Well hello there! I am writing to you from my home in Merrimack, New Hampshire having just returned from Rwanda recently! For anyone who has ever read these before, this is the part where I go on about how happy I am for the time I had, but how much I miss the kids as well. It is no different this year. My time was a little shorter this year because of some work requirements I couldn't get out of so that wasn't ideal but I still had a solid month and a half with the kids. If this is all you read, rest assured that they are doing splendid and are in school. If you want more, here it comes. I warn you that I ramble with my experiences below but I bring it home at the end with some amazing news for the rest of the year!
I arrived at an interesting time. The family had begun to pack there things to move to a different house. I wish I could tell you that we were moving to our own land and our own home but that is still a distant dream we are working on. We had to move because our current home was falling apart and becoming dangerous to live in. Our landlord wasn't doing her part either and the neighbors were being affected which then involved the local authorities who were less than pleased. Evode searched Kigali and found a home for the same amount of rent that would suit us. So the packing began. I arrived when there was still a couple days to help with that.
Anyone who has ever moved, knows there are highs and lows to packing. We had those moments where we found things we hadn't seen in a long time and warmed our hearts. We also had moments where our efforts felt fruitless and the job was endless. However, something I reminded myself, and to the boys was to remember how lucky we were to be in a position where we have nice things now worth organizing and taking care of.
When it was time to move, I got a wonderful experience that I will never forget. The big truck came and it was going to take a few trips. It was night time and the truck was open so someone needed to sit on top of all the things outside to keep them safe from thieves. One person alone could do this but 2 of our boys and myself did the job together. It was fantastic driving through Kigali on top of a huge truck with two of our boys. It was a whole other perspective.
And then it started to rain...a lot. We made a handful of trips over the next 2 days and every time we did, it would rain during it. We rolled with it. I will say that, a day before we moved, Evode and I witnessed a garbage truck topple over on the dirt roads. Two workers were drowning in the trash as people all over dug them out. They lived, but I couldn't help think of that a little while on top of the truck on the muddy hills. It worked out!
That first night, we got in a lot of stuff, just enough to go to sleep. Most of us were in the new home. A handful stayed at the old home with the stuff we hadn't brought yet. That night, those boys who stayed behind didn't get much sleep. The rain did what we feared and began to flood the whole house. The boys spent much of the night fighting off the water and keeping the things dry. It was a nice reminder of why we needed to leave. The worst fear was collapse of the structure which didn't happen luckily.
BOYS ON HOLIDAY - NEW NEIGHBORHOOD
The rest of the moving process was what you would expect. The house is a little smaller but very well built. That means that most of the spaces are shared like they used to be. Now the living room is one big room that incorporates the boys' study space and library. It's a very homely room. I took part in making the library again and tuning up the computers for the boys.
The timing for the move worked out well because we had all of the boys home on holiday from school. That was really nice for me too. Depending on the year, sometimes they are at school during January and sometimes they are not. Because of that, some years are better than others to be with certain boys. This year I got to see everyone for a few weeks at the least.
Our new house is in a fantastic location. It is near but not very close to the area of Nyamirambo where many street kids, crime, prostitution etc. is. That is good because that is where our work is when bringing in new kids, but its detached from the house now so we live in more of a neighborhood. The neighborhood brings pros and cons for sure. The pros are more though. We now live close to a place to play soccer and go to church. Those 2 activities before required hour long walks each way before to do. Now both are no big deal. Our land with our building site is a walk away now too so that will become invaluable when we build again.
For me personally, it was fun to be in such a congested neighborhood because I like getting to know the neighbors and all of the many kids around the block. I didn't realize I would have so many friends already thanks to building last year. Because the building site is so close, many people either worked with me, knew someone working with me, or saw me working when they walked by. That helped a lot. Though I will always look like a foreigner to them, it helps when they know that you do your best to be with them.
It was a great experience for the boys and me to make new friends on the soccer field. There was a power struggle at first. The locals expected our boys to follow their ways, though we were the ones providing a ball to use to play. Each week, there was improvement. It was really nice to see our boys begin to make special friends and stuff.
A big negative was water though. We have two tanks to to use to collect water when it is available but it rarely is. Luckily the watering point we use to fetch the water is near. It is also free though, which means there are many people at this watering point. Sadly, many fights break out. I fetch water with the boys every year and I have waited hours before to do so. This year was the worst one ever. Being a foreigner, I blow peoples' minds at the fact that I am lugging two 5 gallon jerry cans of water. I don't say that to toot my own horn. Because of this astonishment, all 50-60 people waiting for a trickle of water to fill theirs insist that I get mine filled. I hold off for a while but eventually it becomes rude to do so. You get a real perspective on things when you wait thirty minutes to get your water, begin to leave, and see the same older man or tiny child waiting for what will likely take all day to fill enough water, to drink, cook one meal, and maybe wash a little. It is something I will never forget.
With that being said, before I move on. It was a pleasure to see the character of our boys come out during these massive lines for water. As i said, people fought a lot. Our boys never fought. In fact, I have a really nice memory of a time when two small kids were chasing each other and fighting while everyone waited. It was funny for a minute or two but they didn't stop. They began to get meaner and more violent. Sadly, people still found it funny. Claude did not. He tried his best to take each by the hand and help them make nice. That failed, and he resorted to separating them until finally, he sent one of the kids away. It was a nice moment of character.
SCHOOL - ACTIVITIES
Sadly, there was no building for me this year. Every penny we earned from Run the 1 was needed to send all of our kids off to school. I was fortunate to help go and get some of the supplies this year and pay some of the school fees at the various banks and such. I got a lot of perspective about it and realized the undertaking it is for just one kid, let alone 30. Evode, being as grateful as he was, would have me dole out the books, pens, and things to the boys as they checked off their different needs. The boys are always grateful, but this year, more so than ever.
While they were home, we spent a lot of time practicing computers, reading, playing, and enjoying quality time together. One thing some of them liked to do was listen to my interviews on the phone. I had to do some phone interviews, so I would invite any boy who promised to be quiet to hang out and listen if they wanted. There is something very odd but awesome about interviewing through to Alaska while I am in Rwanda surrounded by some of the boys intently listening to my English and how I was holding myself together as I answered difficult questions. Typically, I would go to eat dinner after and I would be greeted with, "So, Sully how did the interview go?" No matter what becomes of any of that, I will always cherish that support, and the display of longing to take in knowledge.
Before all of the boys left for school, I did my best to cook them Shephard's Pie one night which was decent given what we had to work with. I think they liked it. I know they appreciated the effort. As I got up, one of our small boys stood up and asked me to wait because he wanted to tell me something. Any of the guys from the Arroyo Grande Hotshots will understand this next part well. I was waiting for Gabrielle to tell me what he wanted to say, and I heard movement from all of the boys but didn't think much of it. I didn't think much until I noticed one boy, named Samuel, had that grin, that mischievous grin that i know all too well from my time on the crew. It was too late by then. I was being lifted up in the air, over and over again helpless as a thank you for the meal and i assume for all of our efforts for their schooling. I was just thankful that they were kind enough to not find a ceiling of some sort to bash me into like a certain group of people I know in Arroyo Grande, California.
THEN WE WERE ELEVEN
After all of the boarding school boys, we had only 11 boys living with us. That is the smallest amount we have ever had and it was a little quiet honestly. I spent those last two weeks, helping them out when needed and getting all of my information, gifts organized for our sponsors. Because we were few, it gave us the opportunity to take them into the very developed city center. They had opened a legit movie theater and we wanted our boys to experience that.The older boys were allowed to see The Revenant with me, and the smaller boys got to see Hotel Transylvania 2. Both sides were extremely happy with the outcome. We walked around town together after that and took in the sites and big buildings. One tower, had open escalators going up for four floors. There were no stores on the upper floors but curious Rwandans traveled up and down them all day. The boys and I could not resist either. I think the majority of them all tripped at some point at the the top of the escalators when the elevated floor reaches the moving platform. It was hilarious and sweet. Rwanda was also the host of the CHAN football tournament this year so there was professional soccer being played everyday somewhere in the country. The boys and I had a lot of fun following that. Rwanda did well but it was the Congo who took home the gold.
THE BEST FOR LAST
The day I left, for a small time, it was myself, little Keza, and David at home and I wanted to see the land one more time before I left. I hadn't gone much to it because it made me sad not to build. The sun was setting and it was gorgeous. I was greeted by different workers I had befriended the year before. I laughed while I watched David and Keza chase the rabbits we have there as a side project. I admired the kitchen which was worked on by other volunteers while I was away. I saw some of our bed frames we weren't using, being stored safely. I thought about our cassava farming fields in the village, coming along to help feed our boys. I was happy to see the land being used as much as possible for now. I ran my hand along the wall and dreamed about the future. I hoped we could make it all a reality. I felt peace for that future. As we walked home, I wasn't sure how we would raise all of the money, but I wasn't any less determined.
I left after that. The boys and I were stronger than ever. Evode and I had put our heads and hearts together more cohesively than ever and made big plans for this year and the future. I left Rwanda as motivated as ever. I think the trip was a great reality check for me. I left knowing that I was doing a good thing there, but I also left knowing that my job wasn't done and I could do better. I think that example also resonated with our committed volunteers outside of the U.S. that have been keeping us afloat since the beginning but also slowed their efforts in 2015.
A few days after I landed in the states, my theory above was confirmed. A wonderful woman in the U.K. had sent a late donation of 2,000 UK Pounds in early February in honor of the efforts from the Rafiki Run. A week after that, she asked for our building plan and budget. And upon my arrival in the states, I was told the amazing news that this woman and her family had donated 10,000 UK Pounds to begin building the foundation and first floor of the home. If that wasn't great enough, she pledged another 20,000 to come! Thank who you want to thank. Thank Evode for reaching out to these kids in 2001. Thank Becky for seeing the need and getting a home for all of them. Thank yourself for helping to get our land, break ground on it, and show people like our newest donor that we are serious about this dream. And thank everyone for continuing to run and showing people our continued faith in all of this. And I do mean EVERYONE thanks to the Rafiki Run bringing us altogether wherever we are.
So though I may be jealous that I am not personally building this year, I am so happy the building is happening and our boys are living full lives with bright futures. We are fortunate people. I hope the same returns to you reading this in kind.Thank you so much.
Stay tuned for those building updates as I get them.
KOMERA (Be Strong)
P.s. Our U.S. Non-Profit Ubaka U Rwanda is always open for donations if anyone is ever feeling more generous than they already are. Please message me if you are interested in sponsoring one of our amazing boys.
P.s.s. My phone broke while I was in Rwanda so I don't have any of the photos I took sadly. Luckily Jennifer took some great ones of us while she was visiting. Enjoy the outtakes below.