In November of 2012, I travelled to Rwanda with Vicky Trabosh, my dearest friend of 37 years, to see the land and meet the people that have become so much a part of her heart. And now I understand.
While I have journeyed to many places in the world, I had never been to Africa. After hearing about Rwanda and supporting Itafari for years, I told Vicky that I wanted to go with her on the next trip. The Itafari event last year in support of building the Kigali Parents Secondary School had touched me. Why couldn’t we get a school built? I wanted to see it for myself. I also wanted to see the mountain gorillas, which was an unbelievable experience.
It was an amazing trip. I would like to share some of my impressions of this land of a thousand hills.
I knew this would be an adventure. What I didn’t expect was the beauty of the land and how moved I was by the people. They are working hard on all levels to bring their country together and to rise up to become a modern center – self-sustaining and self-sufficient. They know they need help, but are not looking for handouts. There is an emphasis on education as one of the pillars of this development. They know that education is the way up. And I agree.
So, I am sponsoring a child. Over the years I have often thought of it, but never followed through. Then, I came to Rwanda. And I saw for myself what is happening there. People here are trying to make a better life for themselves and their children. Even the children are trying to make a better life for themselves and their sisters and brothers. How could I not
So, I am sponsoring Donata; helping her go to school and work to fulfill her dream ofbecoming a doctor. You go girl!!
It was clear that this small country does not have an abundance of natural resource commodities. But, they have people – lots of people. And people can be a great resource, especially when educated. Schools are only one way Rwandans are educating themselves. We visited Gahaya Links, one of Itafari’s partners. This is a cooperative where village women are taught to weave beautiful baskets and jewelry (sold by Itafari). It was clear how much it meant to the women to have a source of income to improve their families and communities. I enjoyed interacting with the women - watching them work and trying to talk with them. My Kinyarwanda is sorely lacking, but I’m very good at saying “Hello – how are you?” They were very warm in their responses.
One cannot visit Rwanda without facing the genocide. I went to the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn and understand what happened here. Difficult emotions came up. “Over 1 million dead in 100 days”. It was impossible to wrap my head around it – both the blood shed and that the world did nothing to stop it. Everyone’s life here has been impacted by this violence. But the country is trying to heal itself and it is palpable. One can feel the collective strength of the people of Rwanda.
We also went to Butare to meet with Pastor John about a possible partnership with Itafari. John asked if we would like to come out to the construction site of his new church. Remember, everything is on a hillside in Rwanda. They don’t call it the Land of a Thousand Hills for nothing. So being the Muzungu (Westener), that I am, I assumed we would see a big piece of machinery digging into the red clay soil; leveling part of the hill. However, when we got there, I saw a different kind of machine. A Rwandan machine. I saw an army of women,and a few men, hard at work digging with hoes; leveling an area on which to build their church. Women with children on their backs. Women swinging hoes with an intensity I have rarely experienced.
And they were getting the job done! I realized that in my cushy modern life, I have lost sight of the enormous capacity of the human body and how much can be accomplished when moved by spirit and motivated by purpose.
These are a few reflections on my wonderful journey in Rwanda. You may have noticed that I didn’t speak about the school. I would like that to be the topic of my next post. I know we just met, but I hope you will stay tuned.
Murakoze cyane (thank you very much),
I have never had anything beyond my family call to me as passionately as this country and its people.
This trip will be filled with many activities:
Reviewing the progress of Kigali Parents Secondary School building that has continued with our great fundraiser in June which raised $50,000
Connecting with the children we sponsor – especially those John and I support on a monthly basis and those whose sponsors had a chance to send gifts
Finalizing the Christmas party for 207 children
Climbing to see the gorillas
Visiting and laughing with beloved friends
Attending the wedding of our country director (love is always grand!)
Meeting with women leaders to explore their wisdom and their collective ability to significantly influence the future of their nation
Investigating new opportunities for Itafari to make a difference through our programs
Showing my Rwanda to my beloved friend Julie Sklare who is accompanying me for her first trip to Rwanda
Julie and I met at Purdue University in 1976. She has been part of some of the most significant moments of my life. She was my maid of honor in 1981. She was with me at the moment my mother died. She has watched my family grow and change and is loved by all. We have traveled together, laughed together, cried together and believed in the other’s greatness. She has supported my work with Itafari from the very beginning in 2005 and cheered me on. After attending our event on June 1 2012 she wanted to know more. To see what more we could do together. And as I sit next to her on this plane on the last leg of our journey I love my dear friend even more for her support of this work.
It is wonderful to think about introducing one of the most significant people in my life to the actual people and country I speak of incessantly! What a gift. I look forward to Julie’s reflections and thoughts about improving how we do what we do in Rwanda. To climbing the mountains of Rwanda and be face to face with gorillas. To the laughter and shared memories we’ll add to this treasure chest of memories we have already stored.
Join us on our journey. Donate – help us build our school – sponsor a child – donate for the annual Christmas party – buy a goat – give to our general needs. Write to me. Ask questions. And never doubt that you make a difference in the world.
Kora ibyiza buri munsi (do good every day).
Our last tour to Rwanda was in 2007. Though I have been back multiply times since then, on August 24th six Americans will be joining fellow board member Sara Oberdorf and me in Kigali as we begin a tour of this amazing country and our programs.
When I posted the trip over two months ago to our email list, the trip IMMEDIATELY sold out! Our guests will meet the new nation builders on this once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity. They will spend their days meeting the people of Rwanda through a variety of personal visits, public talks and presentations, community service activities, and sharing in meals. They will meet the men, women and children taking part in various Itafari programs including education, microfinance, health and human services, and entrepreneurship.
They will have the opportunity to participate in schoolroom lessons and play with children in our sponsorship program. They'll meet recipients of micro loans and visit their businesses. We will visit the women of Gahaya who make beautiful artisan baskets that are being sold all over the world.
We'll get to visit many parts of the country including a visit to the Akagera Game Park. Some will go and meet the gorillas up close and personal!
We will also go to the genocide memorial to pay our respects and acknowledge what must be remembered.
I cannot wait for this trip with Sara and our guests. If you're interested in future travel with us, let me know! We may be heading back in the Spring!
Have you ever wanted to hold a party for 140 children? In a foreign country? With children who speak little English but desperately want to believe in you and how you can help them?
Then come to Rwanda and meet our sponsored children! Children of little to no resources, often orphaned, desirous of a better life and willing to trust you will keep your word and support them.
When we began our child sponsorship program just over 2 years ago, I hoped we could find 25 people willing to sponsor a child for $25/mo for 12 months.
In over two years we have NOT found 25 people….WE HAVE FOUND OVER 170! People are so generous – and have committed to this project. Not all can continue after one year but we have an extremely high retention rate of donors.
Some of the children’s stories are heartbreaking – some breathtaking – all deeply affected by the generosity of a stranger.
The report cards, letters, words of wisdom shared by the donors and the money are all part of the ability to save and change lives.
And then there’s the party! Who doesn’t love to party!!??
The air was electric as Sara and I were joined by Lauren, an American who I met while on my 53 hour trek from Portland to Rwanda.
After greeting the kids, we introduced Sara and Lauren.
We sang the wildly popular “some sailors went to the sea sea sea” song (with hand motions),
interviewed many of the children to send back personal messages, gave some of the children gifts sent with me by their sponsors (including a bike promised a year ago for good grades –
J. Paul almost cried!) ,
fed them incredibly large plates of food,
talked with them about writing to their sponsors and handed out a little bag of goodies which included toothbrushes, pens from Umpqua Bank, pencils, little toys, candy and TWIZZLERS (red licorice)
The kids had never seen licorice and had no idea what to do with it until I popped a piece into my mouth. Enough said!
We also played the Itafari game: Lauren or Sara stood with their back to the kids and the kids chose one side of the room or the other to guess which hand she would raise. Until we got down to two kids and the winner would get a gift.
LIKE THE EVER POPULAR WHOOPIE CUSHION!! The party took seven hours, all of our energy and yet we walked away knowing that to honor these children was to honor all children. That a party whose purpose was to bring joy and laughter was a significant way to spend the day. And that our efforts today will help change the face of Rwanda in the future.
We don’t have the children who need sponsors shown on the website. We bring the books with their pictures and stories to our Pay it Forward events.
If you’re interested in sponsoring a child and can commit to $25/mo for 12 months, please contact me.
Or hold an event for Itafari. A Pay It Forward. Another party with a purpose. We come to you and are happy to travel - just talk to us and tell us what you’d like to do.
To our child sponsors: this party was your party.
Truly your heart would burst with joy at what you have given to them. For the children I say murakoze cyane cyane!
In a world gone slightly mad I find a constant that does not change: hope and healing. Being in Rwanda during the world’s financial crisis is a bit comforting. The worries and fears that are riveting the world, are less so in my work in Rwanda. It’s like being on a vacation, or when I was at University. It’s buffered. And that is not a bad thing. Because in spite of the problems which will affect me financially and personally, good work is going on. The good work of our donors is continuing. Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point:
A CAMP - A FIRE - A PURPOSE
Last year I visited the ex-child combatants (see blog dated October 20 2007 - When a Child is No Longer a Child). In it I described the problem of children (7-16) years old being forced to become soldiers in the Congo along the border of Rwanda. Can you imagine? But it’s not necessary to try. Because it is not about the atrocity of war or the exploitation of children. It is about the hope they have, the healing that is taking place, and the reintegration of these boy soldiers back into their communities. It is about the the belief that the past in not the future.
Last year I vowed to return to the camp of healing and prepare a meal for the children. And late last week that vow became a reality. Sara Oberdorf and I left Kigali with 10kg (22 pounds) of a combination of minced ihene (ground goat) and minced beef. 10 kg of spaghetti; 6 cans of tomato paste; 50 kg of tomato sauce; vegetables;spices carried from the US; AND oranges, candy, cheese, eggs, bread, cheese graters, ladles, spaghetti tongs, ice chest, and enough miscellaneous items to insure our campfire meal of spaghetti and meatballs would be a raging success!
Five of the children were chosen to be aspiring chefs for the day. We began by discussing hygiene and using the kitchen disinfectant spray to clean our hands and our work area. That was a big hit. Sara who is a US scientist living in London studying infectious diseases discussed unseen bacteria and the need to keep ourselves and all work areas spotless. The children were focused and learning.
Did I mention this is taking place in a large shelter with only a table, some huge pots and a raging smoky fire in the background?
After the cleanliness lesson we began our mise en place of our ingredients. Then the boys began to carefully chop the vegetables, pore the sauce into the HUGE pots, prepare the meatballs, begin to fry them on another raging fire and stir like crazy because MAMA Itafari (yours truly) was giving them multiply warnings NOT to burn anything. This is all taking place on wet wood with water oozing out the ends of the firewood causing enough smoke to can and smoke all the salmon in Oregon!
As we were literally in the ‘thick’ of it, all smoky, all working hard, all anticipating a great meal, we worked as a team for 4 hours. The meatballs were sticking to the bottom of the pan and so I made the executive chef’s decision to turn the sauce into a bolgenese and prayed the eggs, bread, cheese, etc of the meatballs would be delicious in this new recipe. Of course there is also the issue of cooking 22 pounds of spaghetti….that was a challenge. I will never again mind cooking anything on my gas stove with controllable heat…
As we progressed, the miraculous happened: a meal began to emerge! Five large baguettes were cut. These huge pots were carried to the area where 42 boys + staff + curious onlookers awaited. (the camp chef, an older wiser man was a bit perplexed by these activies in HIS kitchen - a lot of head shaking and laughing on his part). We served huge portions to the kids.
Such an unexpected meal - and they ate a lot - once the first one came back for seconds, a great portion of the kids followed suit! My heart was made glad! Then they danced. As only they can dance. With joy. With abandon. With grace and beauty. It was their
way of showing their appreciation.
Our Jr. Chefs couldn’t believe what they called our ’sacrifice’. But it of course was no sacrifice but an honor to serve them. Food heals. Love heals. And there was a lot of love in this food. We told them about the goat program we will establish in their camp that that will be incorporated into our existing program. To teach them a skill so that when they leave the camp, those who are interested in animal farming will have a marketable skill and will be able to incorporated them into our existing child cooperatives.
MAMA Itafari made too much sauce but just about the right amount of spagetti. The meal was ended with fresh oranges and candy. And many cheers of thanks. As we left, I was concerned that our additional sauce would go to waste (no refrigeration at the camp). But Ally the Director of the camp called later and said they pored the remaining sauce over the beans and rice (their usual fare) that evening for dinner and the boys were ecstatic. And he laughed and said they couldn’t quit dancing.
How hard was that? Not at all. Just challenging. But comparitively speaking, to their life and challenge, it was nothing. And perspective is everything.
Thanks to Jo Smith who accompanied me last year on the Tour of Hope and gave generously for this meal. The future does belong to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. And the children are always a wonderful reminder of how little it takes to make a great difference in the world.
How little is little? $25 will buy one goat (which will not be minced!) to give to a child in one of our cooperatives. Don’t resist the urge to make a difference. Go to Itafari.org and donate.
Murakoze and Bon appetit!
I have never worked in a place where I am as equally passionate about the friendships I have formed and the work I do.
That is Rwanda: there is a passion; an intensity; a hope in people that I rarely experience on a daily basis as I do every time I am here.
I arrived on Tuesday. It is now Sunday and everything is falling into place.
Sara Oberdorf arrived on Wednesday from London. She walked off the plane and I liked her immediately. She comes to all the meetings and observes and learns about Itafari and our work. She connects so easily with everyone she meets. It is a true pleasure getting to know her. She enhances this experience for me even more and her insight is invaluable.
We met with RARDA (handles livestock issues within the government) to work on our partnership for our ihene (goat) project for Child Headed Household (CHH) cooperatives.
Great news: more S. African Billy Goats on the way! We talked about possibilities. That one day our CHH cooperatives could export their high end goat meat to markets around the world. And will call the meat RIA (RARDA/ITAFARI/ASSIST) after the three organizations that are making this project possible. RIA goat meat will be exported to the best restaurants in the world: The children of Rwanda will be the catalysts, the inspiration; the beneficiary. But that’s down the road: part of the bigger picture. And the bigger picture includes empowerment, inspiration, perspiration and results.
Photo caption: Jean-Paul a 21 year old CHH showing off his new ihene enclosure, roof to be added soon.
Hungry to help children who will succeed with our support? To buy goats, go to the donate section of the website or mail a check to the address listed on the itafari.org website.
Making a difference is always possible.
It is good to be back in Rwanda. And it only took 53 hours to get here! New record for me. A flight delay at Washington DC Dulles meant that it took an EXTRA 24 hours to reach Kigali. But though I arrived a day late, it was to the smiling faces of those I know better than some of my friends in the US.
Together we are so hopeful of what the next three weeks will bring. In spite of obstacles.
The obstacles of a language barrier; cultural differences; life experiences; the US financial crisis; overwhelming need, limited time to complete tasks while here; multiply priorities and juggling of meetings. And yet. It is Rwanda – a place where people choose not to be identified by the genocide but by the strength and resilience of its people.
For me, and those who have come to know and believe that an ordinary person can make an extraordinary difference, the obstacles are easily outweighed by the results of what we have done. By what we choose to believe is possible.
In the short term, I believed that my two suitcases of 60+ pounds each filled with gifts and items for our 171 sponsored children and others would arrive in tact and on time. (check) That a trip of 53 hours could be an adventure which would allow me to connect with fellow travelers from around the world equally dismayed but also on their own journeys and willing to find hope even in challenging conditions. (check) That laughter and moments of kindness are everywhere even in difficult circumstances. (check) That my Kinyarwanda could comfort a 71 year old Rwandan Mama at Dulles airport who spoke less English than I speak Kinyarwanda (not easily done) – and yet reaching out to her gave us both a moment in time where a true friendship was born.(check)
In the long term, that in just over three years thousands of lives have been affected by the donors of Itafari.(check) Literally, lives of children have been saved and improved through the programs that Itafari serves.(check) Many of today’s children will become future leaders of this country and remember the part Itafari played in their journey to their own personal greatness (future check) That as I watch our financial crisis unfolding and politicians and a public unsure of what our future holds, I know it will be ok and made better by our efforts when we seek to improve the circumstances of those less fortunate. (resounding check)
This is a very rough period for America. And yet. We should be defined not by our present circumstances but by the strength and resilience of the American people. We can make a difference in spite of the present moment or obstacle.
That is what I intend to do here on behalf of Itafari and our donors. Make a difference – for the donor, the beneficiary, and the programs we support. Reach out to people asking for a hand – not a handout. And bring back the stories of success and accomplishment that Itafari has participated in through the generous donation of people who give in spite of their obstacles.
Thank you to those who have given from my last email. It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference in Rwanda. $100 or any amount goes a tremendous way. And an act of kindness and generosity to others is returned to you tenfold.
Please write to me with any questions. I’m happy to respond personally – it may take a bit due to the time difference. (NINE HOURS AHEAD OF PST) Unless of course you write in the next day or so….jet lag may have me up and responding in the wee hours as my body clock argues that it is NOT time to sleep but indeed time to work! (kind of like now). I’m writing this at midnight on 30 September because I’m UP! Will be posted tomorrow.
In the meantime remember what we who work through Itafari always say and believe: Do what you can. Where you are. With what you have. In the time you have left.
And that is enough. Murakoze cyane again for your support. You create hope, belief that a stranger’s kindness change a life, joy in the people you generously give to, and permanently change lives through the opportunity provided by you.
And that’s a good day, no matter the obstacles.
In just a few days, I leave for my sixth trip to Rwanda in just over three years. My first trip was with World Vision. From that trip came the idea of forming our own foundation which could work with organizations in Rwanda searching for international partners to further their mission and goals of helping their own people.
As many of you know, our initial goal when we began was to raise $50,000 in our first year. We did not accomplish that goal. We raised $110,000! Through the efforts of ordinary men, women and school children in the United States, we have raised over $225,000 in just over 3 years!
Our programs cover the following areas:
- Child Sponsorship
- Goats for Child Headed Households
- Building the Kigali Parents Secondary (High) School
- Entrepreneurship through selling the beautiful handmade baskets of Rwanda at our pay it forward events
None of the funds raised are used to fund my expenses or cost of these trips. Donations are designated for individual programs and needs. During my trips I monitor the programs, meet with the directors of the organizations with whom we partner, meet with the 160 children who now are sponsored by our generous donors. I’ll also look to further our understanding of what is needed and necessary, and look at ways you the donors can make an extraordinary difference in a country where the need is great and the determination to succeed is greater.
Follow my blog for interesting, inspirational and uplifting messages. Donate. Buy a goat for $25 (we have beautiful certificates to send for gifts); buy an itafari (BRICK) for $75 which will be inscribed with your name and placed in the school on the wall or courtyard; fund a microloan for someone in Rwanda looking for a hand, not a handout. Major gifts can make a major difference and will be used wisely in conjunction with your wishes.
When I return, consider holding a Pay It Forward event where you bring a group of friends into your home and we come and present the incredible story of a country that will not be defined by its genocide but by the strength and resilience of its people.
Margaret Mead said it best:” Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. “
I’ll send infrequent messages during the 26 days while I’m away. I leave it to you to check the website, go the blog, and share this with your friends. Please email me directly; I’ll respond from Rwanda. Together, we are working to rebuild the country of Rwanda itafari (brick) by itafari (brick) by itafari (brick). I look forward to sharing this journey with you.
I’ll return to the U.S. on 22 October with new ideas, new inspiration and new resolve. My best to you always.
Murakoze cyane (thank you so much),
President and Co-Founder
Parents the world over want the best for their children. Depending on the culture and opportunities, a child can have the weight of the world on his or her shoulders or conversely, a trouble-free existence where every need is cared for without the child’s awareness.
In Rwanda, both extremes are evident. But the latter is more prevalent than the former. Children are becoming parents to their siblings or themselves, too often.
Let me introduce you to two groups of children being tended to, who could all too easily fall through the cracks: Ex child-combatants and child-headed households. Itafari is helping them both.
Ex child-combatants. Ex child-combatants are children who are being brought back to Rwanda from the Congo. Child soldiers are children aged 7 to 16 years old who have known the horrors and atrocities of war. They have participated in killing, maiming, or raping. They are taken from their families, used by the Congolese who commit acts of terror, and are easily persuaded to commit acts they do not understand. And they are expendable. Over 2600 children have been documented as being used in the war in the Congo.
Many have escaped back to Rwanda. And Rwanda is not ignoring the issue or the trauma these children have suffered.
I visited the rehabilitation site where these children live for three months. This rehabilitation center is funded through the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Program (RDRP). With support from its development partners, the center has diligently responded to the need for these children to be repatriated, rehabilitated, reunited with their families and reintegrated into main stream society, thus restoring their right to enjoy their childhood and grow up into responsible citizens. They are seen by doctors, social workers, councilors, and therapists and given much care and love so that they can reintegrate into society.
There were 36 children there the day we visited. The youngest was 7 years old. They look a little tough, until you begin to interact with them.
They become boys once more when they laugh, when they smile at you. When you are able to get past your differences. Me a white woman. Them, African boys. But when I become a Mama, and I see them like sons, we are the same. I had a funny personal experience there. I was reminded of my stepsons, who were 12, 14, and 16 when I married John. They too were highly skeptical of me when we first met. But I had chosen their father to marry, and so I had chosen them. The same feeling came over me as I looked at these boys who were strangers to me. I saw them as children who just needed to heal from their pain. We choose to help Rwanda, and so we choose them.
In all of my previous trips to Rwanda I had never heard of the RDRP! Truly, so much greatness happens silently with so few to notice. And greatness is happening here. In miraculous ways, these boys are healing!
The team at the center finds their families through simple yet successful ways. They talk with the children and see if they can remember a town or village, can they describe a church or building, do they know of a landmark, such as a tree? And in a sleuthing manner that would put the world’s greatest detectives to shame, they reunite these boys with their families. They begin to teach them in schools, they let them talk through their experiences. And for the first time, many of them get to be children, to play. They are safe, and protected, and not expected to ever hurt anyone again or need to protect themselves. The communities where they will eventually go to live are sensitized to their situation to help integrate them successfully into the communities. And healing begins.
Why does this happen that children can be pawns in war? I rarely know the why, but I can begin to answer the “now what”. We are incorporating some of the child ex-combatants into our existing child-headed cooperatives and our goat program. Read on to find out more.
Child-headed cooperatives. In Rwanda, children are parenting children. Think of your favorite 12- to 16-year-old. They have younger siblings. Can you imagine this 12- to 16-year-old child being fully and completely responsible for his or her younger brothers and sisters? Providing food, shelter, school fees, medical care, emotional support, and all other needs?
In short, being the parent.
That is the fate of thousands and thousands of children in Rwanda. Their parents have passed away during the genocide, fell ill and died, or disappeared. Again, I can’t answer the why of this issue, but I can provide the “now what”.
Itafari’s “now what” for these children is our goat program. We have formed a partnership with ASSIST Rwanda, a local not-for-profit, and RARDA, the government program for animal husbandry. We are raising a new breed of goat, crossing Rwanda nanny goats with South African Boer billy goats. These stronger, more disease-resistant goats will be given to child-headed household cooperatives that will breed them to make a living so that they can care for their families.
Together, we do more. We will be incorporating some of the child ex-combatants into our existing child cooperatives. With your assistance, Itafari will buy more goats, expand the program, change lives, and make the children smile once more.
For now, for Itafari, the answer is the simple goat – or ihene, in Kinyarwanda. We sell goats which are given to these child-headed households through cooperatives of 10 children each, 35 cooperatives to start. Together, the children will begin with one billy goat provided by RARDA and 15 nanny goats provided by Itafari. ASSIST Rwanda will manage and monitor the program. The children will care for these goats, breed more goats, and sell the offspring as they become available. They will also be required to give back some of the offspring to start more child-headed household cooperatives.
Simple. Effective. Empowering. Life changing. That is Itafari. That is a goat.
During my trip to Rwanda, Itafari presented 15 goats to a child cooperative who call themselves THE POWER OF LOVE. Their stories of why they qualify to be in our cooperatives are heartwrenching.
We made our presentation at the RARDA/Itafari/ASSIST demonstration farm. The district in Nyagatare where the farm is located generously donated the land for that farm; the goats that were presented there will be distributed out to cooperatives around the country. In attendance at the Itafari presentation were many government officials, representatives from each of our organizations, (RARDA/Itafari/ASSIST), curious onlookers, and the Power of Love Cooperative.
One young boy really caught my attention. He was 12, small for his age, very poor, tough, and looked defiant and angry. No smiles, no joy.
He was the one who I wanted to reach.
When I was told his name and age, I said, “He is strong.” He acknowledged I was right. And then I said, “It shows.” Just a glimmer of interest in his part. We got to present goats, and I chose him to present with a goat. She was a handsome nanny! And as we both held her front legs, something inside him appeared to soften. And then he began to smile. What a beautiful smile – because now he was a boy again. And then he wouldn’t stop smiling! Nor could I.
A simple goat. A child needing to be seen. It all comes together through the generosity of donors like you who may never see the beneficiary of their kindness. And in that anonymous act of giving, the world of a child is changed.
What we can do. Itafari continues to sell goats to our donors for $25 each. A goat you purchase will go to one of these child cooperatives – that is, to a child whose parent is dead or unable to provide any care, or to an ex-combatant child who has never known a childhood of any normalcy but now sees a chance. To a child who longs to know if they truly matter.
Through Itafari, and so many good organizations in Rwanda, these children have hope.
If you’d like to make a significant difference with less money than you spend on one dinner in a restaurant, consider giving a gift of a goat, $25, through Itafari. You can give it in honor of a loved one, in memory of someone you hold dear, as a gift for the animal lovers in your life, or just because it is so simple to change a life through a goat.
When is a child no longer a child? When no one sees them.
Help us see the children of Rwanda in a powerful way.
Send a check for $25 or more for goats to:
27 El Greco
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
Or you can give online through our secure website, http://itafari.org.
In any case, thank you for remembering the children. In your thoughts and prayers or through financial giving.
To read more about Itafari, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, please go to: http://itafari.org.
To go directly to photojournalist Adam Bacher’s blog where pictures of the October 2007 Itafari Tour of Hope in Rwanda are posted, please visit: http://bachersblog.com.
And please, never hesitate to write me with any questions.
Safe drinking water is a major problem in Rwanda.
Everyone, regardless of age or infirmity, carries water. You see children eight years old carrying five-gallon yellow jerry cans to get water from a well. Water is life, and so many needlessly die from lack of safe drinking water.
The chance of me personally dying from this problem, or needing to carry five gallons of water for six kilometers, does not exist. We – myself and Adam Bacher, the photojournalist who has traveled here with me two weeks prior to prepare for the arrival of the Itafari Tour of Hope guests – can ask for amazi (water) in restaurants. And we can buy as much bottled water as necessary, because bottled water is so accessible and convenient in Rwanda.
These bottles, themselves, are yet another problem facing Rwanda. That is why Adam and I are filtering the majority of the water we drink rather than buying it in bottles.
Itafari has partnered with Crooked Trails for the 2007 Tour of Hope. Crooked Trails is a non-profit, community-based travel organization helping people broaden their understanding of the planet and its diverse cultures through education, community development, and responsible travel. It was Chris MacKay, founder of Crooked Trails, who suggested we filter our own water. What a foreign concept to this non-camper! But after serious discussion with her, I agreed.
The impact of plastic on Rwanda’s environment is devastating. The Rwandan government has banned the use of plastic bags in Rwanda. It is strongly suggested that you not bring them into the country (and by strongly I mean a sign at the airport politely suggests you bring no plastic bags into the country). But non-biodegradable water bottles are everywhere. They pollute the environment.
As a traveler, I could easily ignore the issues of pollution and poor water sources. Imagine going on a vacation to Florida, settling into your hotel, and a hurricane blows up the Gulf. You’re inconveniently moved to an elementary school shelter, your vacation is “ruined,” and you have a hassle getting out of the airport. Eventually you return home no worse for the wear, and certainly not needing to clean up from a disaster that was not yours. But if Florida had been your home, the aftermath for you would have been entirely different.
Similarly, it can be all too easy for travelers to Rwanda to experience an artificial sense that everything is fine in Rwanda…just a bit inconvenient.
The preconceived ideas we have as we travel or prepare to experience something new will change what the experience actually becomes. Novelist and philosopher Walker Percy described the phenomenon by which travelers measure their experience against expectations, finding, for instance, the Grand Canyon beautiful “by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex.” No sightseer, he claims, will ever be able to really see the canyon in the way of the explorer who first discovered it because the experience has been co-opted and packaged. We compound our dissociation by signing up for tours, following the guides, and busily snapping photographs, and we struggle against a nagging sense that something is missing.
I understand that sense of something missing and I am diligent to remove the feeling through experiences that are not comfortable or expected by me. I cannot deny that I am a 50-year-old traveler who prefers the comfort of a hot shower to waking up in the middle of a jungle finding a large bug on me that I could never have imagined lived in this world. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But my environment of Rwanda deserves a fresh set of eyes, expectations, and experiences. I can let go of the western way of thinking and become more in tune with my environment.
I can filter my water.
In a week, the visitors from Portland will arrive for the Tour of Hope. I cannot wait to show them – and you, through this blog – a Rwanda that will exceed their expectations and amaze them at the strength and character of a people who experience daily challenges that we do not know in America. They – and you, I hope – will be changed forever and better for this knowledge.
We are here to make a difference. Itafari is doing its part.
In Kigali, it’s easy to forget the seriousness of the water problem – and that the easy accessibility of bottled water is, in itself, a problem. But what we conveniently forget today will be tomorrow’s heartache. As a world, we conveniently looked the other way when a terrible genocide broke out 13 years ago. We are conveniently looking away in Darfur and the Sudan as another tragedy unfolds.
Stephan Rechtschaffen said it best: “We…anticipate what’s to come and ignore what’s actually here.”
Our coming to Rwanda is about making a different impact on this country. One that I would want if I were Rwandan. A “do NO harm” mentality…in fact, a “do GOOD” mentality.
- Itafari is definitely doing good!
- We’re going to break ground on the Kigali Parents Secondary (High School) on this trip.
- We will buy more baskets from Gahaya Links to sell at our Pay It Forward fundraising events.
- We will visit the 120 children whose lives have been changed through our child sponsorship program.
- We will distribute goats to child-headed households to change their lives and the other children for whom they care.
- And we will meet with the loan recipients from the microloan programs we support.
As my dear friend Joy, founder of Gahaya Links, always says: “Can you imagine?”
Rwanda is a country determined to overcome the label of the genocide of 1994. The government and its people are forward thinking. The past is not forgotten, but they are intent on a new future – one that honors those who died more by action than by grief.
You can make a difference with two things: money and a right attitude. The best impact is made when the two work in concert. Consider giving to our programs. Look at Adam’s blog for incredible pictures capturing the stories and spirit of this land.
And continue to stay tuned to more stories of significance from which you can take personal wisdom and change your own life.
Murebeho (goodbye in Kinyarwanda) for now,