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Best Year Yet!

Thank you for helping make 2013 Rwandan Orphan’s Project’s (ROP) best year yet!

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Some of our major highlights include:

This year we witnessed one of our own graduate from the National University of Rwanda with a degree in mechanical engineering. He is the first ROP graduate to finish university and we take great pride in his accomplishment and share his joy of success.

We started our agriculture project this year with five large scale greenhouses. This project is an income generating program that will use the income generated from the sales of the vegetables we produce to help fund the ROP for throughout the year.

Our nursery school, another income generating program, also saw growth this year and we hope to see it filled to capacity when the 2014 school year starts in January.

We’ve been able to hire more staff to help take care of the children and their needs. Today we finally have enough caretakers to manage the well-being of our 100 boys who rely on them for guidance and advice each and every day.

One of our most important successes is the expansion of our social work program. We now have two social workers who focus on the rehabilitation of our children’s behavior, their mental health and rebuilding the relationships between our children and what family members they may have, so that one day we may reunite them in a way that is successful for both family and child. And if we can’t reunite them to live together, it’s important that the children have relationships with family members if at all possible

After nearly a year of photography lessons, a group of boys from the ROP had their photos displayed at an exhibition in Kigali as well as a photo auction in San Diego, California. Both exhibitions were a smashing success and visitors to both we surprised and impressed with the enthusiasm and talent of our young artists.

This year we’ve been fortunate enough to have a team of dedicated international volunteers who have added extra-curricular activities to the ROP program and have provided badly-needed medical support for our children, among other generous deeds. They have also been instrumental in helping spread the word of the ROP’s work around Rwanda and all over the world.

All of this and our year isn’t even over yet! In the final days of this year we will be seeing five of our boys graduate high school and six others graduating from their vocational training schools. These eleven boys came to into the ROP years ago because they had nowhere to go and nobody to take care of them. In one month they will leave with an education, the pride of going from a street child to a graduate, and a world of possibilities that didn’t exist for them only a few short years ago. Today a world full of opportunities is at their feet, not because of the ROP, but because of people like you keep the ROP alive.

Aside from those boys graduating, we will also be reintegrating, or reuniting, about five children back into their families. While we hope to see that each and every reintegration is a success, our social workers will be monitoring each child’s situation closely so the ROP can be sure each child we’ve returned is in a safe, stable environment and, most importantly, that he is attending school. This is the ultimate goal for our program for each and every one of our children, but only when the time and circumstances are right for it.

So as you can see the ROP continues to grow and we continue striving to provide the best education, comprehensive care and loving environment we can so our children can grow and thrive. But we cannot achieve our goals on our own. Being a small, growing organization we rely mostly on the generosity of individuals and small groups to fund our children’s program. While we are striving to find ways to generate our own income so that we may someday become self-sustaining, the truth is that we’re not there yet.

As we enter this holiday season I would like to ask you to think about making a donation to help support the children of the ROP. Many of you are already regular supporters, others have generously helped us at one time or another and some of you may know about our work but have yet to take the step of becoming an ROP supporter.

What I’d like to ask you is to consider making a donation to our program this Christmas season. The donations we collect as we reach the end of 2013 will play a crucial role for the outlook of the Rwandan Orphans Project in 2014 and will dictate what services we will be able to continue providing our children and what options we have for providing even better care and support to them in the coming year.

As you all know, we are a small program, and any amount you can give WILL make a difference. We know how to get the most out of each and every dollar, because we have to. I can promise you that 100% of your donation will find its way to Rwanda. Not a penny of it will go towards anything other than supporting the children in the ROP Center and the staff that provide them with the care, education and love they deserve.

So please, help the ROP reach this New Year with a sense of optimism. Choose to be part of something great that is truly changing the world, one amazing child at a time.

If you’d like to help please visit our donation page.

With love and appreciation,

Sean Jones
Executive Director
Kigali, Rwanda
www.rwandanorphansproject.org

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ROP’s First Photo Exhibition

Rwandan Orphan’s Project First Photo Exhibition
Rwanda, October 14, 2013 by Jenny Clover
ROP Stories

As you may have read here our boys have been getting weekly lessons in photography from American teacher Amber for the last few months. We’ve all be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work the kids have been producing and are often amazed at the shots they take, which show the Rwandan Orphans Project through their eyes. Last week Amber organised an exhibition at a communal office space in Kigali – called The Office – to show off some of the photos the kids have produced.

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We picked 9 names out of a hat, they got dressed up in their best clothes, and we all excitedly set off in a bus from the ROP to town.

The kids’ photos were mounted around the large office space, everything from close-ups of their friends’ faces, to the acrobatics the boys are so good at, to documenting daily life at the ROP. One wall was dedicated to photos the boys had taken of their own bodies, which they’d colored in and written over. Some chose to write about themselves or their bodies, others about their hopes and aspirations. For us to see them writing about their dreams for the future when we’ve seen how hopeless some of them can be at their lowest point was really nice.

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The evening was packed from start to finish. Hundreds of people came to see the boys’ photos and ask them questions about their work and their lives. The kids told us that at first they were nervous and didn’t know what to say to all these adults. But gradually, and probably with the help of the multiple sugar-ey drinks people kept buying them, they opened up and were confident enough to go round pointing out their photos and explaining them.

When not busy playing on the table football and ping-pong table and slurping their drinks, the kids were happy mingling, meeting different people and showing off their photos. They told us afterwards that they held a meeting around the football table where they discussed how nervous they were. One of them pointed out that all these people were here for them, and to see their work, and they agreed that they shouldn’t be nervous and should instead enjoy it. It’s great to see our kids developing into mature, proud, open-minded little people before our eyes and it makes us very proud of them.

Read complete story, with additional photos at ROP Stories.
Donate to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project HERE.

Swimming In Rwanda

From ROP Stories

ROP boys learn to swim!
2 September 2012 by Jenny Clover

This summer something amazing happened at the ROP – the boys learned to swim! A Canadian NGO called Koga International contacted us back at the
beginning of the year, asking if they could fly some qualified
swimming coaches over to Rwanda, pay for the hire of a swimming pool
and all transport costs and teach all of our 100 children how to swim.
Of course, we jumped at the chance. Like most kids, our boys have a
long six-week holiday every summer and, like most kids, they can get
bored and restless. But more than that, it’s rare for our boys to get
an opportunity to learn a valuable new skill, taught by experts, and
to get out of the ROP centre and spend time together in a new
environment. So two weeks of swimming classes in a local leisure
centre which also boasts a trampoline, swings, slides, table football,
ping-pong and pool, was always going to be a winning idea.

Koga international had also come up with the idea of teaching some of
the ROP staff to swim in the few weeks before the kids’ classes began.
The idea is that now that four ROP staff members have begun to learn
how to teach swimming, they can continue the ROP’s swimming programme
in the following years.

So two days before the classes were due to start, we gathered the boys
and told them they would soon be embarking on a watery adventure. The
reaction was incredible – cheering, clapping, jumping, squealing. I
don’t know if we’ve ever had such a joyous reaction to an announcement
before. They couldn’t believe the staff had secretly been having
lessons in preparation for it, and couldn’t wait to start the classes
on Monday.

Despite the excitement, some of the boys were terrified at the idea of
getting in the water. Most of them had never swum before and felt very
uncomfortable with the idea of swimming – particularly with floating
and going anywhere near the deep end. But the expert swimming coaches
helped them get over these issues amazingly quickly and within a few
days, all boys were happily putting their faces in the water and
floating unaided. They picked up the front crawl stroke very fast,
with young and older boys alike, powering along the width of the pool,
faces in water, completely unaided. Many, although not all, of the
boys, were also happy swimming around in the deep end by the end of
the two weeks, and most had learnt how to do really good dives (and
dive bombs).

As coordinators who have watched these boys grow and flourish over the
last three years, we felt incredibly proud to watch them launch
themselves at the task of learning to swim with such enthusiasm, good
humour and bravery. We’ve always known what fantastic boys we have at
the ROP, but watching them in a new environment with new people,
tackling a scary and difficult task with such grace and good behaviour
just reiterated what special boys they are. There was no crying, no
fighting, no bad behaviour, just lots of happy boys grateful for the
chance at a new opportunity and giving their all. This was especially
true of the first group in the morning who had to get in the very cold
water and fight through the shivers to swim before the sun had had a
chance to warm the water up.

See many more photos of swimming lessons at ROP Stories.
Rwandan Orphans Project Center for Street Children

Engineers Without Broders in Rwanda

From ROP Stories
Goodbye Engineer Friends!
by Jenny Clover
24 July 2012

As the last of our engineer friends depart Rwanda we want to say a huge thank you to the whole Engineers Without Borders team for their hard work!

Over the last two months Steve, Kara, Andy, Matt, Andrew, BJ, Jordan and Sonya from Boulder, Colorado, have been busy with meetings galore, testing the soil on the new ROP land, designing our new school and generally laying all the groundwork for the exciting new chapter in the ROP’s story.

Thanks to them, the ROP will hopefully have a new school on our own land by next autumn. Thanks for everything and we hope to see you all back in Kigali soon!

Read more stories about the Rwandan Orphans Project at ROP Stories.

A Birthday Like No Other

A BIG birthday at the ROP
Posted on June 25, 2012 by Sean
From ROP Stories

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.

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

Go Rwandan Orphan’s Project!

From Amakuru!

A fantastic year for the ROP, but there is still much to achieve.

The year 2011 was quite a year for the ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project)! In December three of our six graduates started university at two of Rwanda’s top universities, having won prestigious government scholarships because of their impressive grades. The year also saw the opening of the ROP’s library and playroom, a room full of books, art supplies and toys unlike anything our children or staff has ever seen before. We built a wonderful new kitchen that is both more efficient and more environmentally friendly than our old kitchen. The ROP also added a mental health program to the project, staffed by a psychologist and an experienced social worker. This program adds another facet to the care we already provide our children by ensuring that their mental health is looked after as well as their physical health.

There were many other achievements, but none bigger than the purchase of our own land back in September. This is the first asset that we can truly call our own and it is a major step forward in our journey towards becoming independent and self sustaining in the future.

As great as 2011 was, we all expect 2012 to be even better. We have a newly-opened nursery school that is the ROPs first income generating project. We’re also building new partnerships that we hope will allow us to reach our goal of starting construction of new buildings on our land this year.

But despite all these improvements, we still face real problems. We lack a steady, regular income to meet our monthly costs, which is our biggest struggle,

We are also trying to raise money to begin construction of a new ROP Center on our land. These are lofty goals but we believe that they are achievable. We hope to begin by raising funds to build several greenhouses on our land that would allow us to grow high value crops to generate income for the Center year round. The next phase of the project would be constructing the classrooms, offices and other necessary rooms that would make up the new and larger ROP School. The final phase of the building would be the raising of dormitories, a dining hall, a kitchen and other facilities and upon completion the staff and children of the ROP would make a final transition to our new home. We know we will face great challenges to get there, but we continue to believe that people from here in Rwanda and around the world will see what our program gives to so many orphans and vulnerable children and will be inspired to help us.

Murakoze (Thank You)!

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