Thursday, September 17, 2015

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 8

You must rise early in Kigali if you’re driving to Kageyo in eastern Rwanda. It isn’t far, about sixty miles, but it takes three hours to get there. This is because the last half of the road is dirt and rock and the roughest road I have ever, ever experienced. I felt like the entire day was one good core body workout. There was no relaxing in your seat.

Not many muzungu visit Kageyo, partly because it is very remote. Those who do visit eastern Rwanda are most likely headed to the game park to see elephants and giraffes. We made the bumpy drive to see my sponsored daughter, Umulisa. Umulisa is seventeen years old and attends Kageyo Public School, which the Rwandan government asked Africa New Life to take over operation of in 2012.

Kageyo is a resettlement village developed on land taken from Rwanda’s national game park. More than 3,000 people live here. Food is scarce and jobs are non-existent.

When Kevin and I decided to sponsor a child through Africa New Life Ministries, I purposefully chose an older girl. This is because I know boys are more likely to complete high school than girls in the poorer families in Rwanda. Because while the government says school is free, it is not. There are fees and uniforms and books to purchase, and many families cannot afford to do so for all their children. When a choice must be made on which child will attend school, most often the son will go to school while the daughter will stay home to care for the family. I know this, because my friends in Boise experienced this exact situation. And so my heart is for girls’ education.

Kayonza Primary School Students
Miss Jennifer's adorable "Top Class"
And so it was that we left Kigali at daybreak and headed east. Along the way we stopped at Africa New Life School in Kayonza. The school is for children grades one through twelve and also provides homes for orphans on campus. Each home has a house mother and 14-16 children. The school also provides boarding for high school students. We received a tour of the orphan homes and the girls dormitory – which houses 87 girls per room, in bunk beds three beds high.

From there we forged on, trading in blacktop for red packed dirt and a lot of rocks. We entered this red dessert where men and women do backbreaking work to cultivate the land by hand. They do only subsistence farming here as the ground will not give up anything more.
the dusty road to Kageyoa

When we arrived at Kageyo, we were met by the director and some of his staff. With them was a girl in uniform. I didn’t realize it was Umulisa until they introduced us. Oh we hugged so tightly. We then walked up the path to see her school. As we passed by each classroom window, children yelled and screamed and waved their hands through the open windows wanting to greet us. But really wanting just to touch a muzungu. I cannot tell you how many times children have run furtively up to me and run their fingers through my hair before racing away with a giggle.

Umulisa and her
We arrived at Umulisa’s classroom and were introduced. The children were sitting three to a bench. I asked her which was hers and she shyly showed me.

As we returned to the van we walked past the first primary class lined up for lunch. Children at Kageyo receive lunch daily or they would go hungry. Lunch is maize and beans every day. It looked delicious, but Annette won’t let me eat any African food that is not cooked in the guest house because of my wimpy American stomach. We have had much discussion. . . disagreement over this, but I bow to her wisdom and also the desire not to be ill. Still, the maize and beans looked delicious.

preparing lunch of
maize and beans

lunch line
We rode together to Umulisa’s home, another bumpy road. Umulisa lives in a very small home built of mud bricks. It had three tiny rooms and pictures on the wall. 
Umulisa's home
Her parents and I hugged and then we sat down together. I showed them all the photos I brought including a photo of a map of the United States so she could see where I live. I brought photos of my family and Boise with snow, which they marveled over. Then I handed out the gifts I brought. For dad, a bright orange Bronco t-shirt, because Boise State should be represented in eastern Rwanda! For mom a skirt that matched the one I was wearing that day. For Umulisa new, well made sandals and a Bible in English. For her younger brother and sister I brought coloring books and pencils. We prayed together and then we drove Umulisa back to school, as she had skipped school for my visit, and her parents had stayed in from working the fields to visit me. It was humbling.

Meeting Umulisa was the first time I have met a child Kevin and I sponsor. It was special and drove home to me the importance of this connection we have. The importance of writing letters to our sponsored children. The importance of letting them know we are here and supporting them and loving them from afar and encouraging them to do well in school, because it means everything to their future.

Before we said goodbye, Umulisa asked me to tell Caleb and Rebecca (my children) that she loves them very much and she prays for them every day.

When we left Umulisa at her school, she stood there waving goodbye. It was then I noticed she was wearing her new sandals. There are no borders or colors in love. We are all the same. Umulisa and I know it.

Child sponsorship with Africa New Life is available here. Sponsoring a child changes everything.

Friends on a Thousand Hills - Rwanda Part 9

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