I have been in Rwanda a month now and while it has
not been the easiest transition I don't regret a moment of it. There
are times I think about how much easier some things would be in the
States—but I wouldn’t trade being here for the world.
When I walk to town in the morning I am usually amidst a dozen or so
school children on their way to lessons, which always makes me smile.
But when I get to the top of my dirt road, where the school children
and I part ways, I am faced with the first of many daily reminders of
why I am here. I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood close to
parliament, a giant concrete building, atop a concrete hill, behind a
barbed wire fence, surrounded by a plethora of armed guards. The idea
of Parliament generally brings to my mind thoughts of national pride
and strength. It means so much more here. The Parliament building was
one of the last strongholds of the rebels during the genocide in 1994,
and as a testament to this, the current government has chosen to leave
much of the building the way it was. On the upper north-facing wall
you can still see hundreds of what I assume are bullet holes, and
other, larger ash marks made by some other weapon I like to pretend
doesn't exist. This building is one of the many reminders physical
reminders of what happened. But just as the school children make me
smile and inspire me to keep working, this ash blown building
motivates me. It is proof of the evil that was once here has at least
been checked, and therefore proof that what we belong here and what we
are doing here is right.
Before moving to Rwanda, I had planned on volunteering with an
organization that focused on post conflict resolution—specifically
with survivors of sexual assault. Throughout college I worked as a
trauma counselor for survivors of sexual assault. I also worked on
raising awareness about sexual assault with both preventative and
responsive measures. However, shortly after arriving I found out that
my job perspective had changed (I’ll say more about this below). I set
out to try to find a new opportunity.
Soon after my arrival in Rwanda I was contacted by woman from Martha’s
Vineyard who knew of a young man in Kigali struggling to run an
orphanage with very little funding and in desperate need of help. I
immediately got in touch with him.
Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) is a non-profit organization
that was established in 1995 by Emmanuel Uwamahoro (who is an orphan
of the genocide himself). It works not only to help children orphans,
but also seeks to ensure the health and happiness of handicapped
individuals, the elderly and unwed mothers. Collectively, OVC has five
“social centers” and plans for a sixth that will provide a home for
100 children between 3 months and 18 years. OVC provides services and
guidance for 1,500 children annually, as well as vocational training
and activities for 70 handicapped children, and care for 50 elderly
individuals over the age of 65 (many of whom have relatives at the
orphanage or foster home). It teaches dressmaking, masonry, computer
sciences and other vocational skills for an additional 240 young
individuals. And it provides daycare, nutritional support, healthcare,
clothing and toys for 210 children. OVC is run by a board of 20
remarkable individuals assisted by some 30 or so dedicated volunteers.
OVC is well organized and run with compassion and a purpose. They have
asked me to help them to set up a web presence to both communicate
their mission an to raise funds. They’ve also asked me to help them
formulate business plans and to apply for grants. I believe I have the
skills to help them with these tasks. But I also know they cannot
afford to pay me. What I want, more than anything in the world, is to
be able to stay here and help Emmanuel and the hundreds of souls that
depend on him. But before I can help to ensure their finical security
and future, I need to establish my own. I can't help them unless I am
here and I can't be here unless I have the money to do so. So I am
again appealing to you.
I don’t want to live strictly on the kindness of others, and I am
willing and am looking for other part time jobs, ones that can at
least provide me with a food stipend so that I can continue to work
for OVC. But jobs that pay are very hard to get without field
experience—of the kind I’m hoping to get at OVC. It’s a catch-22. You
can’t get “field experience” unless you have “experience in the
The bottom line is I can't stay if I don't have help. I can't afford
to stay and help the orphanage—or anyone—if I can't cover my expenses.
I am here in Rwanda with my dear friend Becca. And although
we have had a great time and seen a lot since we got here, I assure
you that we are not living the high life. To be blunt, we’re broke,
barely hanging on.
In our room is a large bed, a built-in closest and a mosquito net. I
don't even have the money to buy sheets because I am saving what I
have to try to ensure that I can stay as long as possible. I am still
sleeping in my sleeping bag liner with a t-shirt over my $3 pillow. I
have one towel. We use the bag the garlic came in as a tea bag for
tea. We have 2 plastic mugs, 3 plastic plates and 3 bowls that each
cost $.80. That’s it. Our diet has included instant pudding made with
instant powdered almond milk--both left over from the previous tenant.
It’s true that I came here with only vaguely formed plans. I made a
leap of faith. And you supported me on that basis. You too made a leap
of faith. I’m asking you to make another.
My birthday is just around the corner (February 15th) and just as it
was for Christmas, my wish for my 25th birthday is to be able to stay
here—and make the difference I know I am capable of.
Thank you and Happy New Year!