Feeding a Hunger: The Children of the Streets
It is good to be back on the streets of Kigali. To recognize shops, feel the pulse of this city, read its newspapers and know that more progress has been made. The government appears more determined than ever to become a vibrant and important part of East Africa.
Evangelists come and share the good news. Entrepreneurship is alive and full of all the opportunities and challenges of creating something from a dream. Conferences are held at the major hotels that bring leaders together to plan and shape the future. There is no shortage of deaths or births.
I am greeted by old friends with true joy and affection. We begin again to work together to build something greater than what exists. There is no shortage of hope, expectation or tremendous obstacles. It is all truly as it should be, and it is good.
But the children, once again, are the innocents. They are the ones that have nothing to do with their current state. Their birth in this place, to parents of wealth or poverty, is for them, an accident. And so they do what they can, where they are, with what they have, in the time they have left.
I will write in a later message about some children in school. But this message is about the poorest of the poor, those who do not have a home, and no consistent visible means of support. They are the children of the streets orphaned as no child should ever be orphaned: the most vulnerable, most fragile, most likely to lose their lives in a moment or circumstance completely out of their control.
My friend and brother, Jean Paul Samputu (see March Itafari event) is also in Kigali during this first part of my stay. He is an amazing ambassador and tireless champion of the children of Kigali. This morning he asked me to come and meet the children who live on the streets. It is evident that funds are needed to provide food and clothing, and when urgent care is needed, a trip to a clinic. There are no social service agencies to provide these needs and they are dependent on the generosity of others. What little money they can earn on the streets will come from carrying a package for a stranger; guarding a car that is parked, etc. or stealing. There is never enough, but it all helps to make a difference.
Forty children happily cram into two busses (by busses I mean two minivans that comfortably seat 8-10 each). We all travel to a soccer field where they gather. Jean Paul is at first very discouraged because many of the children are high on drugs or alcohol. No food, no water, no beds, no hope. They do what many people in the US have been known to do: drown their pain in drugs and alcohol.
But then Jean Paul does what he does so well: he sees them as just children who need a loving adult to care about them. There are well over 50 kids who range from 5 years old to 20 years old. Jean Paul tells them that people in the world care for them and that they must not lose hope.
I am accompanied by two young women from Canada who are here in Rwanda for an extended stay working on various projects. After the kids spontaneously sing for us, we are each given the opportunity to speak.
In my words, I tell them that Jean Paul speaks about them wherever he goes. His heart and mind lives for Rwanda and his own family no matter where he is performing. He wants the very best for them but he cannot give them money directly because he knows that many of them will use it for drugs and alcohol and he cannot tolerate that. To change their lives, they must let go of those things that cloud their judgment and affect their ability to succeed.
I tell them that while Jean Paul speaks about them in the world, they must assist themselves and not expect him to do all of the work. They listen, and like all audiences, some hear what I say and some are just staring at me. How easy it is for all of us to dismiss the opinion of another to whom we cannot relate.
But now for me, the best thing possible happens. Three young men step forward and tell how they have stopped using drugs and have given up the things that were destroying them. They still have no answers, but now they can approach the starting line and begin to run the race set before them.
While these orphans who live on the street may not be able to relate to me, the story and testimony of their peers cannot be so easily dismissed. Among them I see leaders – young men (and the group is all boys) who are going to set the right example. And they pay respect to their brothers in this extremely hard life that they share. I know that standing here in front of me are young men who are not satisfied with this way of life, who believe that they are worthy of more than they are now experiencing. And that maybe today was the beginning of something new: a bigger dream than their current reality.
Jean Paul gives his testimony of how for many years drugs and alcohol were a way of life for him as well. After finding God, he stopped his destructive behavior and then his talent began to be used in a way that could truly transform lives. He makes no apology for his faith or belief and knows that he has no one to thank but God for all that he has accomplished.
Something has changed since we first arrived. There is absolutely a current of expectation in the air. We close in prayer and then I am told we are taking them all to a restaurant to feed them. There are so many kids, but about 35-40 pile back into the two mini vans and we go to a restaurant in Kigali city center.
The kids are rowdy and rambunctious and excited. Arrangements are made for this very respectable restaurant to seat all of the children. The tables are set with red checkered table clothes and everyone comes in and sits down.
Once inside, to say that they are well behaved is an understatement. It is clear many of them have never been in a restaurant of this caliber. But without one word of threat, their behavior rises above our expectations. Fanta, Coke and Sprite are served. And then these HUGE plates of food are served to each of them. I cannot see the plates for the meat, potatoes and vegetables spilling to the edge. Many of the boys have “saucer eyes.”
It is almost cruel to make them wait for all to be served, but wait they do! Jean Paul asks one of the boys to pray and he recites a Catholic prayer from long ago that has nothing to do with food, but is clearly from his heart. It is all we can do not to laugh, but there is no question God will bless this meal in spite of the request given in the prayer. When Andrew says, “bon appetit,” many of the children answer “merci.”
As I watch these young men eat their meals with near reverence, I see that they know they are being treated as equal human beings in a world full of comparisons and inequality. We have fed them, and now they know we are not full of mere rhetoric but care and compassion for them. Tomorrow this meal will be a memory. But what else has been created for some of these young men? My prayer is a hunger for a better life.
I am here this month as a representative of Itafari to look for possibilities for programs we can support that will serve Rwandans by replacing despair with hope. Is there hope for these children? I say yes and today I watched them see it through their own eyes. We must never give up on another human being who does not have the advantages or opportunities that we are given.
Your contribution to Itafari will grow beyond whatever amount you are prepared to donate. The meal that was fed to these boys today, party of 40, cost $80US. Itafari paid for this meal. The boys will never know that. All that they need to know is that they are worthy of the respect of others. That people in the world from their own country as well as those 10,000 miles away honor them and know that the money is well spent. And we trust that the hunger they felt before they began the meal is now replaced with a hunger to care for themselves. And to know that in the future they can eat a meal due to their own effort rather than through the generosity of another.
In the meantime, you can help us support these children and others in Rwanda. You may donate directly on the website www.itafari.org or send a check to Itafari Foundation, 27 El Greco, Lake Oswego, Oregon, 97035 USA. Your gifts are tax deductible and a year end receipt will be sent to you. NOTE: if you would like to have your donation used for Samputu’s kids, please designate the Widows and Orphans program when you make your gift. We will use this money to help these children and would like to formalize a support program where we can regularly contribute to their care: First we must feed them, then we teach them; then they can learn to feed and teach themselves.
Imagine being a teenager again; or look at your own children. What would you want for yourself or them? A gift here in Rwanda has an amazing ability to make a difference to a child. Your gift expands geometrically as so much can be done to make a difference to a child. A child in Rwanda can eat for $1US a day: not enough, but better than once every few days.
Join Itafari in its quest to support the people of Rwanda in the rebuilding of a nation. Jean Paul Samputu is not only an internationally recognized musician, he is the international spokesperson for Itafari. Please remember that these children he introduced me to, and others like them, need your support and compassion, but not pity. They are magnificent and amazing children who just need a helping hand. I will have pictures out soon and we will tell some of their stories. And the stories you hear can be repeated a million times. With each donation, we can assist this nation itafari by itafari by itafari (brick by brick by brick).
You will be filled with great contentment knowing that the meal of satisfaction will be yours. Bon appetit!