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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.

Runaways in Rwanda

Runaways
9 June 2012
by Sean
From ROP Stories

People often ask me what is the most difficult thing about running an orphanage. Well, to be honest there is no lack of challenges and frustrations, but for me the most difficult challenge is dealing with runaways.

You see, the boys we bring in the from streets and from the far off rural areas of Rwanda are usually very young. In the last year and a half we’ve added many new kids between the ages of five to ten years of age. Although life on the streets is hard, these boys become used to being out there on their own, able to do what they want when they want without any sort of authority around to prevent them from doing so. They can eat when they want (if they can scrounge up enough change), wash when they want (which isn’t often, I can tell you) and move around town as they want. Sure, life on the streets can be harsh, but they become accustomed to it and it becomes normal for them.

When we find them on the street and invite them to come to the ROP, promising them education, food, clothes, etc, they jump at the opportunity. Usually they settle in very quickly and all might seem well for a short time, but for some, experiencing rules, structure and discipline – in some cases for the first time in their lives – is not easy for them to handle.

Taking boys who are used to fighting, begging and stealing, and getting them to fit within the ROP family is tough work. If one commits an offense – or “mistake” as we call them – the solution isn’t as simple as punishing them. If you make the punishment too serious – and for a street child any punishment is excessive in their eyes – they’ll wait for their opportunity and run away. If you take away a privilege, they’ll try to run away. If they want you to buy them a radio and you refuse, explaining to them that we can’t buy everyone radios, they’ll threaten to run away or just do it anyway. Sometimes something as simple as wanting some type of food they don’t get at the Center will cause them to try to run away.

To be honest it can be incredibly frustrating. I often wonder how these kids can choose to run back to streets when we’re offering them so much. But then I remind myself that these are young kids. They can’t see past their own noses, let alone far ahead into the future when everything we’ve providing will really mean something to them. They want a sweet roll, a radio, or the freedom to wander around NOW, and if they can’t have it they’ll go back to the street where they can do whatever they want.

Read entire story, with additional photos 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.

Changing Lives In Rwanda

News from the Rwandan Orphans Project

Great Leaps Forward

It was April 2010 when the ROP Center moved from a dark and dingy warehouse to the beautiful site we occupy now. That move was a giant step forward for the organization, one that we’re still very proud of today. In the last two years a lot of ideas, work and money have been put into what was once just an abandoned school on the outskirts of Kigali, reshaping it into the wonderful orphanage and school it is today.

But this month that reminds us of our past has also brought with it some great news about the future of the ROP. Engineers Without Borders, a large international organization, has chosen to partner with the ROP to build a new school and education center on the land we acquired late last year. This comes as great news because it will be the first facility constructed on what will be the future home of the entire ROP Center, and it will feature classrooms and learning facilities custom built to address the needs and challenges of teaching and learning in Rwanda. Everyone from the children to the teachers to the administration is very excited to see the project get started in June when the first team of EWB engineers is scheduled to visit the site and begin planning the design and construction.

This is just another remarkable milestone in the short history of the ROP. In just a few short years we have gone from an overcrowded warehouse with a leaky roof and no electricity to our current home that, while great, we are having to rent for a large fee each month. Now we are on the verge of building on our very own land, and we couldn’t be more excited about the future of the ROP.

The new ROP school will be just one facility of many we hope will someday occupy our sprawling land in the Kibaya valley. Of course we also hope to build new living spaces and other necessary needs for the orphans and vulnerable children who live with us. But we also want to expand the ROP to be more than an orphanage and school. One day we would like it to be an all encompassing community center where local impoverished families can seek help educating and caring for their own children through our academic and vocational training programs, where they can seek the advice and assistance of our social workers, and benefit from other programs.

While the ROP is still a small grassroots organization, our dreams and ambitions are large. We feel that, with the ongoing support and enthusiasm of our donors (people like you) we can reach them and even surpass them. So stay tuned. More good news to come!

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

Meet Alex Kaberuka

From Amakuru!

Meet Alex, the newest member of the ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) team.

Alex Kaberuka’s story mirrors the backgrounds of so many of the boys living at the ROP. Alex was just five years old on April 7th, 1994, the day the Rwandan Genocide began. His father, an employee at the International Red Cross, gave Alex to his friend and coworker, who was from Kenya, and made him promise that he would take his son with him to Kenya and that he would put Alex through school so he could have a future. He then rushed back to his office at the Red Cross to see how he could help other victims. By the end of the day the killers found him and Alex no longer had a father.

Fast forward 12 years and Alex was back in Rwanda, having finished school in Nairobi as his father’s friend had promised. Alex became a professional soccer player in Rwanda (not a very lucrative job) in 2007. In 2010 he met Sean, one of the ROP’s coordinators and before long the two became good friends. In 2010 Sean decided to organize the ROP’s first official sports team, the ROP Eagles football team, but he wanted someone to lead it who would not only be a coach of soccer, but a mentor and a role model for the boys. Alex stepped forward and volunteered for the role.

Alex took a haphazard group of young boys and teenagers and transformed them into two disciplined teams who had learned the importance of leadership, teamwork and hard work and the rewards they offer. The boys took to Alex from the first practice and nearly every day boys were asking, “Where’s Coach?”

When the ROP Playroom was opened Alex was our first choice to be in charge of it. Alex’s patience with the younger boys and his ability to get them to respect rules and even to come to him with their problems were assets we simply couldn’t pass up on. Then, in December, long time caretaker Osea retired from the ROP, leaving us with a gaping hole in our caretaking staff. With barely a second thought Alex was offered the position. All the staff was thrilled with the choice, and when we announced it to the children they erupted in applause.
Since then Alex has continued to deepen his relationships with both staff and children. The ROP Eagles have become a team that are respected in the local sports community and the children continue to look to Alex for advice and solutions for their problems, as if he is their older brother. When asked what his favorite thing is about working at the ROP he says, “I really enjoy working with these people and having an opportunity to improve the lives of these boys”.

Rwandan Orphan’s Nursery

From Amakuru! News from the Rwandan Orphans Project.

ROP Nursery Now Open for Business

Thanks to donations from AIC, a Kigali based charity, and some other fundraising, the ROP (Rwandan Orphan’s Project) was able to repurpose one of our rooms to become the new ROP Nursery School. The school is open to children from around the area whose parents pay school fees for their children to attend. This is the first income generating project for the ROP and is already showing promise with an opening enrollment of 16 students, yielding $800 for the ROP. We are continuing to advertise with hopes of filling the school’s capacity of 30 children which will bring in approximately $2500 every three months, or enough to cover the secondary school fees we are currently spending each term for the boys under our care.

Jenny Clover, coordinator, came up with the idea after realizing the wealth of toys, games and art supplies the ROP received from various donors throughout 2011. She said: “We feel incredibly lucky to have received such wonderful donations, and our boys love to play and learn with them. So for us to be able to generate income from these same items while also helping the local community is a great opportunity for the ROP. We hope our nursery will continue to grow and benefit us.”

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)!

Rwandan Holiday

From ROP Stories
Rwandan Orphans Project
Center For Street Children

by Sean
16 January 2012

A Christmas to remember at the ROP

Just as in the U.S. and Europe Christmas is a huge holiday in Rwanda. It’s a time for families and friends to come together and enjoy each other’s company, eat a lot of food and perhaps exchange gifts. It’s no different at the Rwandan Orphans Project. In recent years Christmas has been celebrated at the ROP Center by sharing a meal on Christmas day, usually followed by some performances of song and dance from our boys. This year, however, we wanted to give them the best Christmas they’ve yet had. We received some very generous Christmas donations from various people that helped us with this idea. We expected this to be a Christmas to remember at the ROP.

Christmas Eve was a day for celebrating with the staff, children and visitors. Jenny started off the day by having the boys make decorations for the Center. Some of them stuck to the design while others just stuck pieces anywhere and everywhere.

After the tree was well adorned we decided to give the boys an early Christmas present. We had many “new” clothes that had been donated by various visitors during the previous few months and we had been saving them for this day. As is the tradition we laid all of the clothing on the floor of the dining hall so all the boys could see what they had to choose from. As you can imagine each boy eyes the item he wants and hopes that nobody else chooses that item before their turn comes.

Of course we have to make sure that they fit before they take them. Often the younger, smaller boys choose clothes that are much too big for them simply because they like their design. This leads to the occasional round of tears when a small child is told he cannot have a sweatshirt that is meant to fit an adult.

After all the boys had chosen their clothes we had a treat for them. Elisabeth, the ROP’s staff psychologist, is good friends with a very well known Rwandan artist called Ben Gangi. She asked him to come and perform for our boys as a Christmas treat and he accepted. From the moment he started singing the boys were dancing all over the dining hall and singing along at the top of their lungs.

Read entire story and see all the photos at ROP Stories.

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