Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘orphanage’

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.

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

Erik Is Not Alone

Erik’s story was written by Lukasz Zielonka for ROP Stories, one of the sites for ROP Center for Street Children and the Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

Erik’s Story

Erik sat on the plastic chair and looked deep into my translator’s eyes. Late afternoon light brightens every detail of his face, lost somewhere in the shadows of this tiny, little room.

Erik NYANKURU is just ten years old, but the way he looks at me is so mature that he could be one of us. A life’s worth of struggle and sadness condensed into a short, ten year life.

He was born in Gitarama, in south-west Rwanda.

It all began when he was seven. His mother had AIDS. Apparently she had an affair with a neighbor who passed the disease to her. When his father, Maurice Niyonkuru, found out about her sickness and about her lover he decided to kill the man – Erik doesn’t remember his name. Maurice had a very bad reputation in the area. He was ruthless and he liked to fight. His mother’s lover was afraid for his own life and finally left to Uganda.

Every day Erik was getting up very early to take care of his mother, washing and feeding her even when she was screaming in unbelievable pain.

She was the one who he remembers the most. She was always with him and his two older brothers when he was younger. She played with them, she taught him how to read and write, because they couldn’t afford to go to school.

One night he had a dream about his beloved mother. She was lying in her room screaming, coughing and calling his name but every time when he reached her she was dead. He woke up all of the sudden and ran to her bed. She was still breathing. Next day she seemed to feel better and hopeful, but soon after she seemingly gave up her fight with the disease. Erik believes she was waiting for the angels from heaven. She didn’t wait long.

After her death Maurice, Erik’s father, was accused of participating in the genocide by a Gacaca, the traditional community court of Rwanda. The tribal court issued a sentence of 15 years in prison for him. He was found responsible for many deaths and convicted as being one of the most enthusiastic killers.

Erik decided to leave Gitarama along with his neighbor Charles to Kigali. His older brothers stayed at home and since that day he has never seen or spoken to them. He was too busy taking care of himself.

His first week in the Rwandan capital was spent with Charlie’s family, but after that they told him to leave. He had no place to go, no place to hide and no one to talk to. He sold all his clothes, covering himself only with an old, dirty rug. He spent all his money on food.

Very quickly he became friends with Jean-Paul, a boy at the same age, who was very experienced in living on the street. He belonged to a group of young boys and Erik was very happy to join them.

They were trying to forget about the misery of their lives, and very easily did so with easy access to alcohol, cigarettes and drugs (he often inhaled the fumes of diesel engines). They were stealing charcoal from people’s houses and they were trying to sell it for any price. Soon they got into trouble with the police. They were arrested, but Jean-Paul, Erik and three more boys were able to escape from the police truck.

After five months on the streets he was well respected among the other kids, ‘trained’ and well versed in the area – especially the busy, dangerous Nyabugogo bus station. This doesn’t change the fact that he and the other boys were still spending nights sleeping in bushes or under the bridges.

The Rwandan Orphans Project Center for Street Children in Nyabugogo was well known to them – it was in their neighborhood. One day Erik was passing next to this orphanage, when suddenly someone called to him and later introduced himself. He was a staff member of the ROP Center. Erik was seduced by possibility of receiving regular meals and had agreed to join this facility. Initially it was very hard for him, but after the whole orphanage was moved to Kanombe he found peace and solace. Now he is a happy boy and he has hope – something he has never experienced before.

The hopelessness of everyday life has ended and as Erik says ‘I want to live to show other kids that life does not end up on the street’.

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Rwandan Orphan’s Project

Don’t Forget

Don’t Forget by NGARANBE Daniel (in photo), is an excerpt from The Skin of Lions: Rwandan Folk Tales.

My life was in the streets and my bed in the dirt. My food was from dustbins. I used drugs to try to forget, but they didn’t help. I was a thief and would rob whoever passed my way. Then I found a new home and new parents at an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children.

The man at ROP told me to come out from the street and join the other kids. They clothed me, treated me well, and helped me when I was sick. What touched me most was that they treated me just like any other kid. That is why I thank my new parents at ROP. Now I have a future. I am speaking English, Some French, and taking other courses.

I would ask the leaders of this nation, and all nations that are helping children, to keep doing what you can. Not because the children are your biological blood, but because they are people just like you.

Children are tomorrow’s wonder.

There are others in some families who are being misused for sexually immoral things and heavy work. Don’t forget all of those who are being wronged. They are looking to you, to anybody, wondering who will see them and reach out a hand.

Children’s Yoga In Rwanda

“They were piled together like kittens in a box,” says photographer Tim Botsko, referring to the early morning yoga session that took place at the ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

Paula Herring, a newly certified teacher from Yoga One in San Diego, was putting her skills to the test with vulnerable children who are survivors of the 1994 genocide and the AIDS pandemic. Class was held before school started on the cement floor of the abandoned warehouse that the children, until recently, called home. With the help of Celestine, for translation, Paula presented the ancient movements, breath and sounds of yoga to people who had never heard the word, let alone knew what it meant. They called it a game and said, “Let’s play yoga”.

“I began by explaining that there is no competition to this game,” says Paula. “It is three-pronged and involves your spirit, heart and body. I told them that yoga respects plants and animals.” As she spoke, the young people created a circle around her and kept inching forward, squishing their bodies together. No matter how often she showed them how to make space by opening their legs and stretching, they kept clumping together like pick-up sticks which had been randomly dropped in the middle of the floor. “If we were in The States,” Paula thought, “nobody would infringe upon another’s space like this, let alone be touching each other.” She realized that, “There is a deeper sense of ‘we’ and ‘community’ here, than ‘I and thou’.”

She opened with an Om, telling them about its significance, as the vibration of the universe and a way to receive blessings. Instead of resting their hands on their knees, as instructed, the children held them up in the air as if in praise. Being raised in a predominantly Christian country and a like minded orphanage, they interpreted the word “blessings” as “praise” and thus lifted their hands towards heaven.

“The first 2 poses were mountain and tree,” Paula explains. “I asked them when they heard the word mountain what they thought about. One child said, ‘Home’. Others pointed out the window at the nearby hills. I said the mountain and tree pose are strong, like those hills and they never move or change. I squeezed my way around the congested kids, made some adjustments and poked a few to show them that they wouldn’t fall over and could stand strong. We then practiced the tree. I said ‘these are your branches, which rest on the trunk. They hold life, the birds, leaves and fruits, but are strong and move.’ Again, no matter how much I tried to have them put their arms straight up against the side of their heads, they would turn their palms up as if praying in church.”

Next up was the camel. Paula asked if they knew what a camel was and they said yes, it was an animal in the desert, but they didn’t have deserts in Rwanda, so there were none there. She demonstrated the camel and talked about reaching back and opening the chest. “It can help you when your shoulders and neck are tight from studying and you’ve been bent over all day,” she said. After camel she showed them down-dog, gave some adjustments and spoke about lifting the hips and focusing on their core, where their heart is. She said that everything in yoga is led by the heart and then comes the mind and body. One-legged dog came next, with children sliding, losing balance and laughing as they fell.

Miss Herring, the muzungu (white person) from America, followed up with Dolphin and Child’s Pose, informing them that it can help ease pain, if their head or stomach was hurting. Then she told them about the Pigeon and talked about puffing out their chest to expand their lungs and that to be a balanced pigeon they had to do both sides. Before she could finish demonstrating, they were at it, falling left and right. One of the children said they had seen an eagle, which was her prompt to talk about the eagle and show the pose. “To be a really good eagle,” she said, you cross your legs and crouch down and are very quiet, so you can look for food. It takes a lot of concentration.” She finished up the bird section with the crow.

As soon as she asked the orphaned children if they had ever heard of a cobra, they said it was “sneaky” and all started hissing and then proceeded to effectively learn the position. She did the warrior pose and told them that this kind of warrior wasn’t about hurting anyone, but about being strong and protecting your self.

“At the end of the session, we went into Shavasana (corpse pose),” Paula recalls. “I said that this type of pose was not about being sad, but about your body releasing everything and letting go. It is different than sleeping. I went around and started putting my palm on their foreheads, on their temples and gently pulling their ears a little, one at a time. Because of the labyrinth and disorder, it was hard to tell who I had done and who I hadn’t. When I asked if there was anybody I hadn’t touched and if so, to put their hand on their stomach, everyone put their hand on their stomach! They craved being touched.”

At the end of the class, Celestin interpreted Paula’s closing words into Kinyarwanda (the native language of Rwanda). “Put your hands like this.” She put her hands together with her thumb on her heart. “Say, ‘Namaste’. It’s a way to show respect for you, your neighbor, your spirit and your infinite potential.” At once, they all repeated, “Namaste”.

“The most beautiful part of the experience for me,” grins Paula, “Was that not one of the children ever said, ‘I can’t do it’. They didn’t care if they were doing it ‘right’, they just wanted to try. That used to be my personal fear in class, that I wasn’t ‘doing it right’. It helped me realize that it’s not about being perfect, but being willing to try and embracing whatever arises. I was also afraid that they’d get bored, especially the older boys, but it never happened. That was just another one of my needless fears to release.”

There was no sound system, cushy mats, designer clothes, candles or incense, but the yoga being taught on the cement floor at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda was pure yoga. It was cut down to its essence and accepted in the cultural context within which its participants lived. It wasn’t fancy or advanced and didn’t come at a price. Offered freely, with love and respect, it was accepted with the same grace and spirit. The children demonstrated that yoga can be done without ego, self-consciousness or need to “claim” one’s territory. “The progression from them not knowing anything about what was happening,” says Paula, “to being totally caught up in it, was dramatic. I’ll never hesitate to ‘play yoga’ anywhere and anytime.”

Styling in Rwanda

The first thing that caught our eye, when we went to work at an orphanage in Rwanda, were the beautiful women of this small East African nation, who wear their traditional Kanga’s (wrap around dresses) and headpieces with poise, style and grace.

Photo: Alphonsine Bankundiye. Mother of four.

In a country known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda is becoming increasingly known for its environmental policies, gender equality, stable government and breathtaking beauty, but no beauty surpasses that of the unique, one of a kind, outfits worn by mothers, models, children and grandmothers. Kanga’s are not only colorful works of art, they can also be used, like quilts, to make a statement, tell a story or portray someone’s history. MORE

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An Orphan’s Life

When this story about Franco was first written, the orphanage was called El Shaddai. It has since changed it’s name to the ROP Center for Street Children and moved to the other side of Kigali.

If it isn’t difficult enough to be a teenager, try growing up in a country that just over 16 years ago experienced one of the worst genocides in African history and combine that with having both of your parents die from AIDS when you are only 15 years of age. That’s the life into which Franco Gakwaya was born, but it is not the end of the story.

Rwanda is in East Africa, adjacent to Lake Kivu and bordered by the countries of the Congo, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is a land-locked nation, known as the “land of a thousand hills” for its rolling iron-rich red landscape, fertile fields and volcanic mountains. Some of the rarest species of mountain gorillas live within its northern borders and chimpanzees are protected in national parks in the east.

Even though Rwanda is now a bustling and successful country that is providing health care, education, jobs and economic growth to it citizens, most people only know about the 1994 genocide, in which a million people were killed by their neighbors over a 30-day period. It was horrible and still affects every single Rwandan.

The AIDS pandemic has also touched Rwanda. As a result, there are thousands upon thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children. In the last twelve years, many of these children have been placed in foster homes, orphanages or boarding schools, but far too many still roam the roads and live on the streets. Franco is one of those who found a new place to call home, an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children. ROP is located in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the most densely populated country per square mile in all of Africa.

“We sleep four to a bunk for the older boys,” says Franco, “and six for the younger smaller kids.” MORE

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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?’”

Quilting Mama in Rwanda

Daisy Gale doesn’t take any guff and is a straight shooter or should I say straight quilter? About her trip to work with children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali Rwanda, she says, “I’ve been trying to get here for sixteen years. Four of my children are adopted. I look at the kids I’m working with here and they remind me of my own. They can be a pain in the butt, but I love them to pieces.”

Daisy, a Salt Lake City mother of eight “that look like the United Nations” and master quilter, has been volunteering all of her life and quilting since she received her first 1928 White from her grandmother at the age of fourteen. Along with a team of medical personnel, trauma specialists from the Association for Thought Field Therapy and community organizers, Daisy ventured to the other side of the globe to share her skills with some of the 150 children who call ROP Center for Street Children their home. Most of the children at El ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) are survivors of the 1994 genocide or their parents died from the AIDS pandemic.

For almost three weeks Daisy worked day and night to set up a quilting program for some older students, who would soon be leaving the orphanage and have no other means of support. The beginning days were challenging, as many of the machines were broken or malfunctioning and some of the young men “had no idea what they were doing,” Daisy says, “but they took in everything I said and were determined to get it right.” She taught them the basics of machine maintenance, safety, cutting, sewing, block assembly, sashing, applique, color use, hand quilting, as well as how to infuse their personal creative genius and design. “I swear,” she says like a proud mother, “that these young men’s quilts will become collector’s items.”

She and her students also went on a fabric safari, “which was a trip in itself,” Daisy snickers. “With all that finagling and bargaining, they were yelling and screaming as much as I do back home on the soft ball field!” Their persistence paid off when they found a shop in the capital (Kigali) to buy natural inexpensive one-hundred percent African cotton fabrics and arranged an ongoing relationship with that supplier.

“Each of these young people have their own strengths,” Daisy states. “One is good at cutting, another at design and yet another at sewing. Language is our biggest barrier, even though Marseilles is a great translator. I have people taking the class that speak Kinyarwanda, French and Swahili and Marseilles can speak them all!” She claims that the boys have their idiosyncrasies and quirks, “But who doesn’t,” she laughs.

Daisy helped set up bank accounts for the children, taught them how to manage their business and connected them with another quilting teacher from Kigali, who continued their quilting education. Other women from The U.S. (including Suzanne Connolly and Dottie Webster), also play a major role in supporting and marketing the young men’s quilts. “They’ve already sold several at Hotel Rwanda,” states Suzanne Connolly, “and have had buyers in the U.S. who want to buy everything they make.”

“I’m hoping what I took away from there and what I left will keep going,” says Daisy. “If these young men and women leave the orphanage without any skills, they’ll end up starving and being back on the streets in the same position they were before they got to ROP.”

“This entire project was the result of an idea by Sandra Bagley, who used to be the medical officer for the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda,” says Daisy. “Sandra helped me adopt my kids and asked if I could teach the children at ROP how to quilt.”

“I don’t care if people know anything about me,” Daisy clarifies, “I want people to know that it doesn’t matter if it’s these kids or somewhere else. It doesn’t matter how much you get involved or where, just get involved! Give a little each paycheck; donate time and/or energy. You don’t have to travel overseas. Go ahead and get your hands dirty.”

Daisy Gale not only got her hands dirty, she got her heart split open every time she saw one of the boys faces light up with understanding or they did something that reminded her of one of her sons back home. Like most languages, the word “mama” is the same in Kinyarwanda (the native language of Rwanda). Daisy Gale has now added to her Utah family of eight and become Mama to a new generation of Africans she birthed into the quilting world.

If you would like to contribute to this project please contact The Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

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