Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Baskets

Building partnerships is a wonderful aspect of the mission in Rwanda. Bringing children together and teachers together. For over a year, The Child Care Center at Hort Woods on the Penn State campus has been "Picture Pals" with a class at the Cyakabiri Preschool in Rwanda. They have shared drawings and stories about themselves as well as compared what is the same and what is different in their classrooms.

Most recently they are comparing baskets that are unique to their geographic regions. Each are hand-made and have stories to share. The Rwanda basket, given at weddings filled with beans or rice represents Sharing, Saving and Solidarity. The apple basket, made by a local artisan in Pennsylvania, is made of maple and ash. The children visited trees on the campus to have their photos taken and picked leaves to press then sent to Rwanda with me. Booklets were made using photographs to show how each of the baskets were made.

In August I took 7 Rwandan preschool teachers and 9 teens from Urukundo to see this demonstration by a woman basket maker. For many it was the first time they had seen someone in their own country make the baskets. Learning continues to open new horizons across the world.

Conversations and observations will continue as children compare these baskets. What they are used for, trees and fruit in each country and stories of those that make the baskets.

What is next? Handmade musical instruments.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Primary School

Thank you for being patient while I took a break from my Blog. It has been a busy fall as I was making many new connections with schools, local organizations, individuals and churches. Did I say I was "retired"? Now I am writing again to share with you all the blessings. Blogs that will lead up to my next trip in March 2013.

When our team left Rwanda in September, the new primary school was still in the early stages of construction with walls going up. Our team committed to sponsoring one of the 3 classrooms and have almost reached our goal. Now it is nearing completion for the January start of school.

Desks and chairs for the 80 students are being made in Rwanda. I thank the many groups and individuals that are stepping up to help purchase these as well as bookcases and storage cabinets. Soon these desks will be full of excited, smiling children, ready to learn.

Who are these children? The recent graduates, 6 year olds from the Cyakabiri Preschool. Children that have been in school for a year because many in the US have supported Mama Arlene's vision for education. Luki and Claude, from the Urukundo Children's Home, are best friends and ready to meet new educational challenges.

Photos of the first day of school in mid-January will be posted! So check back!

My next blog will feature school and classroom to classroom partnerships called "picture pals".

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Starting Again

The same team from North Carolina met with another young boy, also 14 years old. There is no one in his family except a cousin who is also 14. They have been on their own for several years.

With ZOE he started a charcoal business, gathering wood and burning it. With a small grant he actually paid adults to work for him. The night before he was going to pack it in bags and take it to sell all the charcoal was stolen. You see how vulnerable children are.

But that did not stop he and his cousin who were living in a small building with other individuals. They had a mat on the floor with a tarp closing off their living space 8x8. But it was inside.

Determined they became a part of a banana juice business. He and others harvest the bananas and working with a large wooden trough they press and kneed the pulp. He then filters it and sells it.

Because it is not safe for several of these young children, a 4 room building is being constructed for them to call home. When he was sick others in ZOE pooled the little money they had so he could go to the clinic. They are family and work together to bring a new life to each other.

14 year old

There are many stories about the ZOE Orphan Empowerment program that I will continue to share them. Five members of our ZOE team from a church in North Carolina are also supporting a working group called Hope. We visited a 14 year old boy and his 2 younger brothers.

Their mother died just after the birth of their youngest brother. The two youngest went to live with a woman nearby leaving him on his own at 7 years old. When the boys got older they went to live with the oldest who at that time was 11.

Now with ZOE they are learning about healthy living. They share a bed off the floor and have containers for their beans. They have one pig and one goat and hope to get a cow. This is the first time they have beans to eat.

They thank ZOE for bringing them into the community of other orphans so they are not alone. He plans to have a business once he is trained. They have been on the program for just 3 months.

Hope now....where there was no hope!!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A New House

We arrived at our first gathering of members of the Twiyubake group while they were constructing a house for Timothy. Alice a social worker and John Pierre the associate director of ZOE were traveling with us. Siluver the group's mentor joined us at the house. Zoe brings adults together to help in the initial guidance and development of the working group.

Leaders from the group emerge along with one head of household to form the core of the group that is responsible for decision-making and caring for the health and well-being of all 58 orphans. Since the group was just identified in April they are still developing as a group and identifying leaders. They most likely will meet with leaders of another working group that has been together for 2 years. Zoe is raising up and empowering orphans to be leaders, successful in business and caring individuals.

This is the first house they are building as a group and it will take 1 month. Timothy greeted us with a huge smile and a hug for all we are doing to help them. He came to a nearby community, as a teenager and alone, to be with relatives. Unfortunately they did not want to feed another child so they chased him away to live on the streets. Zoe found him in poor health and very malnourished eating only 3 meals a week. He was invited to be a part of Twiyubake and now has food, soon a new home, hope and a future. He kept thanking Dave and I and said he looks forward to seeing us next year to share all he will be blessed with, most importantly this new family.

We too look forward to seeing how God is working in his life and those in the Twiyubake Working Group.

Note how easily they carry the heavy mud bricks and how we struggle to carry them. They are definitely heavy!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


When I returned from Rwanda in November I knew there was more I wanted to do to help the children of that country. 800,000 orphans kept weighing on my heart. So I contacted ZOE ministry a non-profit that has an orphan empowerment program described in a previous blog.

I contacted them and made a commitment to support a working group of 60-80 orphans over 3 years. Several friends and acquaintances from different churches joined me to support something powerful happening in Rwanda. And this was it. Eleven households joined me to be a part of ZOE. And now we are supporting the Twiyubake Working Group of 58.

Their challenges: living on the streets, no food, no education and loneliness because of the stigma. Now they will
work together. With a grant they purchased a field to cultivate and harvest cassava. It will take a year before it can be harvested. After that harvest is 4 times a year. They will also have grants for kitchen gardens, animals and constructing homes.

Twiyubake means synergy, rebuilding community. They have no family and now they have a family of 58. They had no hope and now they have hope. They were homeless and now they are sharing and building homes. They had no way to support themselves and they will begin to cultivate land together and within 3 years have businesses.

I was told that it would be difficult to see the group as they were not doing well yet. They were just identified in April, 2 months after I made the commitment. A social worker worked in the Ruhango district to seek out orphans in 4 out of 9 sectors. We were seeing hundreds of orphans struggling. Now there was hope for a group we will be praying for.

As we met one group working on Timothy's house they promised to take care of all the support they will receive and to multiply it in order to have a good life in their future. They want to make us,their new family, proud. Hope has been restored in their hearts.


Our first home visit with the Twiyubake Working group (see description under Twiyubake blog entry) was with Felix 18 and his sister Ernestine 16 and brother Venuste 14. Their mother died in 2002 and father in 2005 both of HIV Aids. Their aunt came to take care of them but in 2007 she took everything they had in their house and left. All they had was their house and land. This house is in need of many repairs so they pray they will have a new house built in a year or two on their land.

Life has been very difficult since 2007 with this family barely surviving. He was 13, his sister 11 and brother 9. Yet they stayed together. Felix dropped out of school to focus entirely on finding food any way he could.

When ZOE came to their community April 2012 they were selected to join the group. He said ZOE has helped him fight the "spirit of loneliness in his heart" as they were completely isolated. Now they work with the group doing activities. Other orphans stop and visit them.

He shared his drawing. He dreams of a new house and that children will not have to carry such heavy loads for so little food. He is sad about the death of his parents but could not draw a coffin to represent their death.

His principles are to pray, respect others, be peaceful with others and to love his fellow community. He is also dealing with the fact his sister is HIV positive but through ZOE is receiving medicine.

He received a grant and bought a pig that someone else is helping him raise. He has land to cultivate but he cannot do it himself. The working group was just created in April 2012 so until they are more organized as a group he has his neighbors cultivate and he gets a portion. I can't wait to see them next year and the progress they will have made. It is by baby steps that they will
pull themselves out of their hopelessness to a new life. And they give all the thanks to ZOE and God. So inspiring.

When we arrived we were told they lived down the hill from the road. We soon realized we were in for a hike down, down, then across the valley to their home. You can see how isolated they are.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Our team visited a second home in the Twiyubake Working Group where Emmanuel and his younger brother shared their story. (To understand Twiyubake working group see that blog entry) Their parents died of HIV Aids in 2006 when he was 13 years old and his brother Jeride was a toddler. He dropped out of school and had to work for others for just a bit of food. They were starving and barely surviving for the past 6 years.

One of the first steps with ZOE is to share their feelings and dreams by drawing stories. He was so very sad about the death of his parents and that they left him hopeless. He is angry about the child abuse, the violence he sees towards many orphans. Now with ZOE he likes to pray and and have food to eat with his brother.

He dreams of having a new house and a cow. Currently he is renting a house and asked another boy and his sister to share their house. This way the second house can be rented for income. They will eventually farm or start a business.

Emmanuel's principle is "to love God and my neighbor."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Twa Pottery

The Twa community continues the tradition of pottery making. Here a 60 year old woman, after some hesitation about photography, decided to show her skill. Her hands tell the story. Years of work to create cooking pots.

After they are made, many pots are piled on top of each other and a very hot fire is set beneath to bake them.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Twa Community

Twa, a Pygmy people, are considered the original inhabitants of Rwanda. Over the years they have been driven from their lands and now only number 33,000. They comprise 1% of the population. During the genocide 30% of the Twa were killed.

This ethnic group lives in dire poverty and have become almost invisible. They are considered ignorant and uncivilized and most are living on the fringes. But Twa still try to maintain their rich tradition in pottery making.

They live in small communities eking out a frugal living. There is little healthcare with many children dying young. Few can afford school and when they do go they soon drop out due to being ostracized. The government has stepped in to help the Twa by providing grants for animals and building mud homes. If you are an adult you receive these benefits. If you are an orphan you do not.

Our first stop on Friday was to a Twa community to check in on Jacqueline, a 15 year old orphan. She shared her story.

Her mother died when she was just crawling. A different family took her in every day until she was 10 years old. She wanted to be on her own and be in one place, so community members build her a one room hut. It collapsed in the heavy rains so she moved to another community nearby. For the past 5 years her "home" has been a mat on the floor of a kitchen in a woman's house. She pays for that floor space by fetching water and firewood and cooking for this woman who then shares some food. For now she will remain in this community as she has a roof over her head.

Through ZOE she recently received a grant. She purchased a pig and invested the rest in avocados which she sells. She walks 30 minutes to the market then back to sell in her community. What she sells allows her to eat one meal a day. Recently she was able to buy 1/2 cup of beans with her profits. Usually she eats sweet potatoes and avocados. She is thankful to ZOE for giving her a sense of being and a business opportunity to help her build a better life.

Photos are of the children in the community. Notice in the second photo the little hands holding. And the last is Jacqueline. Words can not express what we saw but the photos definitely can tell a story. And even in the midst of such dire poverty we receive smiles and warm greetings.

Friday, August 24, 2012


The ZOE Orphan Empowerment Program seeks to empower orphans and vulnerable children to provide for themselves and grow into the men and women God would have them be - physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually. This program works towards ensuring that orphans, just like other children, realize their full potential. ~~ZOE Ministry

In 3 years, they have over 27,000 orphans on the program in Rwanda, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Working in a village or community, possibly over several miles, they identify the many vulnerable children that are suffering from malnutrition and are homeless. These are desperate children.

Sponsors make a 3 year commitment to support groups of varying sizes. A Working Group consists of of 60-80 children. And there are other larger groups.

ZOE focuses on 6 main areas, cultivating faith, food security, health and hygiene, small business training, providing homes, and restoring community and education. In three years or less these children are so empowered that they no longer need support.

In fact they are reaching out to help other orphans. Others that were just like them a year ago. They are not saying, I will help when I have all I need. Instead they are saying, I have what i need and am in a community. Now I can help others.

Zoe's theme verse says it all. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Photos are of a boy sharing his story of desperation and the working group with their new banana farm. They received shoots of banana trees from another group to begin this project.

Faces of ZOE

It is one thing to hear stories of orphan and vulnerable children all over the world, but another thing to be in their presence and look them in their eyes. To clasp their hands. And to hear their stories of survival and new life. These are mostly AIDs affected families meaning their parents died of Aids.

These photos are some of the children I met yesterday. Children in the Abakudana "Love" Working group. Many are only 14,15 and 16 years old and have been responsible for their siblings for years. They look like they are only 12 years old due to severe malnutrition over the years.

We heard stories of begging and stealing food just to survive and feed their siblings. Then being chased and beaten. Many stories of survival could not be shared as it was difficult for them to remember or want to remember.

But these have been the blessed ones. They have renewed their faith in God and show it by paying forward their blessings toward other orphans.

It is simply humbling to be standing in their presence. The children prayed with us and we are asked to pray for them. I volunteered to pray. As I began to pray the wind began to blow refreshing air as we stood in the hot sun. I thanked God for the wind as if it was his breath breathing life into each of us. His breath surrounding us with his love and comfort. When I finished the wind died down. Oh how he reaches out to inspire each of us and let us know he is with us always.

*A 14 year old raising cows.
*A 15 year old that grows bananas with the group.
*A row of teen head of households, some as young as 14 caring for several siblings.
*Brothers sharing their story of being homeless, starving and finally a new life through ZOE Ministry.
*Karen and Will that are sponsors of a Working Group meeting 2 brothers and a sister for the first time. They have a home, a cow and a bag of beans. The oldest said his proudest moment was buying his younger brother his first school uniform.