Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘center for street children’

We’ve Come A Long Way

From ROP Stories

We’ve come a long way, baby!
31 March, 2012 by Sean

Sometimes it’s hard to believe just how much progress the Rwandan Orphans Project has made in just the last couple of years. The reason I bring this up is because we are approaching the second anniversary of the Center’s move from the dark, dank warehouse that we had called home for several years to our wonderful current home on the outskirts of Kigali.

The building itself was bad enough: little more than a two-story warehouse that was actually meant to be three floors but construction ceased during the 1994 Genocide and never restarted.

We occupied the “second floor” which meant our roof was never meant to be a roof, and therefore it wasn’t built to withstand the elements, particularly Rwanda’s heavy rains. The only thing keeping water from flooding the classrooms and dorm rooms was the plastic sheeting that composed the “roof”.

This also meant that the building’s electrical and plumbing work had never been completed, or, in truth, barely even started. We had two light bulbs in the entire place, one in the foyer and another in the teachers office, and most days neither worked. I recall our teachers grading papers many times by candlelight or the light from their phone screens in the middle of the day. Scattered randomly throughout the Center, usually on the floor, were bare wires that the staff and children would wrap around plugs to power radios and the keyboard that was missing about 30% of its keys. When it rained the inside of the center became filled with various puddles and the boys would snake the wires around them, but often they would end up in the water anyway. I received my own fair share of 240 volt shocks from this setup.

Below us on the ground floor was a warehouse for storing beans, maize flour and other foods. The men who worked there were gruff and not particularly child-friendly. Actually, they seemed to see our boys as more of an annoyance than anything. I recall a couple of times when our boys were playing football and they would accidentally kick the ball near these workers. They would often kick the ball over the wall into the swamp or taunt the boys telling them they were keeping it for themselves.

Speaking of football, I would say the “playground” at the old Center was a joke if it wasn’t for the fact that it was so dangerous. Freight trucks would lumber around it as the children were attempting to play. The makeshift football ground was also a danger. The grass was always knee high and it masked all the stones, glass and metal scraps beneath, causing endless wounds because the boys had to play barefoot. In their usual creative way the boys made a makeshift volleyball court inside the warehouse by stretching a string from one pillar to another and using a ball made from plastic bags, banana tree leaves and scrap string they scavenged. This same ball was usually used for football and any other ball games.

The kitchen was a sad affair. It was nothing more than a large pot cooking on a three stone fire in a mud-brick hut. Water for cooking had to be fetched from the facility’s only tap on the other side of the building.

Every day, with very few exceptions throughout the year, the children ate beans and maize flour (ugali). On the rare occasion that someone donated fruit and vegetables we had to eat them within a day or two otherwise the rats would finish them off. When the food was ready about 200 boys would line up to get their plate. Some ate outside while others went back into the building and would sit on the floor to eat. We had no tables for them to sit at.

Back in the Center, the learning facilities were rather basic as well. The “library” consisted of donated books, most of which were decades old and pretty much all of them had water damage to some degree. The teachers had to share lesson books and even pencils due to the lack of resources. Despite these challenges our teachers were able to perform amazing work with the not-so-easy task of trying to educate the 200 children living at the Center at the time along with the 150 or so “day scholars”, kids from the streets and local poor families who crowded into our Center each day for the free lessons.

Then there were the dormitories. There were three dorm rooms in the Center. Two were for the young and middle-aged boys and they were the most crowded. Each was full of rusting bunk beds with old moldy mattresses and shredded mosquito nets that really served no purpose at all. Bigger boys slept two to a bed while the smaller children slept three to a bed. These rooms were the darkest, dampest and stinkiest in the building. Bed bugs, moths, rats and other critters also shared these spaces.

The oldest and biggest boys occupied their own room on the far side of the building. Here they propped up sheets, tarps and any other materials they had scavenged to create their own private spaces. They had also ran electrical wires from the front of the building and setup their own ad hoc power grid to power their radios and charge their phones. It seemed more like a back alley hideout than a place for people to live.

In February of 2010 the ROP changed our role from being solely donors, dismissed the staff who had been mismanaging our funds and formally took over the management of the Center. In March the Rwandan government came knocking, telling us that the warehouse was an unsuitable place for children to live and they we must move. We agreed with their assessment but we hadn’t another place to go to nor the funds to rent another facility. We rushed around Rwanda hoping to find an abandoned building or some old place we could rent cheaply while we looked for another place. Near the end of March the government came back and gave us 15 days to move or they would shut us down. We feared the worst.

A few days later we were told about a school just outside of Kigali that wasn’t being used anymore. It was owned by a large secondary school across the road but hadn’t been functioning since 1994. The people who owned it sympathized with our plight and told us we could move there and stay free of charge. As you can imagine the place wasn’t in the best condition but it had potential. It was in a nice, quiet area far from the dangers and temptations of the city. It was open and bright and had plenty of room for the children to play. It was a new home for our boys and a fresh start for the ROP. We gladly began moving out of that dark and claustrophobic place the boys had called home for so many years.

Fast forward two years and our new home is better than ever, thanks to all the creativity, effort and money we’ve poured into it. Thanks to all the hard work of our staff and children, along with all the wonderful assistance we’ve received from our donors, we now have…

A teachers office
A real volleyball court
An amazing new kitchen
A big dining hall with tables
A sprawling playground
A nursery school
A library/playroom
A formal health clinic
Real classrooms with proper benches and natural light
A football team
A capoeira team

I could go on and on, but there are plenty of other blog posts here that share all of the wonderful things that we are able to offer our children at the ROP.

As great as this story is, this is not the final chapter. Unfortunately we do not own the land or the buildings, and the people who do have decided to begin charging us a large amount of rent every month. This puts a huge strain on our already tight budget, and as a result the future of the ROP might be at risk, as well as the futures of the children under our care . Thankfully, last year we received an extremely generous donation from Tony and Carol Roberts from Australia that allowed us to purchase our own land not far from our current location. We are grateful to them every day. While this was the first step towards our independence it remains difficult to raise funding not only to continue operating at our current location but to also put aside money for building facilities on our new property. We remain optimistic, however, that people within Rwanda as well as those from around the world will see just how far we’ve come in such a short time and will give us the support we need to not only survive, but to continue to thrive.

Read entire story with additional photographs at ROP Stories.

Donate to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project at Donate

Birthday in Rwanda

From ROP Stories

A Birthday in Kigali
Posted on November 15, 2011 by Jonathon

It seems no matter how old you get your birthday is always a day you look forward to. Who among us doesn’t enjoy the extra attention and well wishes from friends and family? The fact that I share the same birthday as my Mother has certainly made the annual event more significant, as for as long as I can remember that day was always spent with Mom and it was something unique which I could claim as “mine” as a child and even into adulthood.

Thus, when October 26, 2011 neared, I found myself contemplating what it might be like, how it may be a lonely day, nothing like birthdays back home. I wondered how I might celebrate this day being so far from home, so far from my friends and family. I began to feel a bit blue about the day. Naturally, being in Rwanda for almost 3 months brings with it at times its own longing for familiar places and faces. The birthday only exacerbated that longing.

That morning, I set off to the Centre for what I expected to be a usual day – conferring with Elisabeth and Jean D’Amour on things related to the boys, talking with some of the older boys about their upcoming national exams and helping them sort through some of their feelings and anxiety over reintegrating into society after the holiday season. Around lunchtime, Sean called me and asked me if I’d like to go to lunch at a local buffet we sometimes frequent in nearby Kanombe. I accepted and we set off down the long dirt road to the restaurant, completely unassuming.

We returned to the Center near 1:30pm and were informed that as the school year had ended, there was a small ceremony to celebrate in the dining hall. As Sean and I approached, I saw a large group of the boys lined up in standard fashion on their seats, all facing a row of chairs filled with the staff of the ROP. As I entered the building, Elisabeth and Louise (one of the caretakers) greeted me by dousing me in two large pitchers of water, to which the boys cheered and began to sing “Happy Birthday” – first in English, then in Kinyarwanda. They had managed to pull off the ultimate surprise party.

Celestin and Jean de Dieu, the director and supervisor at ROP, then began to speak. They spoke of how today was a special day for me, and thanked me for giving of my time and efforts to help the Center and the boys. From there, a group of 6 of the older boys, members of the ROP’s dance troupe, put on a choreographed dance for me – an impressive one at that!

I was then asked to speak – something which is not uncommon in Rwandan culture. Not being a very natural public speaker, I was immediately nervous. I tried to explain to the boys that back home a birthday is a very significant day, one which is usually spent surrounded by family and friends. I discussed how as my birthday neared, I was feeling a general sense of apathy as I was convinced the day would pass without much notice. I then explained to them that even in my short time here in Rwanda, the ROP family has indeed welcomed me into their own, and I felt loved and very grateful for their inviting spirit and generous hospitality. Indeed, in that moment, I realized how much I have grown to love the ROP family, of which I hope to be considered a part of.

I was then presented with a plate of biscuits and hard candies and invited to serve the staff of the Center. When I finished serving the staff, I was told that everything left on the plate was for me – it was my special day and I was to enjoy it. The expense of something so simple as biscuits and hard candy is something that the ROP can’t expend on everyone, and the gesture was a bit overwhelming. Candies were provided for each of the boys, as Louise and Elisabeth approached me with 3 simple candles on a plate, upon which I was to make the traditional birthday wish before blowing them out.

Read entire story at ROP Stories

If you’d like to find out more about the Rwandan Orphan’s Project, go to Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

The Skin of Lions

Short story from children’s story collection.
The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales.
Edited by Gabriel Constans.

At one time, all of the children in this book lived on the streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Their parents died from the genocide in 1994 or from the AIDS pandemic. They have been given new life and hope at an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children. The stories from The Skin of Lions are taken from their personal experiences, traditional folk tales or unique creative imaginations. The children range in age from ten to nineteen and tell tales for all generations. They share their words from a thousand-year-old oral tradition and speak for all those that have been silenced.

The Skin of Lions by AHIKIRIJE Jean Bosco (Age 17)

There was a man, named Cambarantama, who looked after his sheep and cultivated his fields. One day, while he was looking after his sheep and leading them to the grasses, he found a small animal in the bush that had eaten some of his crops. When the man came back the next day, the same small creature had eaten more of his crops. He took the little animal back home and said, “I’m going to have to kill you for eating my crops.”

The small animal said, “Wait; please don’t eat me. Forgive me and I will not eat your crops any more.”

Cambarantama had a good heart, forgave the little animal and let him go.

On his way back to the shamba (field) the next day, Cambarantama was approached by a very big animal. The big animal told Cambarantama that he had to kill one of the sheep in the field and give it to him for his kettle. Cambarantama was scared and did as he was told. He went and killed one of his sheep and gave it to the big animal. This kept happening day after day.

One day, on his way to his shamba, Cambarantama met the little animal that he had forgiven. The little animal said, “I see that you have less and less sheep. What has happened?”

Cambarantama replied, “There is a big animal that comes every day and makes me give it one of my sheep. That is why you see so few that are left.”

The little animal he had saved said, “The next time that big animal comes I will be next to you, hidden in a bush. I will tell you what to say.”

Cambarantama took his sheep to the grasses and the big animal once again came from the forest and told him it was time for him to give him another one of his flock, but Cambarantama said he would not give him any more. The small animal was hidden next to Cambarantama and spoke out loud.

“Who are you talking to?” asked the big animal.

The small animal said loudly, “I am the king of heaven and earth who puts on the skin of lions.”

“Who is that?” asked the big animal.

“What are you looking for?” shouted the little animal, hidden behind the bush.

The big animal was scared and said, “I . . . I’m just looking for firewood.”

“Sit down and don’t move!” shouted the little animal, who then whispered to Cambarantama to get the firewood rope and tie the hands and legs of the big animal.

That is how Cambarantama captured and killed the big ferocious animal and saved his sheep, with the help of the little vegetable eating animal he had forgiven.

MORE STORIES

(All proceeds from sale of book go to ROP Center for Street Children.)

Children at Rwandan Airport

This is part of a story by Sean at ROP Stories. If you can’t fly to Rwanda, please lend a hand by donating to the ROP Center for Street Children and help with food, water, schooling, job training, clothes and health care.

ROP VISITS THE AIRPORT

Most of us take airplanes for granted. For some, like me, they are fascinating. For others they are simply another form of transportation. But for all of us they are commonplace. Airports and airplanes, ho-hum.

To our boys though, they are quite interesting. The ROP Center sits just outside of the airport, so they are quite used to seeing airliners sporadically roaring overhead. But they seem quite interested every time, especially when it’s Ethiopian Airlines’ big 767 or the UN’s massive, deafening cargo plane that makes the ground tremble as it departs Kigali. They also see numerous helicopters buzzing around throughout the day. This is undoubtedly why, when Jenny gives the boys paper and pencils for drawing, there are always at least a few who draw their own versions of aircraft and helos.

Even before we left Rwanda for our visit to America, the younger boys had been asking Jenny if she could arrange a visit at the airport for them. Upon our return she submitted a letter to the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority requesting we be allowed a tour. After a short wait they called her to inform her that they accepted and gave her a date. On Tuesday we decided to inform the boys while they were all having lunch in the dining hall. Jenny told them, “Since you all have been so good lately, we have arranged a very special trip for you.” Celestin, the director, asked is anyone wanted to guess where. Several of the boys began shouting “America! America!”. Jenny and I immediately felt that the real surprise would now probably be disappointing, but we told them and they seemed quite happy, especially the younger boys.

CONCLUSION OF VISIT AND MORE PHOTOS

A Drop In the Bucket

“I saw over five hundred kids walking out of the Congo three years ago and decided I had to do something about it,” says Rev. Paul Oas. What he did was organize the church he attends in San Diego, California to provide support and funds for an orphanage in Rwanda (called ROP Center for Street Children) and put together a team of people to visit the orphanage of 150 children and assist them with health care, clean water, trauma relief, job training and hope for a future in a country that is still reeling from the 1994 genocide. “I feel like I’m in my twenties again,” says Pastor Paul, as his seventy-five year old eyes light up.

For three weeks Pastor Paul, who likes to be called Paul, helped coordinate a team of concerned health professionals in the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. They worked from morning until night providing children at the center with the first medical check up and exam they had ever had, teaching older youth sewing and quilting skills, in order to have a vocation once they left the orphanage and connecting the center for orphans with local clinics, dentists and a water filtration company. They also provided classes in Thought Field Therapy – TFT (a meridian based treatment that eliminates symptoms of post traumatic stress) and did a follow up study with children they had treated the previous year. Other members of the team taught classes on TFT to orphanage directors, ministers and other social service organizations from all over Rwanda.

Paul says, “When people without church backgrounds see things like this they are touched as well and have a change in values. Too often religion has become more interested in form than in function. In the twelfth chapter of Romans Paul says, ‘present your bodies as a living sacrifice and this is your reasonable worship’”. In other words, make sure your walk matches your talk.

There are countless disappointments and frustrations with this kind of work and mission, such as never having enough resources and constant feelings of helplessness, but Pastor Paul believes these realities are part of the journey. “I still get overwhelmed and feel like it’s all a drop in the bucket. The way I take care of that is to keep getting others involved and having it expand.” He says his father and mother (who was a nurse) taught him to always “find a way” and believed “we’re all one family”.

Working in Rwanda is not the first time Paul has gone outside his community in southern California. He has also organized trips to orphanages in Baja Mexico and worked with survivors in Kosovo, as well as visiting a refugee camp of 100,000 on the border of Sudan. He believes that words mean nothing without corresponding action and often quotes a passage from James 1: 27, which states, “True religion and uncorrupted, is to visit the orphans and the widows in their distress and to keep one self unstained from the world.”

After traveling and serving people in Kosovo, Mexico and Africa, Pastor Paul finds it challenging to live in such an affluent part of the world. Instead of judging or condemning those with affluence, he realized that most of them want to get involved and giving to others provides meaning for their lives as well. “People start blossoming,” he says. “Our mission is to help one another mobilize and find our individual gifts.”

The work Paul has done at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda has also blossomed. Not only have members of his church at Christ Lutheran in San Diego committed funds and resources, but Pastor Paul has also reached out and received support for the orphans from concerned individuals and religious and non-religious organizations throughout the country and around the globe. “When you have the compassion to do something,” Paul says with a smile, “you’ll find roadblocks that will stop you, but don’t let them. The roadblocks are for some purpose. When people see your passion for God and His creation, they get involved and new paths appear.”

Pastor Paul Oas has not let roadblocks, government restrictions, lack of funds, cultural misunderstandings or church politics block his path to helping children or prevented him from bringing people of diverse backgrounds, beliefs and areas of the country to “get on board”. “Most people say they admire me for doings this, but I don’t want to be admired,” Paul says. “What they are really saying is that it is wonderful what you’re doing and I wish I could help. The greatest admiration is when they contribute or get involved. Some people make a show about how much they love God, but Jesus said, ‘How can you say you love God who you haven’t seen, when you don’t love the brother who you have seen?’”

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