Monday, January 30, 2012


1- Yes, Elena LOVES making lists (this post is in her honor).

2- We started our Physical Education/English class. The first day was rather hectic to say the least. We don't have a classroom big enough to fit all the students from both Primary 1 and Primary 2 (grades 1&2). We thought it would be no problem to gather the boys on the basketball court for the first class. We quickly discovered that discipline is practically nonexistent outside the walls of a classroom. It took us about 15 minutes to get everyone gathered together and mildly quiet. After attempting to teach them a simple one-on-one game, we realized that much of what we were trying to teach them went straight over their heads. All they wanted to do was play football (soccer) and many of them were refusing to participate because we weren't playing what they wanted. The next day we decided to make the dining hall our class meeting place. Although this was certainly not a classroom, it was far more fit for the class than the open outdoors. We arranged a few rows of benches in one part of the dining hall to allow the boys to have an orderly way to sit. We hoped this would remind them more of a classroom setting than the basketball court did. In the dining hall we went over some english vocabulary words that related to the rules we created as a class, and to the games we played that day. With the help of one of the classroom teachers, we were able to make it clear to the boys that we would not be playing football until we could see that the class could listen and follow directions. We also told them that if they don't participate in the activities we are doing now, they would not be able to participate when we do play football. After this pep-talk, they were more into the new games we were teaching them. We also taught them how to respond when we want their attention. We give two whistles for everyone to stop what they are doing, then we add "1, 2, 3, eye's on me." This is a classic command we learned in elementary school that always works, and the students are very quiet after responding with "1, 2, eye's on you." The following day we walked by one of their classrooms before the teacher had arrived, and we heard all the boys yelling "1, 2, eye's on you!" We accomplished the task of gaining attention when attention gaining is needed. Tag is a whole new battle that we have begun to tackle. We're still trying to help them understand that you don't want to be tagged, and that it's not okay to "puppy-guard."

3- We have Vermont Turkey posters hanging on our walls. Elena found them in the store room at EDD. 

4- I've been playing a guitar that I'm borrowing from the center to feed my addictive habits.

5- Our gate door is extremely difficult to close and open. When we got back from out weekend get-away in Uganda, our final task was to enter our house gate. With an audience of men at the end of the road, I attempt to unlock the gate. Once I believe I've unlocked the gate, I begin to shoulder check the gate door. I finally realize that maybe the key didn't actually work, and sure enough, the door is still locked. With the audience growing, I attempt to unlock the broken lock again. I finally get it, but the struggle isn't over. The only way I can physically get this gate open is to brace my balance on either side of the door and kick the door open. After a few kicks, the food flies open, and we are home. I hope the audience got a good laugh.

6- Our water keeps shutting off. We don't know why, but it likes to happen when we are in dire need to bathe. Not to worry, we have plenty of clean water to drink.

7- We don't have a dining room table yet, but I'm getting used to eating in a luxurious cushioned chair and coffee table. That makes this room really awkward.

8- I have a cockroach graveyard in the corner of my room. I'm hoping it will scare the others away... so far it's not working.

9- Sometimes in the morning (around 6:00 or 7:00) large crows enjoy hanging out on our roof. We have a metal roof, so their footsteps are very loud. For a while I thought it was someone on our roof trying to steal the roofing. I finally went outside, only to see a few giant black crows picking at our roof. I threw a rock at them and slept for another hour or so.

10- Tomorrow I get my new Rwandan clothing back from the seamstress! I'll be sure to post some pictures!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Kevin showing some love outside the new dining hall.
When I visited the center in 2009 with my classmates, the place felt a little run down. The carousel of chairs was rusted and broken, the dining hall was empty of tables, and the offices and classrooms were in rough shape. The boys were what kept the place lively. In the past year, the center has received a grant to build new offices, a new dining hall, and a second floor of dormitories to allow each boy their own bed to sleep in (right now there are two boys to each twin size bed). A few weeks ago they received another grant to build new classrooms. This is a great step for the center for many reasons.
New administrative offices, nurse's room, and volunteer room.

Dormitories with the new second floor and a paint job.
Current dormitories 
Inside the new dining hall.
This is what is becoming the new library/game room! Lots of work to do!

The new construction is extremely helpful for organizational purposes. There is one room called "the teacher's room." It houses all of the center's books and school supplies that the teachers use on a daily basis. There is one desk that is shared by the volunteers and the two classroom teachers.

The new buildings will provide more space and opportunity for the staff and students. The old kitchen is becoming the new store room. The old dining hall is almost finished it's facelift. It will become a new library for both the staff and students to access. One of the biggest problems I noticed upon my arrival was the lack of use of all the donations the center receives. These donations include clothing, shoes, soccer balls, notebooks, pencils, paper, and art supplies such as crayons, colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, and paint. None of these things are being used. The main reasons they are not put to use is that the donations go missing or break when they allow the boys to use them. They will be around for one day and the next morning it will be broken or gone. Another reason is that the staff isn't aware of everything the center has received and they don't take advantage of the supplies. I think they are also unsure of how to divvy up the clothing and shoes to make it fair without the boys fighting.

Elena and I decided that there needs to be some serious changes in managing donations. We have put together a project proposal for the new library that we will present to Rafiki, the project manager, so he can give us the okay to run the project and take action. Our plan will allow all the donations (except for the clothing and shoes) to be accessible to both staff and students. The library will be a place where the boys can rent books and games. It will have tables and chairs for the boys to read and play games at. In order to keep the games and art supplies in tact, we will created a sign-out system and they will have to remain within the walls of the library. Whoever signs out the game is responsible for returning all it's pieces, or they are not able to sign anything else out until all the pieces are returned. We created a folder with sheets of paper called "The Naughty List" for students who have lost their privilege to sign anything out. Boys can also lose their privilege if they have not completed their chores or misbehaved in some other way.

The new system will also give the boys access to the soccer balls. This is a HUGE deal for the boys. On Friday, we gave the boys a soccer ball from the volunteer room. We were getting so frustrated going into the volunteer room and seeing all these brand new soccer balls just sitting there. We'd look out the window to see boys kicking around an old, flat, beat up ball of some sort. So we took one and gave it to some boys, who were elated with excitement. On the following Monday, the ball was gone and nobody knew of it's whereabouts. Out new system will require the balls to be checked out and returned after a certain amount of time.

We are really excited to put our new plan into action and see how the boys react to it. We will keep you posted on the progress and success!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bon Appetit!

You may be curious about the sorts of foods I am eating here. Maybe to your surprise, it is quite tasty. In 2009, the food was one of my favorite parts of Rwanda. Although there are people in the country who may not be able to afford to eat a wide variety of foods, it isn't very expensive for us to eat a wider range of foods. In homes where money is tight, they might only eat rice or kaunga and beans along with whatever fruit they might be able to find from wild trees or from fruit trees on their land.
Fried plantains and potatoes, guacamole and a red sauce.
Fried Fish, Rice and sauce with avocado on the side.

For breakfast we eat foods such as eggs, bread or toast with jam, butter or nutella We also eat fruit such as imineke (small bananas pronounced meneche), passion fruit, or mango. Elena said she occasionally makes crepes as well. We have tea every morning. Occasionally will also have yogurt. Lunch at the center consists of kaunga, rice, beans, and some sort of sauce. The cause is either a red sauce or another sauce with green vegetables (we are unsure of what the green vegetables really are... They call them "green vegetable"). Occasionally we will have fried potatoes or plantains. Dinner is cooked for us by a woman named Clare who works for Rafiki. She makes a variety of foods. So far I've had meals with fried fish, fried plantains, fried potatoes, rice with red onion and a red sauce that has carrots, onions, tomatoes, green vegetables, ground peanut and some spices. She cooks chicken on occasion. We also like to slice up some avocado or mango to go along with the meals. One evening Rafiki brought us some sliced sugar cane. It was quite a tasty treat. You have to chew a slice to get all the sugary juice out, and spit out the rest.
To the right: a bowl of sugar cane. To the left: chewed remains.
That is a rough idea about the kind of food we eat every day. It's pretty tasty and I can't complain yet! Elena said a lot of meals are very similar, but all so tasty!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From the Streets To Success

Today (Tuesday) was my second day at EDD. The boys just started school again, so Elena and I are trying to get an idea of what our roles will be for the duration of our stay. We spent some time speaking with Josianne and the other teachers about how we would be of most help that would sustain the center. After our meetings, we had some spare time. Our friend Willy, who visits the center often, was there.
Willy and Dariya in the Mango tree 
There is a mango tree that is popular to climb. Usually only the boys climb this tree. But today, I climbed the mango tree. Willy was the first to call me "monkey." Other boys also joined us in the tree, and we took pictures and laughed. After spending some time in the tree, most of the other boys had climbed down from the tree to join Elena in a memory game that we had worked on repairing the night and morning before. She was excited to see how the boys would take to the newly paperbacked and laminated cards where they could no longer rip pieces off the corners to tell what the matches are. Sure enough, it was a hit, and there was no more cheating (that we know of).


Once the boys were occupied with the game, Willy and I began what would end up being about a 2 hour conversation. The first question he asked me was, "What is your favorite color?" I replied "green, what is yours?" He pointed to his purple shirt. We moved on to talking about favorite foods and different kinds of food, and favorite sports, and work, and money, and government. Willy asked me if there were many street children in the U.S. as I was pondering the question, he added "I heard there are only old men on the street." I agreed, but added that the homeless people in the states is usually due to the economic change. People who once had sustaining jobs that paid enough for them to be able to sustain their families in a home, no longer have the same secure jobs, and not enough money to stay. I also explained the old men on the streets. Explaining to him that they may have had troubles with drugs and or alcohol and their families were maybe no longer willing to provide for them or put up with the misery. Willy said there are three reasons for street children in Rwanda. He said 40% of the children were beaten by a step father or family member, 50% of the children were not loved by their families, and 10% are poor. When I asked why he became a street child, he told me his story.

His mother is HIV positive. He was five at the time, and his mother was taken to the hospital. He was an only child, and his father was not around. He went to his grandfather and asked if he could stay for a month while his mother got well in the hospital. He was rejected. He moved on to other family members, all of whom shut him down and refused to allow him to stay with them. Neighbors also did not allow him to stay with them. So that night was his first night on the street. He was five years old, alone, and homeless. Two boys approached him that night and asked why he was crying. He told them he has no home, and no family that loves him. They invited him to come home with them. They brought him to a spot under a bridge. They showed him a cardboard square to sleep on and welcomed him into their home. That night he was scared and cold.

The next day he asked the boys how they stayed warm at night. That night was the first time he smoked marijuana. Willy was officially introduced to life on the street. Willy spent the next five years of his life begging for money, stealing radios out of cars he would unlock with wire, eating food from trash cans, and smoking and drinking anything he got his hands on. He was arrested a number of times as a child due to fighting, stealing, and begging. The only thing he feared was the police.

When WIlly was 10, he went to the gates of Les Enfants De Dieu. For two days he waited outside to be welcomed in. When Rafiki, the project manager, let him in they had a meeting. Rafiki asked him why he wants to come to the center. Willy said he wanted to learn. He wanted to go to school and learn english. Rafiki was reluctant to let him in because he knew of Willy's street habits. Nobody at the center thought he would last more than a week. They knew he was smoking a lot, and fighting, and getting into trouble. They had no idea he would surprise them.

That day, Willy joined the center. He started to take his life in a serious direction. He studied matter that he cared about. When he studied hard, he was always at the top of his class. He wanted to learn English very badly. He would pick five words a day to learn, and he would recite them all day in his head and at night he would put those words together with other words he had memorized. He was very responsible with his chores and very caring towards the other boys at the center. He eventually told himself he was never going to smoke or drink again.

Now Willy is 19 years old and he is awaiting the rest of the money for him to attend secondary school. He has had a number of jobs, and takes care of his mother. He speaks some of the best english I've heard any Rwandan speak. He understands cultural differences and some of the major problems Rwanda faces regarding gender and marital roles. He has done three documentaries about the stories of street children. He works as a DJ, and visits the center often to see how the boys are doing. For Christmas, Willy got children from around his neighborhood to donate clothing and toys they no longer used or needed to give to the street boys. He organized a meal and a gathering for all the local street boys and other children from around. All the street boys got a gift on christmas, and it was all because of Willy. This is a young man who is intelligent and extremely caring. You would never guess a street boy would have this bright future ahead of himself.

During my time here, I plan on joining Willy to visit other street boys around his neighborhood. I want to help him learn their stories and capture how a street boy survives. I want to learn of more reasons why they don't choose to go to a place like EDD where they always have a meal and a bed to sleep in. Willy wants to do this because he wants people to begin to care about street boys. He wants to give them a chance to succeed and to have others believe in them like he does.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A safe arrival, and an exciting first day!

Greetings from Rwanda!!!

After a 24 hour delay, I arrived safe and sound in Rwanda! My journey wasn't the smoothest in the world, however. Since the first flight leaving Burlington to Newark was delayed, my flight was expected to be delayed as well, so they bumped me up to the earlier flight which was expected to leave at about the time my original flight was supposed to depart. That flight left 2 hours after the time they originally said, which made it so that my layover time in Newark was slim to none. Once the plane landed in newark, I booked it to my gate only to find out that there were some mechanical difficulties and we would be delayed an hour and a half. This was no big deal because I was supposed to have a 4 hour layover in Brussels before my flight to Rwanda left. That mechanical problem led to another problem, and we were left waiting there for another three and a half hours. By the time we took off I knew I was going to miss my flight to Rwanda. So, I stayed the night in a hotel right across the airport in Brussels, and met some really cool people who were all traveling to Rwanda and other places alike. Hopefully I'll meet up with some of them while I'm here. 
View down the street from the gate to our house.

Once I got to my house, I felt so excited and wide awake even though it was 8:00pm. I organized all my things and the stuff for the center, and chatted with Elena for a long time. I don't think I fell asleep until 2:00am. Because I slept so much on the flight over, I woke up at 5:30 to the birds outside. After a slow and relaxing morning, we set out for the city to exchange some money, check out the market, and meet up with Willy, a good friend of ours from the center who we met in 2009. It was really nice to see him!

When we were on our way back on the first bus, people were talking about a soccer game that was going to start in a half hour. We decided it would be a fun thing to do, so the three of us got off at the next stop and walked to Amahoro Stadium to see Police VS. Rayon Sports. Most of the fans in the stadium were cheering for Rayon Sports. On our walk over we saw multiple men, dressed in the team colors with their faces and bodies painted blue and white, walking down to streets blowing the Vuvuzela. You could feel the excitement in the air. When we got to the gates to pay for our tickets, it was really chaotic. There were a lot of young boys going around begging for money to get into the game. I felt really uncomfortable pulling out my wallet (that was packed with money I just exchanged a few hours earlier) in front of all the boys who were begging for money. I put my money away promptly, and Elena paid for the three of us to make it easier. I paid her back once we got in. I learned that in a situation like that, you should already have the amount of money you need separated out so it's easy to get to without others seeing how much money you really have.

Elena, Willy, and I at the game!
Here's a perfect example of one of the boys we saw parading down the street. He had 3 noise makers and a Vuvuzela . A large blue robe, and a wig. Another boy had jeans that were ripped into strips and painted blue and white with his upper body and head also pointed blue and white. These people go all out. It reminded me of the all-out fans at an American Football game.

The stadium was packed with fans and roaring with noise makers. There was one section that was especially rowdy. Willy told us that it was section 17 and it is where many of the trouble makers sit for the game. They were all dressed with full team color attire. They even had an Israeli flag because it was the team colors. I'm almost positive all of them were christian. He said that section gets dangerous when the team they are cheering for is losing. He told us that sometimes they used to jump from the stadium seating onto the field and run after the players. Now that section is guarded by many policemen to prevent such events from happening. 

Section 17
My favorite part about the game was hearing the cheers after a goal was scored. After a few minutes of a loud roar, the crowd would break into song, and sooner than later the entire stadium (or at least the fans of the scoring team) would be singing the same thing. It was easy to join in because they weren't singing words, but they would sing a general tune and yell "HEY!" It felt like a big party.

Rayon Sports ended up winning 3-1, so the fans were all excited and ready to party the night away. Willy told us that the crazy fans would all be drinking for the rest of the night celebrating. He also pointed out that the fans of the losing team had to be escorted out to avoid fights between the rival team's fans. The Rayon fans went parading down the streets singing. It was a really neat and fun experience!

Tomorrow is my first day at the center. I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing, but I know I'm getting another tour because a lot has changed since the last time I was there. Elena said we might get to organize the store room that holds a lot of the donations the center receives. I'm excited to get started at the center and meet all the boys living there.

So far I've got a great refreshment of Rwanda, and I'm thoroughly excited to be here for the next three months!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Preparing for Departure!

I almost don't know what to say! I leave in a day and a half! I just got back from an eventful few days which kept me busy and having fun. I got to see my very first NFL game at Giants stadium as they passed through the first round, defeating the Atlanta Falcons 24-2. I also had a chance to see a lot of my family in New Jersey which was perfect timing! I hadn't seen many of them in years, so I got to catch them up on what I am doing. I spent the past couple days in Johnson where I got to say farewell to some good friends, and spend some time at Jay Peak getting some final turns. I suppose you could say I've been doing some fun things I love right before I go.

Tomorrow I have my first professional massage (courtesy of my mom and dad), some last minute goodbye's, and final packing!

There's a storm coming in, so I hope everything goes smoothly in my departure and connecting flights. I'm a little worried that I may run into some trouble, so hopefully it isn't as bad as it could be!