Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘neighborhood’

One by One They Died

Life of Nane Alejandrez. Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

In photo: Nane holding photos of brother Tavo and Leo’s headstones.

naneOne by one they died . . . from drugs . . . from violence . . . from pain, hate and revenge. Nane’s oldest brother got wiped out when he was intentionally hit from behind on his motorcycle; his younger brother died from a heroin overdose; his uncle Pancheo was stabbed to death; numerous cousins succumbed to drugs or were murdered; and his father died from an accumulation of life-long exposure to pesticides, alcoholism and a blow to the head with a baseball bat during a gang fight. That Nane survived to tell his story is a miracle in and of it’s self. 

Mr. Alejandrez is now director of Barrios Unidos (Communities United), was instrumental in convening a national gang summit for peace and has received countless awards and recognition for his work in teaching and living non-violence. Barrios Unidos is a multi-cultural program whose mission is to prevent and curtail violence among youth, by providing alternatives such as the Cesar E. Chavez School For Social Change; outreach to youth clubs, parent groups, juvenile hall and kids on the street; and community economic development by operating a full service, custom silk screening business called BU Productions, where youth learn production, sales, marketing, design and administration skills.

NANE:

I’ve seen so many families get torn apart and so many men, especially men, go into hate and revenge and take somebody else’s life. Not thinking about what it’s going to do to the rest of the family. All the violence and anger . . . and a lot of us being brought up to not show any pain . . . to not let people know . . . so we act out, even at times when we don’t want to.

When I acted out I didn’t really want to, but I did it to show that I was looking out for the neighborhood; for the honor of my family. It felt like I wasn’t punking out. If you didn’t do nothing then someone else would think, “Oh well, kill one of those family members and nobody will do anything about it.” So the family would look at each other and say, “Who’s going to do something about it?” – That whole system of payback; trying to keep an image that causes a lot of pain. It’s easier to do that then to deal with your pain.

One thing I’ve learned throughout the years, is I wish somebody would have talked to me about pain and how to deal with it; how to not inflict pain. I learned how to numb it by using drugs and violence, which removed me from feeling it and kept my feelings busy on something else. That worked for a while, but what began to happen was the addiction started taking over. No longer was it about feelings; it was just being well. Surviving and the excitement of breaking the law and running with the home boys . . . you know . . . rebelling, not conforming. I didn’t know anybody that was dealing with it.

People would say, “It’s OK, everything’s going to be all right.” I’d say, “How do you know everything’s going to be all right, when I’m feeling like shit?! You tell me everything’s going to be all right, but that guy over there’s laughing at what he did to my family. Why shouldn’t I go do it to his family?” And then other people would just say, “Go out and take care of it.” They think, “Why isn’t he doing anything? Why doesn’t he take one of their people out?”

There’s that whole thing of not believing in a higher power. I said, “How can this God take my loved ones away? How can He allow it to happen . . . to take my heroes?” The heroes in my life were taken away in a short period of time. The heroes to me were my father, my Uncle Frank and my oldest brother.

After losing all these relatives I was still using drugs a lot of the time. When my father had his operation I was strung out and unemployed. Here I was having graduated from the university with honors and I was really down. When I went to see him in the hospital I was loaded. I went into intensive care. My aunt was there and we went into see him. There were five individuals in intensive care and you know a lot of people that go in there don’t come out. They told me he was all bandaged up and swollen and it would be hard to recognize him. I go in there and start to talk to my father and tell him how much I love him, how much I care about him, my aunts at the end of the bed rubbing his feet. I’m saying, “You’re going to be OK. I love you Dad.” Then my other aunt comes in and says, “Alejandrez is over here.” I look and say, “Wow man!” I was talking to the wrong man. (laughs) I was talking to another man two beds down from my father. My aunt let go of his feet and yelled! I could hear the rest of my family laughing, even in a situation like that, they were laughing. They were going, “Nane’s over there talking to another man.” I swear to God I felt like disappearing. If my father could talk he would have said, “I’m over here stupid!” or “Pendejo en estoy!” So I had to move from that bed to my Dad’s bed and repeat everything. That’s how fucked up I was. That’s an example of the madness. It took me about a year after my father died to really let go of that.

After all these deaths, when I really wanted to clean myself up, I was able to see a friend of mine who was clean. He’s now one of my best friends. We had used together in the past, so when I saw him clean I saw the possibility. He was looking good. I’d gotten busted and was going to court and he would show up in the courts. Every time I had a court date he’d be there supporting me.

Finally I just couldn’t do it no more. My family . . . my children . . . I wasn’t doing anymore talks. I couldn’t hide it anymore. I’d gotten so deep I couldn’t maintain. And I didn’t want to be doing stuff when I was loaded. I hid my addiction a lot. When it got to the point were I couldn’t do that anymore I asked for help. When I asked him for support he was there. Once I got clean and got the drugs out of my system I started to feel a lot of the pain.

I think I was always a spiritual person but I got side tracked. I got more involved in my traditional ways . . . my indigenous background . . . knowing that it was OK to pray. I’d go around with a lot of Native American teachers and prayer was always there. So I started to pray and go to NA (narcotics anonymous) and they always ended the meeting with a prayer. I began to feel different. My work started coming out again and I was really happy. I was seeing the faces of children and I told myself, “If I’m going to do this I need to do it right.” I need to be clean and I can’t be backsliding. I got more involved in my work and my self. It took a long time to do that again.

I’ve been gifted, you know, in certain situations where things were going to happen . . . by me being there . . . and the respect they have for me. Because I have been through a lot and they could sense it, it stopped it from happening again. People know that this is what I’ve been talking about for the last twenty years. “Stop the violence! Stop the violence!” Even through my madness I’ve stuck with it. People my age always tell me that that’s what they admire about me . . . that I’ve always stuck with it. It’s been hard. There’s been a lot of pain. People ask, “Why would you want to stay in a situation where you’re dealing with so much pain?” But at the same time there’s so much hope . . . the smiles on the kids. They’ve got this place, they’ve got a job, people that look like themselves running it. They got inspiration that maybe someday they’ll be doing it.

More of Nane’s story, and others, at: Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

Hunger, Summer, America

Dear Gabriel,

For most of us, the 4th of July means neighborhood parties, backyard barbecues, and maybe a watermelon seed spitting contest or two. The holiday is a celebration of family, friends, and the triumph of the American dream. But for families across America who struggle with poverty and hunger, that dream seems a long way off.

watermelongirl

For many families, the sudden loss of a job or a medical emergency can make keeping food on the table a struggle. And for parents who rely on school meal programs to help bridge the gap when times are tough, that problem is especially acute in the summer months.

Kids shouldn’t have to worry about going hungry every summer.

While many of us are relaxing with family and friends this summer, too many parents across America are wondering how they will keep their children happy and healthy until school starts again.

Today, as Americans everywhere celebrate the tremendous promise of our nation, take a minute keep kids across the country happy and healthy. This July, add your name to the movement of Americans fighting to end childhood hunger this summer!

Thank you for taking action,

Ellen B.
Care2 and ThePetitionSite Team

Fear and Justice

From Change.org.

Dear Gabriel,

Heartbreaking tragedy: 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was visiting a relative’s house in a Florida gated community when he walked to the store to get Skittles and iced tea for his little brother. He never made it home. Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a self-styled neighborhood watch leader, who told police he thought Trayvon was “suspicious” in the mostly-white community.

Unbelievable twist: A man named George Zimmerman allegedly admitted to police that he shot Trayvon Martin in the chest. Zimmerman claims he acted in self defense, even though police allegedly told him not to do anything until they arrived — and despite the fact that Trayvon was unarmed, carrying only a bag of Skittles when he died. In the two weeks since Zimmerman allegedly killed Trayvon, police have refused to arrest the confessed killer.

Hope for justice: Sybrina Fulton is Trayvon’s mother, and she’s leading a campaign on Change.org to get justice for her son. Tracy knows that if enough people raise an outcry, Sanford, Florida authorities will be forced to investigate Zimmerman the same way they would investigate any confessed killer.

Sign Sybrina’s petition calling on the authorities in Florida to charge George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin and try him before a jury of his peers.

———

Here’s a lot more info about Sybrina’s campaign, in her own words:

On February 26, my son Trayvon Martin was shot and killed as he walked back from a convenience store where he had just bought some candy. He was only 17 years old.

Trayvon’s killer, George Zimmerman, admitted to police that he shot Trayvon in the chest. Zimmerman, the community’s self appointed “neighborhood watch leader,” called the police to report a suspicious person when he saw Trayvon, a young black man, walking from the store. But Zimmerman, who is white, still hasn’t been charged for killing my son.

Trayvon was my hero. At the age of 9, Trayvon pulled his father from a burning kitchen, saving his life. He loved sports and horseback riding. At only 17 he had a bright future ahead of him with dreams of attending college and becoming an aviation mechanic. Now that’s all gone.

When Zimmerman reported Trayvon to the police, they told him not to confront him. But he did anyway. All I know about what happened next is that my 17 year-old son, who was completely unarmed, was shot and killed.

I don’t know if my family will ever receive justice for this terrible tragedy. It’s been nearly two weeks and the Sanford Police have refused to arrest George Zimmerman. In their public statements, they even go so far as to stand up for the killer – saying he’s “a college grad” who took a class in criminal justice.

Please join me in calling on the the Sanford Police Department and Florida State’s Attorney Norman Wolfinger to investigate my son’s death and prosecute George Zimmerman for the shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin.

———

Click here to sign Sybrina’s petition for Florida State’s Attorney Norman Wolfinger to prosecute Trayvon Martin’s killier.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

His Mother’s Arms – Excerpt from children’s short story collection Solar Girl and Lunar Boy.

His Mother’s Arms – Part 1

The squeaking bicycle wheels turned with mechanical persistence, as Jon pumped triumphantly across the neighborhood asphalt and rounded the bend towards home. It felt like the sky swooped down and pulled his excitement into the air. He was flying down the flat, familiar road of his substandard, military housing project.

It was Jon’s second week on a two-wheeler and his sixth year of life. He never, ever believed he would be able to ride his bike without the help of his loud, grating training wheels. “Baby wheels!” The older kids would tease.

“Now, they’ll see!” he said to himself. “I’m not a baby!”

As the cracked, weed-filled driveway to Jon’s yellow-walled, dilapidated garage came into sight, a flurry of devilishness was unleashed.

“Hey, four eyes! Over here!”

Jon glanced to his left and saw fifth graders Biff, Manny and Dennis rising behind the barren bushes of late winter, arms flexed like baseball pitchers in their windup with fistfuls of delinquent angst headed his way.

Fear jumped through his arteries, as his legs strained to provide escape. Rocks and gravel pummeled his head, neck and shoulders. The bike seemed to melt away, as the gutter made friends with his face. Anxious, laughing voices hovered nearby. “Let’s beat it before he goes crying to his mommy.” They mocked.

He looked up through a fuzzy blur. Something wet and warm was dripping down his forehead and into his eyes. He felt for his glasses but they were gone. He looked at his hand and saw red streaks on his fingers and palm. Pain made a dramatic, sharp entrance, as tears merged with the stream of bloody discharge cascading over the side of his nose and cheek like a miniature waterfall. Before he could cover his mouth, a cry of nature erupted. “Mama!” A long, sick silence followed; then he heard it again, “Mama!” and felt his lips close around the last vowel.

Without his thick spectacles, everything looked lopsided and out of control. He stood with a groan and fifty pounds of embarrassment clinging to his back. Without knowing his camouflage pants were ripped to shreds and his bike a modernist rendition of mangled metal, he carried his torn body up the driveway, through the garage and into the kitchen to find the comfort of his mother’s arms. “Mama! Mama!” he cried, moving urgently from room to room. Leaking blood along the hall carpet he finally smelled his mother’s presence and opened her door.

Clarisa, Jon’s mother, was lying quietly with her eyes shut softly when Jon entered. Her forehead wrinkled with pain at his sudden intrusion.

“Mama!”

“What?” she said, without moving or looking his way. “I’ve got one of those awful headaches again.”

“Mama!” Jon sobbed. He walked clumsily towards the bed.

Clarisa turned her head slightly and reiterated. “Please, be quiet.” She reluctantly opened her eyes and exclaimed. “Oh my God!” Jon’s face, hands, arms, shirt and pants were covered with blood and dirt. Clarisa flinched involuntarily. “Don’t move!” she said sternly.

“But . . . “ Jon pleaded.

“Don’t move!” she repeated.

As Jon froze in mid-step, Clarisa began to rise. Her head seemed to contain a ton of throbbing iron. She inched, like an antique tray of china, to the bathroom. Jon stood shaking; restraining his primordial need to throw his arms around his mother’s waist, bury his head in her soft belly and wail.

She returned with a rolled up green towel and pressed it gently above his left eyebrow to stop the bleeding; making sure to keep her freshly washed red and blue blouse from her son’s crew-cut head of filthy, oozing fluids.

Clarisa was awash with agony. Jon’s bloodied entrance had cracked the temporary sea wall she’d erected in her quiet bedroom harbor, to keep the stormy waters of her aching head at bay. She called her neighbor, Grace, and asked if she could take Jon to the emergency room.

Grace, a stout, big-shouldered woman in jeans, was there in minutes, her one-year-old, Mary, clamped on her hip like a spider monkey. After her initial shock at seeing the dazed and dripping boy, she donned her best Florence Nightingale tone of voice and whisked Jon away with repeated self-assurances. “Everything will be OK Jon. Don’t worry.” Jon laid in the back seat of her car and held the towel tightly to his forehead. “It’s nothing,” Grace continued. “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

Once Grace had left with Jon, Clarisa sank back to bed with guilt and blame bombarding her already shattered head. “What kind of a mother am I?” she thought. He looked so scared.” She moaned in pain and placed her hands on her temples. There was nothing she could do. Her migraines crept from the back of her skull, like a creeping vine, thick with thorns, once or twice a week and literally dropped her to her knees. They had increased in frequency since Jon’s father, Alex, left for another six-month naval tour in the Indian Ocean.

She never mentioned her ailment in her overseas letters. They were always short and sweet, filled with everyday occurrences and concerns. “We’re fine. Jon is riding his bike whenever the weather permits. He’s getting much better. It won’t be long until we take off the training wheels. He’s doing pretty good in school. They learned the cutest song last week. I’ll try to remember to have him sing it for you when you get home. We both miss you tremendously. Take care sweetheart. Love Clarisa.”

Clarisa’s potent fear of what her “migraines” may reveal, were batted away like an annoying mosquito. Her father had died, at the age of fifty, from a cerebral aneurysm. Her mother had soon followed suit with a number of massive strokes. She had only been nineteen when her father made his quick exit and a tender twenty-three when her mother was ungracefully removed from her life. She viewed doctors as messengers of death and hospitals as corridors of contaminated grief.

CONTINUED TOMORROW

MORE STORIES

Neighbor to Neighbor

If there hadn’t been a gigantic sign on the street saying “C.E.L.P.A.R. Polyclinique”, the house within which it resides would have been indistinguishable from the other small dwellings crammed side by side along the road in East Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. We had only driven for about 15 minutes from central Kigali and it was like night and day. The French spelling for the center is a result of the association Rwanda had with Belgian after they were colonized in the last century and the close connection they maintained with France, until the last decade. They are now focusing on English as their second language of choice and teaching it in place of French in the schools.

There was a crowd of people waiting for us on the street and others quickly joined, as they saw a mini-bus of muzungas (white people) stepping foot in their neighborhood, an area of town seldom visited by foreigners or aid agencies. It took us several minutes to say our hellos, take the obligatory photos of children and show them their image in the camera (to their unquenchable delight) and head towards the sounds of music we were hearing from somewhere in the near distance. Someone standing next to me said she was hearing the sound of angels and kept looking up, even though she wasn’t religious in the least. We soon discovered where the heavenly music was coming from.

The clinic’s doctor, Fred Ndatimana, led us over the ditch on a slanted path up to the entrance where we were warmly greeted by the director, Abel Sekabarati, his assistant, Fabien Musabyinana, the nurse, Ndayifluga Bizinana and a choir of patients (men, women and children) singing their hearts out. Some of them were sitting (too tired or sick to stand) and the rest were swaying side to side clapping their hands and looking upward as they harmonized. There was one older woman with a baby in her arms that immediately caught my attention. They looked like an African version of a cover from The Saturday Evening Post and had that Norman Rockwell vibe, even though their reality was far from idealistic or serene.

In the last ten years, Rwanda got a jump start on HIV education and treatment with a comprehensive array of support from the President’s wife, Mrs. Jeannette Kagame, multiple governmental organizations and national health plans, as well as funding from numerous international aid agencies and foundations. Mrs. Kagame has gone beyond the efforts of most governments in other countries to address the AIDS pandemic, let alone as First Lady. In 2001, she hosted the African First Ladies at the Kigali Summit on Children and HIV/AIDS Prevention gathering, which was the first of its kind. This meeting provided recommendations and suggestions that each First Lady in attendance would implement in their own region and country. Mrs. Kagame developed a national plan of action for Rwanda, which catalyzed the creation of PACFA, which means Protection and Care of Families against HIV/AIDS. Another program that has been somewhat successful is called Unite for Children, Unite Against Aids. The health department has this campaign in all the provinces. Its priority is making treatment and testing available to all children, as young as possible.

My friend Wendy Leonard, who is the director of an AIDS education and health treatment organization in Rwanda, called The Ihangane Project, was in a small town (Ruli) in the northern part of Rwanda four years ago, working as a physician with a program connected to the Clinton Foundation. She discovered that one of the most challenging issues was making sure everyone was getting the same information and protocols from the various government offices, committees, NGO’s and countrywide initiatives. She also found that the best way to connect with adults was to first focus on and get treatment for their children, thus the importance of programs like Unite for Children, Unite Against Aids. She concurs that there has been a lot of progress, but that much remains to be accomplished.

Though these programs and policies have made great strides, they have not completely reached small community clinics such as C.E.L.P.A.R.’s Polyclinique, which is overseen by a local church organization and gets by on pins and needles, literally. There supplies are minimal, medical staff scarce and funding almost non-existent. In spite of these realities they have hope, education and community support beyond the expected.

As the singing and dancing continued, we were led by Dr. Ndatimana through the facility, which consisted of a small room containing the lab equipment (a few items for testing blood, including an old hand crank egg beater turned upside down (which was used as a centrifuge), two brightly painted “sick rooms”, a toilet closet and the front living room, from which we had entered. Their medicine cabinet, in the same room as the “lab”, contained about 30 medications (antibiotics, Tylenol and a few antiviral meds). That was the extent of their high technology laboratory and pharmacy; a far cry from the equipment at the hospital. There are 2 hospitals in Kigali. One is public and the other private. There are also numerous health clinics run by government and religious organizations and departments.

Dr. Ndatimana filled us in on the details. “We have two doctors. One is here and the other is in school in Belgium.” There is only one medical school in Rwanda, which is of course a very expensive expenditure. “We see many people that are HIV positive and others with AIDS,” the doctor continued. “The government helps a lot, but it can take a long time to see a doctor or get treatment at the hospital. We help them here through the church. The medicine is from the government, who pays for the drugs. If people have good support they can live for 15 years or longer, if not, they usually die within 2 years. This is an outpatient clinic, but sometimes if they are real sick they stay overnight in 1 of our 2 beds.” The doctor couldn’t recall exactly how many people had died from AIDS over the years and didn’t want to guess. He said, “It is sad, but it is part of my job. I’m a doctor”.

Even with the help of the clinic, fellow patients, the church and the government, it is unlikely that many people have the “good support” which Dr. Ndatimana speaks of as a necessity of living longer, since the country (and surviving family members) is still struggling to regroup after the shattering 1994 genocide. Many families were decimated, leaving few relatives or next of kin, let alone the financial or material whereabouts to recover. Top that off with the thousands upon thousands of orphaned children and you have an overwhelming, though not insurmountable, landscape of suffering and struggle.

When asked about the attitude of Rwandans’ towards those with HIV and AIDS, Dr. Ndatimana said, “Many organizations have worked on educating people about the disease. Now they are treated just like friends, like any other sickness. They are not stigmatized as they once were. Now they know we care. We have a team of counselors that help talk with people and teach them to not be afraid.” Mr. Sekabarati (the director) added, “We help them here through the church. “These people are our neighbors and from different churches. We want to help them, not condemn them.”

People were not always so understanding in the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of misinformation, fear and ignorance surrounded the disease and those that had it. Like most places in the world (West and East), it has taken an armada of consistent and persistent educational, governmental, health care and religious leaders to get the truth out about HIV and transform the cultures attitude from judgment to concern and support.

The fight is far from over. After another “awareness campaign” to reduce the spread of HIV, it was reported that there is still a low rate of condom use in remote areas of the country. They believe this is due to remaining stigma and lack of access to supplies. Rwanda imports about 14 million condoms per year, but that supply doesn’t meet the demand, especially in small villages outside the capital. These realities have driven the National HIV/AIDS Control Commission to increase imports for the demand and continue the Witegereza campaign, whose message is “Teach Me How To Use a Condom”. This campaign combines radio ads and over 200 billboards throughout the country. It is targeted at young people and adults.

The staff at C.E.L.P.A.R.S. Polyclinique state that all of the government programs, such as United for Children, Unite Against Aids, PACFA and Teach Me How, have made a difference, but it is neighbor to neighbor that works best. “When someone you know and have known for years, is sick, you want to help, says Mr. Sekabarati. “As Christians we are taught to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is the right thing to do. We are not here to judge others. Anyone can get sick; it doesn’t make you a bad person.” C.E.L.P.A.R.S. has been educating people door to door, during sermons, at social events and from the example of their pastors and church elders, who not only support the clinic, but helped set it up in the first place, when they saw that not everyone’s needs were getting met.

Before leaving the clinic I spoke through a translator with one of the women singing. She said, in her birth language of Kinyarwanda, “We all support each other and are starting to understand.” She stated that patients help each other and check in on one another’s families throughout the week. They’ve developed a support system of those that are HIV positive and are not shunned, as they were in the past. Her words reminded me of one of the teachers at the ROP Center for Street Children, the orphanage in which we had been working for a number of weeks.

The teacher that came to mind was a woman who is Hutu, but is now teaching children who come from predominantly Tutsi backgrounds. Her husband is in jail for committing atrocities during the genocide (perhaps even against some of the parents of the orphans his wife now teaches). The teacher is HIV positive, as a result of transmission by her husband, as is their child. She continues to teach and love the children at ROP, while also visiting her husband in prison. In the past, she would have been ostracized and shunned for her illness or tribal affiliation, but now she is accepted and speaks of it freely. Her life embodies the contradictions, traumas, circumstances, transformations and ever-present hope, mixed with realistic and pragmatic solutions, which encompass the lives of most Rwandans.

After our tour was ended, we sat on a wooden bench or leaned against the wall and listened to some more songs. I don’t know how many people were not feeling well that day or had been sick for some time or how many folks in that small room had already lost family members, relatives and friends to AIDS, but the energy that radiated from their hearts and voices, seemed to transcend their circumstances. It was as if they were telling illness and death that they had no hold on them and were powerless in their presence. Children were laughing and playing outside the door, peering in, giggling and smiling before dashing off to play hide and seek. Adults entered and left quietly or stayed and joined in the singing. Dr. Ndatimana translated a verse from the last song. “We might have AIDS,” they sang, “but no matter how sick we are, it doesn’t matter. By the time we get to heaven we won’t be sick any more.” They weren’t being fatalistic. It didn’t mean they would stop taking medicine, educating others or desiring to live into old age. They were at peace with what was and what would be. Although I doubt they have ever heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or 12-step programs, they seemed to have down the serenity prayer by heart and not just in their heads. The prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

As we made our way back to the ROP Center for Street Children, we discussed the clinic and the experience. We tried to make sure that we cut short our tendencies to compare health care and HIV prevention and treatment in Rwanda with our experience back home in The States or Europe, but couldn’t resist. Some of us on the team, who had come to work at the orphanage, have also worked in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the West and dealt with the bureaucracy, setbacks, prejudice and fear that held sway in the early days of the pandemic and continue, to some degree, into the present. We were saddened by the lack of material provisions at the clinic, but also gratified by the community understanding and support. What impressed us most was the incredible dedication and lack of self-righteousness by the church, especially since it was a fundamentally conservative evangelical organization. They were actually matching their religious rhetoric with their actions. They were giving time, money and most importantly, a human touch to their faith. It was such a divergence from what we were used to with similar “Christian” bodies in the west. We were intimately familiar with people professing to be Christians, but whose rhetoric was hateful and only caused separation and pain and fanned the armies of ignorance. It was so refreshing to speak with the pastors and board of C.E.L.P.A.R.S. Some of us even began reconsidering our own faith or lack there of.

If there was no sign in front of the clinic and we’d been taken there under a different pretext, we would have thought we were simply going to meet someone’s family in a small apparently insignificant home on the outskirts of Kigali. The clinic was so inauspicious and unassuming. Some of us had expected to see a large building with modern conveniences, staff in white coats and long lines of patients sitting quietly in waiting rooms, awaiting their name to be called. As it turns out, size really doesn’t matter, it’s the quality of the place and the connection of the people that make something special. The people in this East side community of Kigali are connecting. Members from the local churches are connecting. The families in the area are communicating, educating and connecting by knocking on doors, speaking in the alleyways and markets and embracing their neighbors, one precious soul at a time.

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