Making Connections…Building Fences

The third and fourth day were work days. Friday and Saturday were spent mainly at the site working but, I did get a chance to go to Alex’s orphanage for some introductions Friday morning.

Floriane kindly arranged to have her driver take Alex and I to Gisimba Memorial Center, District of Nyarugenge where Alex lived as an orphan. If you remember, Alex is from Rwanda, but he is going to school to be a pastor in southern Minnesota. He brought a team with him to Rwanda from Minnesota the same time I arrived. We arrenged to get together while we are both here, and againwhen we both return.

As we walked into the complex, Alex immediately pointed out a bullet still sticking out of the metal window frames. It is painted white as is the frame so it’s hard to identify it as a bullet. But  it remains there as a memorial; one among many in this nation.  

Alex introduced me to the group’s Patron of Communications, Niyongana Ildephonse (that’s easy for you to say…I will call him Alphonse). He would tell me the history of the orphanage as well as update me on their current needs.
Stories In Rwanda:
Alphonse told me that the orphanage was started as a private initiative by Melchior Gisimba and remains so. The Grandparents started the work in the 1950s caring for the orphans after WWII. It began by taking in a few children into their home. People continued to flee Rwanda through years of unrest and war, and the family fled to Congo for a time. They returned to Rwanda in spite of the unrest. And shortly thereafter the father died. The son Peter (Pierre) carried his father’s vision, and now the Grandson, Damas. During the Genocide, people began to bring their children, their neighbor’s childrenand themselves to the home for refuge. At one point, Damas had 400 people in hiding. He bribed the militias and authorities to have them turn a blind eye to the children, they all were God’s Children. It appeared to many that the home had the normal amount of orphans, as most were hidden in the ceilings. Finally, the good graces and money ran out and Damas himself had to go into hiding. A pastor stepped in and protected those in hiding. He negotiated with the one responsible for the killings. The government official saw the tide turning on his killing spree and made a deal that would have a photo taken making it appear the he was helping those in hiding. He then would provide army soldier protection for the children to be moved to the protection of the Rwandan liberators. The deal was struck and all of those in hiding were marched with armed soldiers protecting them from the militias to their rescue.

Every person in Rwanda has a story about what happened to them or someone they loved in the genocide. This horrific 100-day massacre of the Tutsi’s is their recent history (1994, not 16 years ago). It remains for some unspeakable. It also remains an untold story in the international community. Its painful part of their personal and national history inflicted intense trauma, so the wounds are just beginning to heal.  More and more people are talking. Each time we drive to the building site, we drive over a river and the passengers get silent, as if we entered a sacred place. I learned it was in this river where many people were mercilessly killed, their bodies left to float downstream.  Stories of murder as children were tied to their parents’ hands and one of them shot and thrown into the river to save bullets. These are ugly stories…things most people try to forget. So you can imagine the raw pain that remains here in this lovely country.  The stories are heartless and cruel, unimaginable and unspeakable. But healing is on the way.

When we were finished talking, I asked  Alex to take a photo of the places in the home that are most meaningful to him. He immediately went over to the “mums” who were gathering for the morning. The women are hired to care for the daily needs of the children. They were not his own mum, but the idea obviously is that their role as caregivers in the lives of orphans is so critical; going to his mum was his most favorite place.  We saw his dorm, the kitchen, the yard where he played. I learned parts of his story as we conversed on facebook before this meeting. It’s written in his own words briefly here.  I hope to help him tell his story; how God saved his life and gave him a future. Contact us if you’d like to arrange a speaking engagement.

Building the Fence

Well, finally, Friday was my first real work day on the site. I was quite excited to actually get sweaty and dirty. We carried make-shift buckets of mixed mud to fill the holes for the fence posts. This concrete is made up of dirt and water. Mud, really. But, their baked mud is like concrete. If you saw these workers with a pick ax for hours upon hours pounding away at the packed ground to make a hole for the fence posts, you would understand. This hasn’t got any cement mix in it, just rock and mud and water. Oh, by the way…that metal makeshift shed in back of me and the guy in green? The bathroom. Yeah… I never have to go, imagine that.

We went into town again for lunch at the locally owned buffet. The bill amounted to $18,000 Rwandan francs, which is about…$30 for 12 people.

When we returned, Floriane distributed donated clothes to the local children who frequent the site. They are all poor children as you can see, living in rural community with not much to do. So they come watch the muzungu. This is shouted at me whenever we drive by. It’s not derogatory, just a term for white person…often used in delightful glee by a young child waving frantically.  

We continued to make more dirt for the cement mud mixture. This requires working the ground to loosen it and pile it to mix with water and granite stones. Quite a bit of work, but we all could do it. The one Rwandan woman helping us knew how to work the ground she would pound it to loosen it up and then begin to hack and wack at it. It’s a very effective way to make mud.

Everyone moves slowly here, more slowly than the volunteers that come. But, I think the locals pace themselves for heat and altitude.  The altitude is about 5,000 feet and that might explain why I was out of breath and light headed a few times. I am pretty hearty, so I don’t expect a problem. It’s important to stay hydrated, well fed and try not to be in the sun. Oh, yeah, that’s funny. There’s no shade at all where we are working, so we are in the heat of the sun all day. It’s not too bad though, 84 degrees or so with a slight breeze and no humidity. In Kigali, the average temperature is (70° F ).  A long rainy season lasts from February to May and a short one from November through December. So, the weather is temperate and very pleasant. But, even so, doing physical labor all day in the sun is exhausting.

Floriane rounded us all up and we left the site and went to our hotel to clean up as we were going to a concert after dinner and then to Floriane’s friends’ house again for supper.  The concert was a Christian Revival service and was delightful. I felt moved as I heard and saw the sea of black faces singing and dancing with joy.  The preacher preached about peace and forgiveness; I know this because it was translated in English. The songs were beautiful, very talented musicians, a choir from a local church and these were not translated.  I know they were singing about God, but I couldn’t make out a word.

At Marie’s house we  enjoyed more delicious Rwandan food. We were treated to a local delicacy: spicy grilled kidney-skewers for appetizers.  Lovely Congolese cheese. We also had fried plantains, sweet potatoes, fried Tilapia, steak fillets on skewers, peas with coconut milk, fried potatoes and much more. Then we were served a lovely fruit salad for desert. This woman knows how to entertain! When I got back to the hotel, I crashed in bed. No Africa tea for me tonight!

The fence is making great progress. We have all the posts in and on Monday and Tuesday we may be able to run the wire. YEAH!

We  will be meeting with the women from the Cooperative we met the first day near the site. Rick Barkley with East Africa Metamorphis Project in Texas agreed to help the group and we’ve found a volunteer, Marie, Floriane’s friend, to help oversee the program. It’s very exciting as Floriane and Rick will be able to work closely with Marie and the women to help them build a better life for themselves and their families.


 Here are a few more pictures to enjoy:

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