family news and seeing friends but I was really happy to return to Rwanda. So here I am in Kigali trying to catch up with everything on this blog entry.

We have spent the last four weeks completing reports, compiling documents and policy and procedures, etc. for official presentation to officials so we can get our registration as a local NGO. We finally received the document we were waiting for and now the Rwamagana Lutheran School has official standing as an NGO and I was able to get my visa extended to December. In spite of all the paperwork and interviews, we have come to the conclusion that Rwanda is doing a good job making sure organizations are going to do what they say they will do and that the people are actually here to work for the betterment of Rwandans. This means that construction on our first classrooms can begin right away. We still need to raise money to complete the roof but will hopefully be able to welcome our first students in our own facility by January, 2010.

During all this traveling from Kigali to Rwamagana to Kibungo, I was able to go with Pastor John to his project at Mumeya where the community has begun building a medical clinic. I was there in 2007 and at that time all that was there were piles of rocks for the foundation and a series of trenches where the foundation would begin. During that visit I met a young man named Jude who was taking care of some young Rwandan cows. He loved having his picture taken - one of which is included with this entry (finally figured out how to do it!) - and he tried very hard to communicate with me in his extremely limited English. Imagine my surprise when I arrived there a week ago and there was Jude to greet me. His English had improved to the point that we were able to converse quite extensively. I told him that I remembered him from before and he said, "You remember me when I was a cowboy? Now I am a student!" He told me that he is studying hard and wants to continue going to school and learn as much as he can. It is wonderful to realize that the children in this very remote area have the opportunity to attend public school, but it is also sobering to realize that after grade 6 they will have to attend private school for grades 7-12 and this is an expense that most of the families in that area cannot afford.

What makes this story so compelling is that Jude is the same age as my two grandsons who have completed, or almost completed, high school and will have the opportunity to achieve "higher education." Jude, and many other young people in Rwanda often spend twice as long trying to get an education beyond primary school. These young people value education more than anything and recognize the need for it. I feel blessed that the project I am here helping with will provide a way for some of these students to continue their education.

So once again, thank you church congregations and other donors for your help in establishing this school. We thank you for your prayers and contributions. To the youth at my home congregation at Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia, thanks for continuing to care about your Rwandan sisters and brothers. If you have any comments or questions, please send them - I value hearing from you. I will try to answer your questions in the next blog entry I post. I will also include a picture from the Rwandan Cultural Dance Troupe's performance last week at our school land site - it was great.

I send prayers and blessings to all of you from Rwanda........
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Sunday, May 24, 2009


Sorry but the pictures I intended to include in todays posting didn't work. Will show them when I get home and maybe in the next posting if I can figure out what I did wrong!!

Four Months and Still Learning

Well, fellow family, friends, congregants and travelers, what we take for granted in the U.S. is often not so easyh here in Africa. It has been a while since I posted to this blog, but it is not for lack of effort on my part. I do have access to the internet at a much improved rate than in 2007 but it is stil difficult at times, especially when doing any lengthy work such as updating a blog. Anyway, I will hopefully get this posted before I arrive back in the U.S. for a brief visit. I apologize for it being so long, but a lot has been happening for me.
So what has been going on here in Rwanda. I must tell you that life here is marvelous, busy, funny, and tragic, and wet, wet, wet. When I began to think about recounting all my experiences over the last month, I realized that I would probably end up with a novel, so will quickly recap them and then describe how they have helped me understand exactly why I am here and what I can do to help.
Marvelous: A new-found hobby of photographing birds. The are a huge number of species of birds here and they are so colorful. My camera seems to have great abhility to catch them in flight (I refuse to take any credit except for spotting them!) and I have ended up with some wonderful pictures. Here is one that I took in Kibungo at the LWF comkpound where these two Ross' Turacos landed to grab a bite of breakfast:

Be prepared to look at lots of pictures when I get back - I've already accumulated around 1,600 pictures but I promise I'll edit them and get rid of the not so good ones! I don't go anywhere without my camera and love taking pictures of people, places and events, but especially the birds.
Busy: Staying busy for me has meant working at the Rwamagana Lutheran School (the Rwanda School Project), traveling almost every day, dealing with the necessary bureaucracy, learning how to get around Kigali by learning landmarks (nobody goes by street names), trying to learn enough Kinyarwanda to communicate with those who don't speak English, getting to know the students and learning their names, attending memorial services and visiting genocide sites during National Memorial Week (more on that later), keeping up with my laundry which has to be hand-washed and dried in the sun, and cooking when I get the chance (Jenny loves my cooking - especialoly pasta salad). My day usually starts at 5:15 a.m. and ends somewhere around 10:00 p.m.
Funny: I am still trying to figure out how to tell which matatu (taxi-van) goes where; they all have the names of areas in Kigali but I have found out that they don't necessarily go where the signs indicate. You have to listen to them shouting out the name of an area and when I hear one I know, that's the one I take, praying that I haven't messed up and end up in another town! I have, however, found a private taxe driver who now comes when I call him and will get me where I need to go at a reasonable price. The first time he took me somewhere he charged me an outrageous price and I told him I wouldn't call him again. Unfortunately, he was the one who showed up at another time and I told him I would not pay muzungu prices and would not go with him unless he gave me the Rwandan price. I added a few "oya's" and some finger-shaking and he agreed. I made sure I gave him a nice tip and now he says he is my taxi driver and I recommend him to others to show my appreciation.
We've had some good times at the school and one day Robin decided to introduce variations on jumping rope - we hope to have a double dutch team - and I got some good pictures. One of them is of Robin showing our Office Administrator how to do pairs jumping, and I am including that picture here. We had lots of laughs that day!

Tragic: One of the things I did not do in 2007 was to visit any of the genocide sites. This time, however, the Memorial Week occurred during Holy Week as well as my birthday and it was a very sobering time for me. Several of us accompanied a man from Germany who had been here in 1994 at the request of LWF to verify and document what had happened. He wanted to return to the site where he had witnessed a terrible scene - a catholic church where over 20,000 peoplewere killed. I must tell you that it was a hard trip for me. Several days later we attended a memorial Mass for the widow of the last king of Rwanda; she was a genocide victim. We also visited the gravesite for both her and the last king, and then moved to a museaum where survivors and visiting dignitaries spoke. The day was rainy and we had to walk through a lot of mud, but the events were very stirring and made a much more lasting impression than a little discomfort. Easter day we attended services in Gitarama but it was very different from services I was used to - very sobering as it was so connectedby date to the genocide observances.
Another thing that has been very sobering is learning about many of the students who are attending our classes,. Just about half of the students are former street children who have been taken in by anothyer organization which is housing and feeding them as well as providing them the opportunity to improe their education. Several of the other students are living with relatives or people who have taken them in and they have a hard time paying tuition, paying for transport, etc., and one girl who was not attending regularly, we found out, was missing because she did not have shoes and could only come the days she could borrow a pair from a neighbor.
Wet, wet, wet: I am surviving the rainy season but boy can it rain here! When you have to hand wash your clothes and hang them out to dry it becomes a guessing game as to whether or not you will have enough "sun" time for them to dry before the rains begin. We also have to walk through red mud to get from the car to the classrooms so we are often sweeping out the dirt we tracked in the day before which has dried overnight. Does this count as recycling? I* have learned to have an umbrella or raincoat with me at all times. Dry season is coming and everyone says I will have to make the transition from mud to dust. At least I'll have dry clothes - I hope.

So, all this has been an adventure for the past 4 months but I still find myself asking, "what the heck am I doing here?" Just about everyone I have met is a professional of some sort - medical workers, engineers, community developers, educators. I am none of these. I'm an office worker with some skill in setting up systems, forms, etc. and wonder if I am really needed,. One day while reading my devotions I came upon the following verse from 1 John 3:18, "Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth." When I looked this up in my Bible, I was truly humbled by the verse immediately preceding this (1 John 3:17) which says, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?" I realized that it is not enough to simply acknowledge the suffering of others. Prayer is only the start of what we are to do - we are to add action to our commiseration and sym[atjy. We do that in whatever way we can with whatever resources we have. I don't have much money, but I can help set up a system which will help a school run efficiently so that teachers and administrators can spend their time teaching and fundraising. That is what I can do. That is what the heck I am doing here. You are doing the same thing when you contribute money, materials and books as well as your prayers. And you, Muhlenberg youth, along with other Virginia and California Lutheran Synods and Churches are doing what you can do by raising money to help build the Rwamagana Lutheran School. We do it because we are Ambassadors for Christ and because "God's love abides in us." Never doubt that what you are doing is valuable!

I will be returning home to Virginia for a brief visit in the next couple of days, but in the meantime I send blessings from Rwanda and many thanks for your prayers and support.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Settling In

I have arrived in Kigali, Rwanda and have spent the past four weeks settling in, meeting old and new friends and getting through traveler's "malaise," jet lag and a bout with an eye infection. The weather here is beautiful even though it has rained almost every day - sometimes at a torrential level. I have been staying in the Kyovu section of Kigali at the home of Shirley with three other housemates. We are a truly international group - Australia, Malawi, Germany, Canada and American. The house is great, sitting on a hill (of course!) overlooking Kigali - very restful and quiet. I will not stay here the whole time - in fact will be moving today but what a great experience getting to know these new friends.

I have traveled with Robin and Moses, a truly indispensable Admin. Asst, to Rwamagana several times getting ready for classes to begin, sometimes by car and sometimes by taxi-van or bus. Brings back memories! I have met the students who came for pre-testing and they are great. Hopefully we will have attended to all the bureacratic necessities and classes will begin soon. Moses and I have been working diligently to be sure the office is functioning well before we do start.

My first big "aha" for this trip has to do with the sameness of people. Here I am in the midst of an international group of women, all of whom are talented and working at jobs/careers which are making a difference in the world but what really strikes me is our sameness. We all get up in the morning, yawn, scratch our heads and look forward to the first cup of tea or coffee. We all eat the same food, complain about the same things, and laugh together over the humor of living together. We all do our own laundry, brush our teeth, etc. It strikes me that this observation carries over to the students who will attend Rwamagana Lutheran School. Just like you, dear youth of Muhlenberg and America, they get up in the morning, get ready for the day and have the same hopes and dreams any American kid has. They, however, face a lot more problems realizing those hopes and dreams. Your help will give some of the Rwandan youth the chance to work towards their goals. I hope you will add them to your daily prayers as well as all the youth in the world who are struggling. Those of us who are more fortunate must always be aware that it is up to us to choose to help or not.

So, I am now ready for round two of settling in and will write more as soon as internet again becomes available to me. Thanks to those who have responded to this blog. I enjoy reading your postings.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Ready to go!

It's about 11:30 p.m. and I have finally stored all my belongings, packed my bags and am ready to set off to Rwanda. Now, if the weather will just cooperate!! I have anticipated this trip for the past year as I finished up classes at James Madison University and graduated with a hard-earned Bachelor of Arts degree. Finishing my education at the age of 60+ has been an adventure full of worries, headaches and joys, not to mention several all-nighters which should never be attempted by anyone over the age of 50. Thank you JMU advisors, teachers and fellow students for pushing me to stick with it and finish, especially those who expected me to grow in knowledge and turn in papers which made some sense! Thanks, too, to the members of Muhlenberg Lutheran Church and the Education for Ministry group who cheered me on and encouraged me to catch my second wind and follow the new paths opening up to me. I couldn't have done it without you. Thanks especially to the young people at JMU and Muhlenberg who inspired me to keep up with them - you are terrific.

And so I begin the next step of my journey - traveling to Rwanda in East Africa to work with the Rwanda School Project for the next 10 to 11 months. I'm on this journey accompanied in spirit by my fellow congregants at Muhlenberg who have supported this project since it began. I hope I will represent you well. If this trip is anything like my 5 week stay in 2007, we will have some wonderful memories, meet some new friends and maybe have a laugh or two in the process. So, catch your SECOND WIND and join me on some NEW PATHS

Monday, January 19, 2009

This is my first post

to my new blog
and here is a picture

From Get Started