Every June 16th Africa celebrates the International Day of the African Child, a day for people within the continent celebrate and honor children of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. Last year we were honored when the government ask us to host their celebration at the ROP Center.
This year, however, we wanted the day to be all about our children, and we wanted to do something extra special for them. You see, most of our boys don’t know the day they were born. In fact, many don’t even know with certainty which year they were born. Because of this we decided that we wanted to make June 16th the birthday for every child at the Center and start by celebrating it this year. Now we just needed to scrape together some money for the event. We tapped local businesses for donations but unfortunately none of them came through for us. But just a couple of weeks before (when panic was beginning to set in) our fantastic donor Line from Norway, and her organization Metamorfose, came through for our boys once again. She told us that she would pay for catering for all the boys and staff to enjoy as well as paying for the Kwetu Film Institute to bring us a GIANT movie screen to watch films on in the evening. Obviously we were thrilled now that it was all coming together. We didn’t tell the boys anything about a party. We only told them the day before that we were having some visitors coming the next day so they needed to be prepared.
Saturday arrived and Jenny and I arrived at the Center in the morning with crates of drinks. The boys started asking what was going on, but all the staff were tight-lipped. We gathered everyone in the dining hall and let them just sit and wait for several minutes before Elizabeth and Alex, two of our staff, came rushing in with buckets of water and began splashing all the boys (a Rwandan birthday tradition). They all took off running, wondering what the heck was going on.
Now that the boys knew something was up it was time to tell them the true reason we gathered them all together. Jenny and I reminded the boys about the Day of the African Child and informed them that it was now the official birthday of all the boys in the Center. We told them there would be dancing, singing, food and plenty of fun, all capped off with some films on a very big screen outside. As you can imagine they were all very excited.
So as the day went on we had dancing competitions, some boys read poems and sang songs they had written. We shared food, gave out all sorts of goodies like marbles and sweets, and waited for the sun to go down. When it was dark we showed two films; first a version of Cinderella that was in Kinyarwanda, their native language, followed by Africa United, a hugely popular kids movie about four struggling children trying to make their way from Rwanda to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. We ended the night with some Charlie Chaplin films, which are easy to understand and universally funny for anyone of any age and culture.
When it finally got dark Jenny broke out one last surprise for the boys. She had collected dozens of glow in the dark bracelets and had been saving them for an important occasion. This was the perfect time, but before we handed them out I had to show them how they worked and explain to them that they weren’t allowed to break them open or put them in their mouths. When I cracked the first one and it became luminous a wave of “wowwww” came from the group. They couldn’t wait to get their hands on them and were fascinated with this new novelty.
Finally it was finally time to show the films. Some boys sat on benches and chairs while the small boys laid out on the freshly cut grass.
Read entire story and see more photos at ROP Stories.