Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Unlimited Love.

This is a bit out of the correct order. This is from last Friday, actually... sorry about the delay. It was (a) really hard to write about, and (b) I ran out of time to do it last weekend. I was operating on zero internet, except what I could borrow from Tate - and Tate's internet wasn't working. Classic?
In any case, it's from the 6th of July. Sorry about the disarray in chronology. 


You know how sometimes, I see some really hard things while I'm here in Rwanda? How sometimes, there's just those moments where I can't imagine how the world is how it is? Visiting some of the people in the eastern province, in the Nyabihu district, I had another one of those emotionally exhausting days. STAY TUNED FOR MORE STORIES ABOUT CAROLINE CRYING!! WHEE!

On Friday, Tate, Mrs. Ryan-Mosley, Archimede, Nepo, and I all went to visit some not-beneficiaries for Giving Hope. Although Church World Service does an absolutely amazing job of funding the already-identified orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in some districts, their funds simply cannot reach everyone. On Friday, we saw some of those stories of need, some children who just aren't being reached by Giving Hope. If I thought that seeing orphans who Giving Hope HAS reached was hard... well, let's just say that no beneficiaries had actually seen me cry about their situation -- until the Nyabihu visit. All in all, we saw the people whose situations were most desperate. They don't get help from CWS, and they won't get help from CWS. THey need outside sources. 

Our first stop was Beatrice, whom we had actually seen in a video that Archimede had taken when he had done a visit to Nyabihu earlier. The small clay house seemed familiar, and Beatrice came out to meet us with her little brother at her side. We were invited into her home, to speak with her and hear her story. We saw her "Dreams" poster, which expressed her sadness at losing her parents -- she saw them killed in front of her very eyes during the First Congo War (starting in 1997). She was just six years old.
Archimede mentioned how strange (in a good way) it was that she was talking to us. When he had come on an earlier visit, Beatrice had just cried the entire time, and it had taken hours to hear her story. This girl is literally traumatized.
Her little brother, although he's 10 years old, looks like he's 6, because he has malnutrition. Beatrice has a 15 year old sister who has a baby, because she was impregnated while working as a housegirl in Gisenyi (a neighboring city, where we stayed, actually). 
How do you pull yourself out of that poverty? There aren't any steps you can take. And it's not like these children are lazy; they were all running around, going to school, going to the market. Any money you make goes directly to food. There's no way to invest, because if you invest, that's food that's not in your stomach. And if there's not food in your stomach for days, you die. It's as simple as that. 
The good news is, with cases like Beatrice (and another boy, whom I'm going to talk about in a bit, this can be overcome. It's all about that initial investment. Although they can't come up with it themselves, paying for vocational training - riding a moto, learning how to sew - can mean a better life.

The next stop was to Jean D'Amour, a thirteen year old boy, and his family. You will not believe this story when I tell you, but here it is.
JD (that's what I'm calling him now) and his family - mom, dad, and sisters - moved to the Congo to avoid fighting (there have been intermittent battles for the last 15 years, near the Congo border). While they were there, his dad had a mistress. This mistress ended up poisoning - yes, seriously. POISONING - the kids' mother. The father, mistress, and kids moved back to Rwanda, where the kids were subsequently abandoned by their father and left on their own with literally no friends or family. JD was 11 years old when he became the head of the family. This was two years ago.
JD and his sisters now live on their own, purely reliant on the donations of the community. They have a mentor, a 23 year old named Pascal, who is actually an orphan himself. Pascal checks up on the kids once a day or so, making sure they're still alright. That's a huge amount of dedication, because Pascal has no permanent job, and has to find someone to work for every day (doing manual labor of some kind) or he doesn't eat. 
Oh, and did I mention that the kids have a 2 year old sister who was taken away from them, to a foster family in the Congo, because they couldn't take care of her? They miss her terribly but have no way to find her or to take care of her, even if they did get her back.
Through all of this, the kids still go to school, and have hopes for the future. JD wants to be his teacher; the oldest of his sisters wants to be a doctor. These kids, I tell you, they are an inspiration. They have one meal every day, but they eat it together. At night, they curl up together and tell stories. I asked them if they were ever afraid at night; they responded that no, they weren't - they were used to being alone now. On Sundays they go to mass at a Pentecostal church, because their mother was Pentecostal.

I cannot even tell you how much I cried during this visit. JD is as old as my youngest brother. Can any of you imagine Connor taking care of three little sisters? There were four kids at that house, just like my family. It just hit way too close to home. I couldn't believe the bravery you could see in these little bodies. These children... I couldn't even imagine the tragedy they'd been through. And yet, they were making the best of everything. They had hope and courage and, geez Louise. Even Archimede and Nepo were crying when the kids said that no, they never fight. "We love each other." They have their own little chores, be it fetching water, gathering wood, peeling the potatoes that someone donated for their lunch... It was all I could do to not strangle hug them and take them home with me right then and there.

Look at these faces.

Tell me you don't want to take them home with you and never stop hugging them.

Even as I type this, I can tell that my words are inadequate. I'm not doing a good job of telling what an amazing, heartbreaking experience it was to talk to these kids. Words cannot express. They're 13, 11, 6, and 3 years old. And they have no parents. And they still go to school and cook their own meals and go to church and wash their own clothes - even though they don't have any soap to wash with.
But those are just facts. The reality of the situation is, they're abandoned and alone, but they have each other, and that's enough for them.

I miss my siblings, now. I love you, babies. And if I had to take care of you like that, I'd probably do a crazy horrible job of it (so, sorry for that). But I do really love you guys that much.

That's what it is, I think. There was just so much love in that home. Despite everything, in the face of all those odds, these children had so much love. SO much love.
Impossible odds, and unlimited love.
Amazing, really.

The final stop was to a boy named Emmanuel, who, like the others, was impacted by the Congolese Wars. Two siblings and his mother were killed in these wars. His parents were killed when he was just 1 year old, so he was raised by his grandfather. His grandfather was, if we were told correctly, 95 years old. That's actually unheard of for Rwanda. I mean, that's old for the United States; here, that's nigh impossible. The house they lived in was quite rickety; Emmanuel said that during the rainy season, the pair had to live with their neighbors because the roof leaked too much to make the home habitable. 
When we talked to him, Emmanuel hadn't eaten for three days. He hadn't been able to find daily manual labor for the past three days, so he literally just didn't eat. His grandfather couldn't get out of bed, couldn't even stand up, because he was so weak from hunger.
Emmanuel expressed that he had no hope of going to school, because he had never attended a day in his life. He did, however, hope to get vocational training - although, as you can imagine, when you haven't eaten for 3 days, that seems a bit out of reach. 
Although Emmanuel was part of a support group, he had no friends outside the group -- where would he make any, when his life revolved around getting food for just one day at a time? 
That visit left me absolutely exhausted. How do you keep going, when there's no light at the end of the tunnel? How do you continue in a life like that, living from meal to meal? You're teetering at the brink, every breath you take. That's the most terrifying existence I can imagine. In many ways, Emmanuel seemed even more vulnerable than the children we had seen earlier.

As I said, these visits were rough. In other situations, it's been clear that, okay, Church World Service donates $50, and this group can achieve X. In these cases, I looked at Archimede and said, "So, what can people do? How could someone help, if they wanted to?" He would respond simply that he didn't know. The point of Giving Hope is to create a sustainable lifestyle, so that these orphans can ultimately become self-sufficient. But, how do you do that, when they are so alone? When they can't stop the vicious cycle that they're living, because they simply have to eat if they're going to stay alive? What's the answer? You can't just donate food again and again. But you have to. That's the best option. 
It's very scary to think about.
It's one of those things were I literally have no idea what I would do, if put in their situation. Every single person that I met that day was stronger than I am. It was humbling, to be sure; but, I felt the need to nurture them all. 
Again, I question why I'm so fortunate. Why was I born into an American family, and not in rural Rwanda? Was I really good in a past life? Is this karma? Is it just luck of the draw, and I lucked out? How do I make it right? I feel guilty and responsible and sad and in awe of them, all at once. I can't sort it out. I don't know how I feel.

Even now, I'm sitting in the YWCA office. It's certainly no office like you'd see at home, with a cement floor and no wall decorations. But even this is a phenomenal building, compared to the majority of the surrounding buildings and houses. Like... what? How? Why? And I feel so removed from what I saw, a little less than a week ago. I can't believe that it really happened. It just doesn't seem like the world could have such people in it.

Words are failing me right now. I'm not sure where to go with this.

I'm going to go off on a quick tangent now.
Here's something that it might be strange for me to ask. I want you to tally the number of times that you've looked at my blog. Every time you open the page, make a note of it. Estimate how many times you've taken a peek in the past. Believe it or not, I've gotten thousands of views on this thing since I've been here. My idea is, however many times you looked at my blog, donate a dollar. Maybe not a dollar, maybe just 50 cents. Even if you only rack up 5 bucks, that's a week's worth of food to some family. Just keep track, and whenever the YWCA website gets up, donate that money. YWCA Rwanda doesn't waste a cent; your little contribution will literally go directly to a family in need. 
You, combined with the other random people who stumble across this, could actually make a difference in the life of a child that I've met. This isn't some commercial playing on tv, while Sarah McLaughlin sings in the background and pictures of orphans flash across the screen; this is my real life and people that I know. Just consider it. 

The rest of the day was strange. We went and did some sightseeing. After what we had witnessed, it was hard. I couldn't get those children out of my mind. The other stories seemed more doable, just because the oldest child was a bit more, I don't know, worldly? But seeing those little four kids lined up, talking about how they climbed into bed at night to snuggle and pray and tell stories... Jesus. Now I'm back on that again. I will never forget them. Ever ever. They hit me like a ton of bricks. 
Seriously, someone please adopt them. Immediately.

Anyway, sightseeing. We saw some hot springs and the brewery that makes like, all of the beer in Rwanda. We went on a quick walk, stopped at a hotel (not our own) that opened up literally right into Lake Kivu. We went out on a mini peninsula and stared at the water. We were actually approached by an Australian (I think) man who was on his 26th (I think) wedding anniversary with his wife. Mrs. R-M joked that he had come up to us because he was sick of talking with his wife after all that time (his wife had stayed behind at their dinner table, to smoke cigarettes and have a drink). 

For dinner, we went downstairs to the hotel's dining room, and were surprised to find a giant group of college-aged students from America. They were from a variety of schools, and we asked them a few questions about their program. They were studying peace and conflict resolution, and had been in Uganda for a few weeks earlier. We then explained that we were interns for the YWCA, coming from Notre Dame, and they replied, "Notre Dame?? No way! We have two girls from ND in our program!"
Sure enough, two girls -- Anna and Jaclyn -- were at the hotel. Seriously. We were at a random hotel, in RWANDA of all places, and managed to find ND kids. Are you joking me?

WELLP, that's about all I've got for you from Friday. 
I'm partially done with the Saturday/Sunday post - touristey things. We saw a cultural museum, and went on a safari. Guess I'm in Africa, after all!
I think that I'm done with the depressing stories, from here on out. At least, I hope so. I learn so much, but it's always so painful.

Speaking of painful, Tate got a chemical burn from the interaction of battery acid (her flashlight melted or something), her face wash, and contact solution last night (Tuesday night). She woke me up at midnight, saying that she had blisters on her face.

I swear, you guys. Girlfraaand is a mess. See what I have to live with??

Woooosh. I'm wiped out, after that post.

Love you all, so so so so much.
Missing home kind of a lot.


1 comment:

  1. You are going to be quite the mess when you have to leave to come home. Still, I want you back. While you're gone though, keep sending the sad stuff--that's why you're there.