On day 4, we packed our bags and left for two days for the city of Butare. Butare is another large city in Rwanda, known mostly for the national university. We had one stop to make on the way. It was Urukundo Home for Children. Urukundo is located about 15 km from the town of Gitarama. Cecile - a tour guide from some sort of responsible travel agency (an agency which arranges visits to places that help people) rode with us in the car. We chatted the whole way. She told us lots of things about Rwandan culture and told us some about Congo since she has lived in Goma for quite a few years. I took lots of pictures of Cecile - she is very, very pretty. I have posted one on this blog on the very first day when I talked about the beautiful people in Rwanda.
And an amazing thing happened. As soon as I came back to the States, my dear friend in Dallas (originally from Congo) recognized Cecile as a girl who used to live with them and grew up with her daughters while in Goma!!!! What are the odds????? I still cannot believe this story - but they have reunited on Facebook and will stay in touch now.
Urukundo Home for Children
Back to the story: We rode up a hill where an energetic older lady met us and invited us to her marvelous home. Mama Arlene - as everyone calls her - is a 76-year old lady from Pennsylvania. Her personal story is just as incredible as the happenings on her hill. After working in a refugee camp, running from a lava spewing volcano, and having to be escorted out of the country by US embassy for safety reasons (a man who swindled her out of money raised to start a home for children had a contract put on her head), she bought a hill.
Her story sounds like something from a James Bond movie - and I am not sure how true it is - I guess it is true since she told us pieces of it - but so unbelievable… Whatever her past, we witnessed some amazing things she does in the present and the gift she’s going to leave for the future. Mama Arlene has started a home for children. There are around 40 kids at her home. She emphasizes that it is not an orphanage. It is these kids’ home. They can stay however long they want to and always come back here. With all her strong will (I don’t think she takes “no” for an answer) and her faith she has created a compound of a main house, kids quarters, a clinic, classroom, gardens, chicken houses, soccer and basketball fields and more. She is building a daycare center, and a place for worship. Next will be a school and then a universityJ.
Urukundo - the main house
Sky is the limit for this lady! She works closely with the local community hiring day laborers for construction work, inviting adults for literacy classes and kids for soccer matches. She is truly a unique person. If anyone will ever try to tell me that one person cannot change the world - I have a perfect example of how untrue this statement is (mom!).
The view in front of the main house
I asked her about the funding for all that. She says it is all from private donations. No big non-profits or corporate organizations fund her. She wants to make sure she retains control over the happenings in her beautiful home. I would imagine she has a good backing in the US.
We had an amazing time at Urukundo.
Each one of us wanted to leave any life we had in America and stay there forever! Love is palpable in this place. We got a tour, a story and were able to buy some souvenirs made by local craftsmen. Even that was a story in itself. Mama Arlene buys the items from local craftsmen and pays them for it. Once she sells it, she goes back to them and splits the profits. Amazing!
We had lunch with the wonderful kids of Urukundo. Most of them have some knowledge of English, so we were able to communicate. I paired myself up with a 12-years-old boy. To our amusement his name was also Alex. We ate lunch together and Alex showed me how to eat a tree tomato without peeling it. A tree tomato is something similar to a passion fruit and it is the best fruit I have ever tasted.
John and some of the Kids
Lunch was delicious. Tree tomatoes were for desert, but before we ate some grilled goat, veggies, fries and rice. The fries were to die for - and I don’t even usually eat fries!
After lunch, the kids did some dancing and singing for us. It was semi-spontaneous and unrehearsed. The youngest kids did a chicken dance for us. It was so incredibly funny!
Later it was time to do some work. After all we came, took their time, ate their food and it was time for us to give. We split up in groups.
Some went to classrooms and taught the young ones English. Others went the easy way J and played soccer with the kids (I don’t consider it work!). I decided to do the real work. I went to help with the construction of the daycare center. My job was to carry bricks form a pile to the brick layers. After 30 minutes, I was tired. Wow! I thought - it’s been a long time I’ve done any physical work. It felt really good. There were only about four of us at first. We carried the bricks to different corners of the building. Later, when most of other people were done with their work, they joined and we formed a line. All people were helping - even our drivers/guides and the kids.
A view from the hill
It was very symbolic to assist in building a children’s place along with the Rwandan people… We had an amazing time. We worked fast and efficient. I am sure the construction guys were happy with all the help. We tried not to get in their way - just help to move the bricks in the right locations.
Beautiful Cecile and Moi
We finished before the sunset. We gave Mama Arlene all the donations we brought and some money we gathered up. Of course, she was very, very appreciative. At the end, we left for Butare - badly in need of a shower. The experience was great but left us with wanting more of Urukundo. I am sure all of us secretly (well, some outwardly) planned for a return trip. We were all charmed by this place and the people we met.
We reached Butare in about an hour and checked in to our hotel - Hotel Ibis.
It was quite nice, but no hot water in our room. And a good scrubbing was badly needed. Oh well! Cold water is still water. We washed and went to dinner at the hotel restaurant. Mutzig tasted really good that evening.
Alex & Alex