Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘Street Children’

Christmas In Rwanda

Dear Family and Friends,

First of all I hope each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones and that you enjoyed stuffing your faces with all the delicious Turkey Day foods I miss more than I could possibly describe to you.

I’m writing to you because I want to ask you for your help. All of you know the work that I’m doing here in Rwanda with these orphans and former street children, and although we’re always struggling for funding I try not to take advantage of my relationships with you by asking for donations or making you feel pressured to contribute to our program throughout the year.

That being said this time I am asking for your help. We really need any and all help we can get to give our 100 boys a Christmas celebration this year. In the past we have been able to get local businesses and donors to sponsor our Christmas celebration, allowing us to provide a special meal and a small paper sack full of simple gifts like a couple pairs of underwear, some pens and notebooks for school, a tennis ball, some sweets and a few other items. As many of you have seen from photos of past Christmas celebrations that this is the boys’ favorite day of the year.

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However, this year we have struggled to find any partners or sponsors for Christmas. Starting this year the Rwandan government began a program called Agaciro. Publicly billed as voluntary, Agaciro is a nationwide program virtually requiring all businesses and individuals to donate money to the government that they say will be used for the development of the country. Often employees, whether street sweepers or doctors, are told to donate one month’s salary to this fund and businesses and organizations (like ROP) are pressured to also make large payments or face the possibility of being blacklisted and being unable to get services from the government. Basically it’s a unofficial tax in a country that already has a tax rate of 30%.

So what does this have to do with ROP? Well, because organizations and individuals are having to make these “donations” to the Rwandan government they have no money left to give to the orphanages and other charities like ours who need their support. In November we sent out dozens of letters to local businesses asking for Christmas donations and so far the response has been extremely disappointing. Jenny and I are becoming very concerned that we won’t be able to give our boys a nice Christmas.

That is why I’ve written you this letter. I know the economy is still shaky and the holiday season stretches everyone a bit thin, but I’m asking that you please consider helping us out this year, even if in a small way. If we can collect enough donations of any size in the next couple of weeks we will have just enough time to organize a Christmas Day dinner for them, buy them some small gifts and put together their little gift bags in time for the big day. If you can donate $10, $20, $50 or even more it will go a long way towards giving these wonderful kids a celebration they deserve. If you would like to help the easiest way is for you to visit our website, www.rwandanorphansproject.com. The method most likely to get the money to us before Christmas is to donate via Paypal, but you can also send us a check to the address listed on the same page. We are looking to raise only about $700 for dinner, a drink and some small gifts. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Finally, thank you all for the support you give both to me and our program. So many of you make contributions to ROP and I can’t begin to express how valuable each and every one is to us.

Happy holidays and merry Christmas to all of you!

Sean
ROP Center for Street Children
Kigali, Rwanda

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Dancing For Joy

Here’s some joyous dance videos from the children at the Rwandan Orphan’s Project (ROP Center for Street Children). Enjoy the good vibes and times. If you can donate or lend a hand, please do.

ROP Dance Video 1

ROP Dance Video 2

The ROP is an orphanage and a center for street children located just outside of Kigali, Rwanda. We provide housing, clothing, food, health care, education and many other needs to nearly 100 vulnerable children from around Rwanda. We are able to provide these needs solely through the donations of individuals like you. The ROP has no corporate or foundational support and relies on the charity of ordinary citizens to achieve our goal of providing a safe place for children, free from desperation and the dangers of life on the streets.

At the ROP we believe that education is our children’s best hope of escaping the strong grip of poverty. Because of this all of our children are either enrolled in our in-house catch-up school or go to secondary or vocational schools around Rwanda. We feel all children, regardless of the hardships they may have endured in the past, deserve a chance to make something of themselves.

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.

Hope and Home in Rwanda

From Gulf News by Vasanti Sundaram
December 2, 2011

For hope, and the thing closest to a home.

His father walked out on his mother and him when he was six years old. Expected to be the “man” of the family from a young age, Sean Jones, now 31, encountered early on the hardships that abandonment brings. But it is this, combined with the strength of purpose that he drew from his single mother, that perhaps drove him to give up a well-paying job as a computer analyst at Xerox in Texas and move to Rwanda to take over the running of an all-boys orphanage. What started as a six-month stint for Jones has now completed nearly two years, and from relying on his savings — for more than a year — to earning a salary of $300 (Dh1,101) a month, he has come a long way. Weekend Review learns about the force that binds him to Kigali, the Rwandan capital. Excerpts:

Is there any particular reason behind why you chose Rwanda?

In 2009, this urge to make a difference grew stronger in me. Xerox agreed to give me six months off to do some volunteering overseas. I was looking for organizations that would let me teach English. But I found that most NGOs were the pay-to-volunteer kind; but I wanted something more substantial, something that would allow greater involvement with a community. After a concerted search, I found this small organization called the Rwanda Orphanage Project — Centre for Street Children (ROP) that had been set up by a group of friends in San Diego, California. On a visit to the country several years ago, they were told about this orphanage and its appalling conditions. They went back to the United States and raised money to create a fund to support the children there, but without any volunteers on the ground, they did not have direct control over the orphanage.

I met them in California and told them that I would like to volunteer. They were happy with my proposition and eager to have me start right away. In January last year I arrived in Rwanda with one of the organisation’s members. He showed me the ropes for two weeks, and from then on I was on my own.

Were there any challenges you faced while working with the orphanage?

The orphanage was an abandoned warehouse in an industrial part of town by the river where street children would congregate at night for shelter. A Rwandan church offered to help by donating food and clothes. The person put in charge of the orphanage, however, turned out to be corrupt and was replaced by another supervisor. When I came in, the orphanage had some 200 children between the ages of 6 and 20. The place was run-down, with a leaky roof, one light bulb and no running water, furniture or facilities. It didn’t take too long to find out that the people running the orphanage there were actually pocketing the money sent by the donors in the US. I made my case to the board of directors in California and they put me in charge of the organization. So here I was, in my first month in a foreign country, a volunteer for an orphanage being asked to run the place instead.

It was a new place and you didn’t even know the local language. Was it difficult to put things back on track?

The first thing I did was fire the supervisor and the members of staff who were hand-in-glove with him. He was a sociopath, abusing the children physically and mentally. And these poor children would rather be subject to that abuse than live on the streets without food. On top of that, this supervisor claimed to be the founder of the orphanage, and since he knew the right people in the government, went about maligning my reputation.

In a system as bureaucratic as Rwanda’s, it was difficult to make a convincing case out of the testimonies of the children and the remaining staff. But we somehow managed to get him out despite his threats. But things didn’t end there. Almost as if to defy my place in the organization, this man just used to walk into the office at will. We met the local leaders, including the mayor of our district and the minister of General Family Promotion who is in charge of all orphanages in the country, and after endless persistence, the government intervened and told the supervisor to stop bothering us.

What did the future look like at that point?

Bleak! One day the government visited us and said that the place wasn’t good enough for children. We were given a month to move out and an ultimatum that if we didn’t, the orphanage would be shut down. This was in March last year, three months into my arrival in Rwanda. We didn’t have the money to buy land or move into a new building. The new director of the orphanage and I began rushing around Rwanda looking for an abandoned building or something that could function as a temporary shelter. Divine intervention came in the form of a wealthy Rwandan man who offered his school that had been abandoned for a number of years — and he let us use the premises for free! This was a miracle. So, while earlier we were in a shoddy industrial warehouse, now we were in a cleaner and quieter area called Kanombe, on the outskirts of Kigali. We moved here in April 2010. Today we have our own land.

How do you know which child needs to be taken in?

Not all street children are orphans; some of them beg because they can make more money for their working parents. Generally, we see very, very unkempt children washing in the sewers, begging for food, and we try speaking to them. I don’t usually do the talking, because apart from the language problem, their first reaction on seeing a white-skinned person is to claim to be orphans in the hope of getting something out of him. So we have the Rwandan staff talk to them and make sure they are not just pretending. We bring in children between the ages of 5 and 10. Many come with behavioural problems or drug and alcohol addictions. We have 5-year-olds who sniff glue or smoke cigarettes. We counsel them, but sometimes they just sneak out and find a bottle of alcohol themselves. Then we again have to bring them back and tell them why it is bad for them. But with the older ones, we need to be more strict.

What facilities do you provide at the orphanage?

Apart from food and shelter, we have a primary school from Level 1 to 6. We provide education to the boys we house at the centre and support children from poor families in the neighborhood. We also pay for their secondary education once they complete their term. At present we fund about 35 to 40 children, which costs about $100 a child per term. Last year six of our students graduated from secondary school, three of whom were granted university scholarships. Children who start school late or fall back academically are also offered vocational training. Jenny Clover, a journalist from London who has taken time off from her job, supports me at the orphanage and has started an art programme and created a playroom and a library. Last year I was able to scrape together enough money to form a football club so the boys would have some activity. The children now have football shoes and uniforms and even play other schools.

Do the children ever face discrimination when they interact with others in society?

Yes, and primarily from peers. The other children tend to say: “Watch out, these are street children. They will take your wallet.” Or in the church, people say, “We don’t want street children here.” But there have also been times when people have said that our boys are far more well-behaved and respectful than other schoolchildren. I tell them to be proud of such remarks rather than be bogged down by rejections.

Are you focusing on anything in particular now?

Orphanages have a hard time finding donors, because they are known to be corrupt — we used to be an example of that. So it is hard trying to convince others that we are not going to be corrupt or wasteful with the money. ROP has no corporate or foundational support and relies on the charity of citizens. We spend $7,000 a month to provide for the 100 children we look after. Food alone comes to $2,000 a month. We have started a programme where a child can be sponsored for $35 or $50 a month, but we would love to have each child sponsored by two donors. Earlier this year, we had a Norwegian donor who helped build a contemporary kitchen here for $6,000. But our overall financial situation is a little shaky and we are desperately seeking help to keep our mission alive.

Read entire story at Gulf News.

More about the Rwandan Orphan’s Project.

Recess in Rwanda

An excerpt from a story written by Sean Jones for ROP Stories. ROP Stories is the sister site to the Rwandan Orphan’s Project (ROP Center for Street Children)

Recess at the ROP School

We all remember recess, that wonderful time we couldn’t wait for when we could temporarily forget about listening to our teachers, taking notes and waiting to go outside to play. Well it’s no different at the Rwandan Orphans Project’s school. Every day at 10 o’clock the Commissioner of Education – the boy chosen by his peers to assist the teachers – blows his whistle and within seconds children begin fleeing their classrooms.

Most of the older boys like to take this time to play volleyball on our makeshift court. Landouard, one of our teachers, usually comes out and takes on the job of referee and coach. This generally prevents arguing over rules and points that inevitably occurs when the boys are left on their own.

The small boys usually divide up into two groups; those who wants to play games like cards and igisoro and those who want to play sports. Several of them who choose sports play football, but there is also a group of boys who like to practice gymnastics by jumping and flipping around. This usually turns into a game of oneupmanship as each boy tries to do something too difficult for the others to replicate.

Read the rest of this great story, plus additional photos at: ROP STORIES.

Volunteering In Rwanda

A wonderful piece from ROP Stories about volunteering at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda.

A Volunteer’s Perspective – Tamsin

Spending time at the Rwandan Orphans Project was honestly a great experience and one which I will never forget. A fulfilling and eye opening time.

I would spend most afternoons playing and interacting with the boys and the new items and games I had brought over which were donated. It was great to see how happy each of the boys were whilst playing with the toys. It was also very impressive to see how quickly the group learnt to use the lego and maccano and create pieces they’d never seen before. Everyday activities such as these and time spent playing together clearly made the children really happy and they were so grateful for all the donations. Just sitting and reading books with the group was an extremely rewarding experience.

Read the rest of Tamsin’s post and photos at: ROP Stories.

Day of African Child

From Amakuru: News from the Rwandan Orphans Project.

ROP Hosts “International Day of the African Child” Event for Rwandan Government

The ROP was surprised but pleased to be chosen to host the celebration ceremony for the International Day of the African Child on June 19th, 2011. There are many centers for vulnerable children in our district, so to be chosen over all of them meant they see ROP as a top program.,That is something we are very proud of. Our joy was only tempered by the fact that we only had a week to prepare.
But as always the ROP family came together and worked extremely hard painting rooms, cleaning the grounds, landscaping and doing whatever else needed to be done so the ROP Center would look its best for the guests and officials from the government who were due to attend.

The big day arrived and the Center was in top shape. The children of the ROP dressed up in their nicest clothes, all except the football and rugby club players, who wanted to show off their team uniforms.

During the ceremony various guests spoke about the strife of orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda and how well programs like the ROP were working to improve their lives and provide them with a future. Celestin Mitabu, the ROP Center director, pleaded for the government to get more involved in the work of organizations like ours. Sean Jones, ROP coordinator presented certificates of achievement to three of the six students that graduated the ROP program last year who received full university scholarships from the Rwandan government. The children were also treated to songs and dances performed by their fellow residents and children from other centers as well as each receiving a Fanta as a treat from the Mayor.

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