Real Day 1

Kigali Travel Blog

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Typical landscape in Rwanda

Kigali, August 5, 2009


Day 1

I am posting this entry with a slight delay. Last night, the hotel hotspot was not working.

Day 1 started later than planned. Since we got to the hotel at 5:30AM, instead of 10:45PM on the previous day, the mamas and papas of the trip decided to give us the morning off in order to sleep in. We had to squeeze the days’ plans into the afternoon. We went to sleep about 7AM and woke up at 10:00AM for breakfast. I ate by myself on the terrace and I just loved it. The weather was very pleasant - in the low 70’ties. The garden around the terrace is very pretty, so the ambiance was just perfect.

A bit after noon, we gathered in the lobby to go to our first site.

Cecile - did I mentioned beautiful people????
We went to visit a local project called Les Enfants de Dieu. It is a local home for street kids, and hosts about 120 boys. We saw the compound - their fields, the pond, the sleeping quarters, kitchen, etc. The kids put on a Rwandan dance with drumming for us, and treated us to lunch. The place was run by Rafiki, who was a very talkative and entertaining man. He had a lot of charisma, and we could tell he was doing a great job on a shoe-string budget. It looked like it was just the place where one could donate money, and know that it would go to the caring of the needy kids immediately. It is a great power to change lives.

Les Enfants de Dieu takes boys under 18 years-old off the street. It provides them with housing, education and psychological help.

One of the teachers during the visint to Les Enfants de Dieu.
It is a place of transition from a life full of despair and lack of opportunity, to a shot at a regular life. The kids are mainly orphans of genocide, or children abandoned for economic reasons. These boys were eager to talk to us, and to show off some English language skills. They were very friendly, polite and genuinely happy to see visitors. I am sure one of the reasons for their happiness on that day was the excellent lunch they got to share with us, in their outdoor cafeteria.

We were told at the beginning that were not to give money to the kids. Rafiki explained that if you do, you are introducing chaos, and possible theft, etc. I loved it, because the kids did not expect anything from us. Their joy of having visitors was genuine.

Mainly, they asked our names and how many kids we had.

A flower - there are most beautiful flowers blooming all over here!
They loved posing for pictures and then looking at them on our digital cameras. Later, we would give them the cameras, and they took pictures of each other, and of us. They had so much fun!!!

We brought some donations for the kids - 120 pairs of TOMS shoes, some clothes, toys and school supplies. We had set aside money from the Human Rights program at SMU and were able to make monetary donation.

This visit was incredibly uplifting. You couldn’t help but look at these kids as representing success - not as failures of society. They have been given incredible tools of empowerment. Each year they elect seven ministers among the children. They have cabinets of four advisors to each minister. Each minister prepares an annual plan for his department, including administration functions, education, social affairs, sports and culture. Their plans are approved by the manager and others, and are implemented throughout the year. They have budgets and approve requests for money. Although the manager has the final veto power, mostly he told us he respecting the wishes of the kids as much as possible. This “experiment” seems to transcend the lines between education, counseling, psychological help, etc. The kids become responsible for their own destiny, and the destiny of others. They have to think and plan for the future. They learn to take care of the weak, protect the new kids and use limited resources in a responsible way. I believe it does miracles for their self-esteem and confidence. It prepares them for the real world like nothing else. We were very impressed with their ideas, and we able to talk to each minister. They each gave us their list of priorities for their department. They talked a bit about what they do and their responsibilities. Some spoke reasonably good English, and were not afraid to use it. We left that place with happy hearts, because we saw something incredible. It was a local project run by a group of dedicated individuals.

Our second event of the day was a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. It is a museum dedicated to genocide, and includes a mass grave. Buried in the grave are 250,000 people who perished in 1994 genocide (out of about 800,000 thousand). Only about 70,000 bodies have been identified. The museum is housed in a beautiful villa. Various exhibits represent and discuss the history of conflict in Rwanda, prior to the genocide, throughout the 100 days of genocide, and ends with violence that continues up until this day, including the policy of reconciliation.

The Centre has separate exhibits that include pictures of people who perished, their personal belongings and stories of survivors. There are LCD monitors throughout, with touching testimonies and documentaries. All is well presented, and described in three languages: Kinyarwanda, French and English. The grounds outside have small courtyards with beautiful greenery and benches; places for quiet thought and reflection.

My only complaint is that, I feel, we didn’t have enough time to spend at the museum. We arrived at 3:30PM and the place closed at 5PM. It was difficult to find the time to process all the information, and the emotions it evoked. However, it was understandable since we only arrived in the early hours of that day, and had time for only a few hours of sleep. I plan to return to Rwanda, to see and experience it again. The plans are already in my head.

We came back to the hotel and had dinner downstairs on the grassy area next to the terrace. The food was excellent. Rwandan beer is very tasty. I tried both: Primus and Mutzig. I prefer Mutzig; therefore, it will be my drink of choice with meals throughout this trip.

kelleeoo says:
I am so glad that your blog was featured. Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
sarahsan says:
Beautiful written! Very impressed by how the local project Les Enfants de Dieu is run! Looking forward to more blogs from Rwanda.
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
Koralifix says:
Congrats on this featured blog! Nice story!
Posted on: Aug 10, 2009
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Typical landscape in Rwanda
Typical landscape in Rwanda
Cecile - did I mentioned beautiful…
Cecile - did I mentioned beautifu…
One of the teachers during the vis…
One of the teachers during the vi…
A flower - there are most beautifu…
A flower - there are most beautif…
photo by: bushman_pepe