After 4 years, the compound at the ALARM center in Kigali has grown, and so has the city around it. Rwanda truly is thriving in many ways: great technology and communications, relatively stable government, and a very low crime rate. I feel very safe here, and with all the locks and window bars at the guest house, VERY safe in this place! We are in a two story octagonal building with a steep tin roof and a round glassed in observatory at the top, to look down the hill at Kigali and up at the amazing stars. On a clear night, the milky way is like a road across the sky, and you can see shooting stars every ten minutes if you watch closely.
Yesterday we left IWE, and it was a sad parting: we all would have loved to stay longer! The girls were so cooperative as we interviewed them. They shared their histories with us: most have lost one or both parents, to genocide, AIDS, malaria, or sometimes desertion. The genocide was building from 1990 to 1994, and then in April it hit full force, with the planned murder of about a million citizens, 25% of their population. These girls were infants or toddlers then, and several told me their mothers were still pregnant with them when their fathers were killed. Some of them told how, as young children of 3 or 4, they were wounded on the head by panga knives and left for dead. Some were in the churches where members ran for safety, only to be killed by grenades and bullets, and these children were found still wrapped in khanga's, tied to their mothers' backs, protected by their bodies.
As Rwanda thrives and moves ahead in development, these orphans, and those widowed and disabled by horrific injuries, are usually the ones left behind in poverty. That knowledge now has many faces for us: Angel, Carine, Odette, and the others. Many of the girls have distant family, siblings, grandparents, or one parent to go home to on breaks, but have no source for support or school fees. It is possible to sponsor these students, and have a writing relationship with them, for about $1,000 a year, which covers all room, board, uniforms and supplies. About 79 of the 190 have sponsors, and a handful are from two-parent families in the area who can pay, and just want their girls at this excellent secondary school. Sponsors are needed if you are interested!
Each of the girls told me her dream for the future. Many said doctor or lawyer, and many added that, then they could make a good salary, and use it to start an orphanage. Two of the girls told me they want to be airline pilots! All of them seem to believe that now, with an education at IWE, they will succeed in their dreams. It seems that they will! We were invited back to the school for the very first graduation in October, which will be a pretty miraculous event. All of the 12 or so graduates want to go on to college, and if their sponsors continue with them, they can.
Our goodbye ceremony was another "Oprah moment," when we were honored with gifts and speeches and choir songs and traditional dancing. I gave out prizes for the best stories that they had turned in to me in the 4 days together, and it was fun to make the presentation. First place received an new journal, funky purple pen (thanks to whoever left it in my classroom!) and a little bag of bath gel and lotion.
Then they invited me to speak, as I knew they would. It was hard to hold back tears after sharing such sensitive stories and getting to know the girls. Ally sat with Angel, her new friend, and the rest of us sat at a front table with a table cloth, like dignitaries. I looked around the room at all those lovely faces that have gone through so much, so young, and thanked them for the honor of working with them. When they asked me to pray, I said that I usually pray with eyes closed, but that I wanted to see the blessing that I was thanking God for, so I walked around the room to the teachers, girls, our team, and the headmistress and chaplain who watch over the girls so well, and prayed for each of them. It was HARD not to cry, and I couldn't look at the rest of the team, because they were in tears, (especially Diane, but EVEN ALLY!) but I made it through and was glad to be able to call down a blessing on them all.
Then we walked down the dusty red path to the hotel for the last time (last time to see the "ox" and establish that it really is udderly a long horn cow), and past all the cute kids who ran out to greet us each time. We got lots of good kid pics! We had a quick dinner at the hotel, rice and cooking bananas in gravy, Mchicha, fresh pineapple, and packed quickly for the drive back to the city.
Oh, and I must mention that Amy wanted to try something new at dinner the night before, so she ordered "Goat Legs." They were all out, so she got goat brochette (shish kabob) These girls will try anything! Impressive!
That afternoon the city seemed so full and hurried after a few days in a village! We drove around the hills of Kigali, where the downtown is on a hilltop, and the US embassy looks like a fortress, and went to the national genocide memorial. The guidebook I bought actually has all the pictures and information in it from the exhibit, if anyone wants to learn about that event, and then there were lovely gardens all around the building, and large slabs of concrete, mass graves for the 250,000 that died in Kigali in that three month period. There were roses planted all around them, and sculptures and vine shaded pathways. The most wrenching part is the last few rooms, that have huge portraits of children, smiling over soccer balls and birthday cakes, and a sign telling a favorite food, best friend, and how they died. "Bludgeoned to death." "Cut with machetes." But I read them all, so that they are remembered by the whole world.
Then dinner, and a quiet night at the guest house. Mourning doves and roosters even in the city!