Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why I do.

I am finding it incredibly hard to articulate why it is I do what I do.  Why do I feel compelled to pursue a career working towards social change where the money sucks and the challenges sometimes seem insurmountable? Why do I feel pulled to live and work in Africa where it takes twice as long to get everywhere and challenges seem to appear out of nowhere? And why is it so hard for me to put any solid answers into words? To put it simply, I strongly believe in the incredible power of humanity—in the power of humans to destroy and then the power to rebuild.  I am moved by the resilience of the human race and the ability for people to thrive in the most intolerable conditions.  I believe to my core that all humans are innately good and that therefore every person deserves to thrive.  And I believe that as part of a greater collective, I could not pass through this world as a bystander. 

Why do I do what I do? Because who am I not to? When Sister Barbara comes to work every day, to a clinic the size of a trailer that doesn't have ibuprofen simply because she knows that the people of Linda are entitled to health care, I can spend the rest of my life trying to drive change.  I am a realist and do not for a second believe that in my lifetime all of the world problems will be solved, but I also acknowledge all of the amazing people who have stepped into my life at one point or another and I have witnessed the incredible potential we all possess.  Everyone's potential manifests differently, but for me my life has taken me down a path where working to contribute towards a positive shared wellbeing is my passion and growing other potentials rather than stunting them is my mission.  To sum it all up, I do what I do because I really don’t know what else I would do.

Collaboration with University of Zambia
Neri Clinics-where I spend my mornings
Tuesday Nutrition Clinic

Sunset at Kafue 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Two Lines. (Arrived safely in Zambia)

Two little lines appear and within seconds the world is turned upside down.  In an instant a seemingly healthy person begins the fight of their life, forever coping with a life sentence.  Two little lines appear and the reactive result means you are now HIV positive.

Fingers crossed and under breath prayers have accompanied me to work at the Neri Clinic for the past few days.  Hoping that as a person sits down on the green stool beside me I will soon be writing NR in the ledger instead of grappling to control my emotions as the following conversation must break devastating news.  At the Neri Clinic, HIV screenings are done the way taking blood pressures in the US would be done.  Routine checks for people seeking attention for a headache can yield an unexpected, unwanted result.

Nothing can prepare you for the blow as the first line appears.  A thin strip of paper that is read like a pregnancy test-two lines positive, one line negative-sits on the table as I anxiously await the results.  A man of 23, a mother of a young baby, and a women who has just found out she is pregnant, have all become victims to the lines. 

HIV rates in Zambia are said to be around 15%.  HIV is a constant topic and woven into the work of most organizations here.  Numbers are daunting and huge.  Numbers paint a picture, but a face leaves a portrait—one I will never forget.  I looked into their eyes and spoke of shared connections, and sat helplessly as two lines appeared; a sickening feeling that nothing could be done.  I cannot walk the rest of the journey with them that I feel like I was a catalyst for and today that does not sit well. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rwanda, you are too good to me.

Zambia bound in the am. Filled with a mix of sadness, anxiety, and well mostly sadness.  Since I have done a pretty bad job blogging in recent weeks I am just going to share some final thoughts and refections.

Sharing Rwanda with the people I love is quite possibly my favorite thing to do.  Spending time here with my mom and Alex was really a blessing.  And I am quite pleased to report I think Alex is smitten with Rwanda.  I mean, I didn't really expect anything less seeing as Rwanda is so amazing.  Every day I spend here I see something more spectacular than the last.  Today Alex played mancala (for those of you who remember the game from childhood) with the gift wrapper, Fidel, at the market.  Something so simple yet so meaningful--- two people who do not speak the same language, could enjoy a little friendly competition and find commonality over a variation of a game both had grown up with.

The center really seems to be blossoming.  I am amazed by the growth and the dedication of the current staff.  Yesterday I sat in on a training by the counselor (all in Kinyarwanda so much of it was lost on me) about shame and self-blame.  She gives weekly trainings to the entire staff-cook, social workers, guard, driver--about how to address the needs of the boys and best practice for vulnerable children.  The future social worker in me is beyond thrilled.  I think the center is on a path to being truly rehabilitative and going beyond the surface to core issues.  Wow, I am such a child welfare nerd!

I discovered this other wonderful street child center during my time here, if you have a chance check it out!
The executive director, Sean, from New Mexico, is really living the dream if you ask me!
Check it out here! 

This country never ceases to amaze me.  And this trip, more than ever before, has solidified that Rwanda is home.  I had the joy of seeing old friends and building even stronger relationships, and the pleasure of meeting new ones.  I spent far too much time in Kimironko Market, to the point where I could recognize any new fabric that came into my dear friend Josephine's shop.  But the hours I spent waiting for a dress to be finished or simply sitting and watching the world go by, were invaluable.  Thank you so much to Josephine for incredible hospitality and including me in the family.  You truly have become a sister.  Thank you to my superstar Willy, who is growing up into an incredible young man.  The world better prepare themselves for all he has to offer.  Thank you to all of my friends at the market for the Kinyarwanda lessons and for sharing Fantas, for the dance parties and the laughter.  And thank you to my wonderful Les Enfant de Dieu, to the place who has made me who I am today, the people who have brought so much love into my life, and the memories that will carry me through until next time...

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The hill out of town leads to the bustling Nyabugogo bus station.  The sidewalk is narrow and if you do not walk deliberately there is a good chance you will find yourself in the gutter or dodging cars on the road.  The road never seems to have a break from traffic especially  as the work day is ending.  But that did not seem to phase the young boy whizzing down the side of the road in his wheelchair.  The sun was starting to go down and I could not stop worrying about his mode of transport, racing next to cars and passing motobikes.  He however seemed more concerned with my progress.  Every so often he would pull off the road, look up the hill and wait for us to catch up.  When we did, he would flash an ear-to-ear sparkling smile and then we would continue together.  There are side walks in Kigali, but for anyone trying to pass then on anything other than two legs they are not very friendly.  Driveways are covered in metal grates and every 100 yards there is a curb. So this sweet boy in the wheel chair really has no other options than to act as a normal vehicle and travel by road.  And judging by his beautiful smile and tender nature I am sure he has never complained about it.  As I walked down the sidewalk worrying about him getting home before dark, he simply cruised down the hill, blending in with the normal flow of life, taking what life handed him-- paving his own road.

Some random pictures from the last few weeks:
My Mom and I at Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
Sunset over the lake, Uganda
My friend Claire's beautiful baby girl
The fabulous Josephine helping me purchase a mattress


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


I have been asked many times, "How do you see Rwanda?" The only way I can respond is, "I love it."  I have a hard time explaining it.  There are no words to explain the calmness I feel as I rock side to side in the bus as it climbs the hills out of town.  There is little to be said for the grace and poise with which people transport hundreds of pounds of goods.  I cannot explain why driving past tea fields dotted with brightly colored laundry makes me feel at peace.  Maybe it is the air or the simplicity of life.  It could be the smiling children chasing after deflated footballs or the joyous laughter after I try out a new word in Kinyarwanda.  Frankly, I don't think I will ever be able to pinpoint it.  But in many ways I have grown up here.  I arrived a bright-eyed and eager 18 year old--- now, at 22 I could not imagine my life without this land and these people.  The red dust has infiltrated my lungs and no matter how hard I scrub, it has stained my feet forever.

Friday, June 14, 2013


My Spiderman has grown into quite the little man.  I no longer feel like an overprotective mother hen who worries about him getting through the day or being successful.  He is no longer the baby of EDD and I am thrilled to report, can now wash his clothes by himself and get along just fine on his own!  He is off and running.  It is a joy to watch how confident he has become, he is self-assured and now helps the littler boys navigate the center and their daily routines.  I no longer see him off in the field sitting alone reliving his horrific memories. I know this early experiences will never leave him but it seems he has found ways of coping and no longer let them dictate his life.  His English has improved so much and he is eager to soak up information.  He happily informed me that his mother told him he will be an English teacher.  Today, I sat on the football pitch and watched in awe at how far he has come.  He wasn't afraid to jump right in, it is obvious the other boys respect him.  He is the "keeper" of the little boys football team, something that obviously brings him great pride.  And he has become a keeper of the center.  Today he stayed to help me clean up the library and he looks after the little boys with kindness and care.  His little light is now shinning so bright.

E, is a newer boy at the center.  He arrived, not long after I left, from another street child center in Kigali that was closed by the government for mistreating the children.  He is around eight, though just a guess since age is not well recorded here.  His day to day existence is a struggle.  He truly is just bursting with love.  I watched as he tenderly moved hair out of someone's face and saw his face light up as he waved at a butterfly that flew by.  But some of my most frustrating moments have come as I watch him intentionally hurt himself.  He will stare directly into the sun or hit himself with a rock, as if he isn't worthy of not feeling pain.  I try to explain to him that it hurts me when he hurts himself, but it seems to be lost in translation. But then he will come grab my hand and hold it so gently. And moments later he will bite me.  He yearns for attention and any attention is good attention.  He will stare at nothing and I wish I could jump inside his little head and remove all of the toxic memories it stores.  He is just a little boy who wants what every human being wants, to love and to be loved.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dreams Realized.

 I first came to Rwanda four years ago, a wide-eyed, naive 18 year-old who felt a strong desire to return to Africa.  On that first trip, with an international volunteer service I was placed at Les Enfant de Dieu and so my long-term, long-distance relationship with the center began.  During my time there, another volunteer and myself discovered a stockpile of books, markers and other supplies that had been donated to the center; most of these good were inaccessible to the boys and kept behind lock and key--they were being hoarded more or less.  This hoarding is a phenomenon I have seen time and time again, the boys will collect what seem to be the most arbitrary objects (bottle caps, pieces of plastic, broken pens) and they guard them with their lives.  I think this stems from coming from so little that anything and everything is valuable and they do not want to let it go or lose it.

Anyway, the other volunteer and myself wanted the boys to be able to access the books and other supplies and so we developed a sort of cataloging and check-out process that we hoped to be a library.  We spent hours color-coding flash cards and making sets of markers and colored pencils.  We were able to get the boys more access to things and hopefully more than anything we got the ball rolling for a future library. 

After I returned to the states I would sit in class and dream of ways I could find money to build a library complete with shelves and couches, a fun place the boys could spend time.  When I returned in 2011, the boys were able to check-out books from the teachers room and volunteers would get out markers and games from the social workers office.

As my time was ending, there were plans to wall-in and turn the old dinning hall into a library.  Well, I am thrilled to report that today, EDD has a fully-functioning library.  The boys have access to hundreds of books, games, and art supplies.  It is currently run by the volunteers, but I am hoping to talk to the staff about turning over the keys to the boys and empowering them to run it themselves.  A small seed was planted four years ago and today it has become fully realized.