Friday, December 30, 2011

Ask Me Anything!

From the beginning, my trip has been an incredible learning experience for myself and my friends and family back home and I want to continue to involve as many people as possible in my adventures. I know that many of my readers may have questions about Les Enfants de Dieu, Rwanda, or my daily life here on the African continent but may feel hesitant to ask. So, I've decided to introduce something new to my blog, courtesy of, a website that allows people to ask and answer questions freely. Here's how it works: I've added a "question box" (let's call it the Ikibazo Box from now on since that is the "question" in kinyarwanda) on the right hand side of my blog that looks like this:

You can type a question (remaining anonymous if you would like) about any topic you are curious about. Got something on your mind? Ask me! I hope this will spark more discussion and lead to interesting blog post in the future!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Noeli Nziza (Merry Christmas)

This year marks a milestone for me: my first Christmas not celebrated at home. Although I wish I could have been with my friends and family on this holiday, I’m happy that I had the chance to spend it with my boys in Rwanda. Many boys at the center went home this week to celebrate the holiday with their families. However, there are some boys at the center who cannot go home. Some are orphans, some have families that live in refugee camps in Uganda or Congo and are unable to accept them, and others simply don’t go home because the living situation cannot support them. 

I spent the day with the 40 boys who did not go home. It was almost like a regular day at the center. We played billiards, colored, watched movies and talked. The most exciting part of the day was lunch because it included meat and Fanta. Overall, it just seemed like a regular day.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that Americans make a REALLY big deal out of Christmas. It’s supposed to be a day of family and friends and celebration together, but it has been built up to be more than that. Perhaps you feel a bit sad for me because my day wasn’t marked with presents underneath a Christmas tree. But what I’ve come to realize is there is no need to mark Christmas as a day more special than any other because every day in Rwanda is full of friends and families celebrating. There is always time for others. So just imagine the feeling we get on Christmas happening every single day. My Christmas in Rwanda doesn’t sound so bad after all, right?

Thanks so much for following my blog and adventures this year. And there’s still four months left of this amazing journey so stick around! And for everyone who purchased an item from the Amazon Wish List, thank you so much! The project has been so successful! The gifts for the boys will arrive on January 13th when Ally Bataille will join me in Rwanda.

Noeli Nziza to you and your family during this holiday. Blessings from Rwanda.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Politics of EDD

As we gear up for the presidential election in the United States, EDD is also getting itself involved in politics…of a different sort. This week we elected new Ministers and other officials at the center. As I’ve mentioned before, the center is run completely by the boys. These elected officials make sure every thing runs smoothly and take care of problems as they arise. They even have the authority to critique or even fire the staff. Being elected is a prized position and I was not surprised that more than half of the boys threw their hat in the ring to become a candidate. It is also a huge responsibility and an excellent way for the boys to use the skills they have learned in school and at the center in a practical way. That is why these elections are so important, not only for the boys, but for the organization of Les Enfants de Dieu itself. The elections are yearly, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to see the process of the old leadership handing off power to the new one.

I will try my best to explain what I’ve observed over these past two weeks. Here’s your Politics 101: Les Enfants de Dieu. Elections at EDD start with nominations. Last week, any boy who wanted a position stood up during a meeting, said his name and his desired position. That list was written down and yesterday all the candidates were asked to line up in front of their peers for what I like to call, “the judgment” where all the boys have a chance to say why a person is not worthy to run for a position. Some boys were accused of: having bad manners, refusing to do chores, or stealing. I can’t help but draw a parallel to how we roast our presidential candidates back in the United States, digging up their faults, secrets, and mistakes.

All the initial candidates


If there is a question of whether or not a boy deserves to run for office, it is put to a vote and the rest of the boys decide if their faults are too great or if they want to keep him as a candidate. In a few cases, the boys fought to have someone stay in the running despite his faults because they believed he would be a good leader. After this processes was finished, about half the boys were forced to sit down. The remaining boys were the candidates for office and moved on to the next stage: voting.

Once it was time to vote, the candidates for each ministry lined up and their supporters lined up behind them. The boy with the most votes becomes the Minister of that department. The boy with the second highest number of votes becomes the Director General. The boy with the third highest number of votes becomes the Technician. These are the three positions for Ministry (except for Ministry of the Environment which only has two for some reason…)

Candidates lining up for a vote

The boys vote for the person they feel
would make the best leader

The eight different Ministries are as follows:

Ministry of Home Affairs
Ministry of Social Affairs
Ministry of Health
Ministry of Agriculture
Ministry of Environment
Ministry of Sport
Ministry of Education
Ministry of Administration

So, as the year comes to a close and some of the boys travel home for Christmas holiday, the old ministers are hanging up their hats and the newly elected ones are itching to return and put them on. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Human Rights Day: Rwanda

Saturday December 11th marked the 63rd anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights; a day recognized throughout the world. Les Enfants de Dieu was lucky enough to be selected to host one of four celebrations in Rwanda dealing with Human Rights Day. Ministers, UN representatives, local government officials, NGO representatives, and other guest were treated to a day centered on the human rights of children. We celebrated through speeches, dancing, poems, and sharing bread and Fanta!

Reading a poem

Traditional dance

My job was to work “protocol” which required me to dress like a traditional Rwandan woman, greet our guests, show them their seats, and take care of anything they might need. I was also the primary person in charge of any muzungu guests (white people). It was a beautiful day and although I could not understand many of the speeches, the general atmosphere was one of celebration, peace, and happiness.

Rwandese for the day!

Sharing food and Fanta at the end!

For more information about the event, see the article published in the Sunday Times.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Amazon Wish List

As some of you know, I have created an Amazon Wish List with pre-selected items to purchase for the boys. What is an Amazon wish list you may ask? I'll explain! allows you to select items to put on a list. I've made this list public so you can check it out and if you feel so inclined, purchase a gift for the boys at Les Enfants de Dieu. Some of you have already purchased an item or two. THANK YOU SO MUCH! Unfortunately, Amazon does not let me see who has purchased an item, so it is an anonymous donation. Because of this, I can't send you a thank you card, but if you check my blog again in early January, I'll be sure to post pictures of the boys receiving these gifts. I am really moved at the number of purchases in these past few weeks. I cannot begin to explain how excited the boys will be when these items get here.

So, if you are curious about how this process works, here's the deal:

1. CLICK HERE to go to the wishlist and check out the items listed.
2. You purchase a gift.
3. This gift is then sent to my house in Vermont where my parents are getting them ready to be transported to Rwanda.
4. My lovely friend Ally (check out her blog: will attempt to fit as many of the donations in her suitcases as possible and bring them to Rwanda in early January where we will bring them to the center.
5. All remaining gifts will be brought to Rwanda in mid-February by the Harwood group on their annual trip.

What's on the list? Many things! Right now, I would say the TOP priority is underwear. The boys are asking for it, and I'm a FULL supporter of it. I think it would make everyone happy. Other than that, I've selected some games and activities the boys will love. Right now, the only board game we have is Connect 4 and the boys go crazy for it. They kick my butt every time.

So, if you're in the Christmas mood and you want to spread some holiday cheer all the way to Rwanda, I suggest you take a look at the list.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Defender Article...the follow-up

Check out this follow-up article Elizabeth Murray wrote about my experiences in Rwanda!

If you missed the first article published in May 2011 you can also check it out here:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Little Man

Six-year-old Kevin came to the center just a few weeks after I arrived in Rwanda. I was still struggling with the 126 names and faces I had to learn, but I noticed him immediately; his small stature and his tattered and dirty appearance made him stand out from the other boys. He was chewing aggressively on a piece of plastic he found on the ground, his eyes darting this way and that, trying to absorb the daily chaos of the center. Knowing he wouldn’t understand English, I asked, “Bite?” (“what’s up?” in Kinyarwanda). Kevin’s serious face broke into a big grin that melted my heart.

Little man Kevin

But what I learned later that day was enough to break it into a million pieces. Kevin came to the center with a complicated story. His mother recently took a new husband after Kevin’s father was no longer in the picture (we are not sure if he is still alive or not). Because Kevin was not his real son, this new husband gave his wife the ultimatum that if she did not get rid of Kevin, he would kill him. Consequently, Kevin ended up at the center.

The first few weeks were a struggle. I would come to the center in the morning and I could tell that Kevin had wet the bed the night before. I can only imagine the nightmares the poor little guy was having. He would also chew on anything he could get his hands on: metal wires, sticks, beads, leaves, etc…

Kevin is the newest and youngest boy at the center. So far during my time in Rwanda, I’ve seen a few boys come to the center from off the street. Only two of them have stayed since it is the center’s policy that boys can leave if they want to. Part of the reason why I think Kevin stayed was that the other boys have taken a shine to him. They taught him how to wash himself, his clothes, and do the daily chores. And since the Live2Break crew was here, he has also taken up dancing and can successfully complete a freeze (breakdance move I fail miserably at). I love to watch him wobble out of sync with the music.



I can always count on Kevin to greet me in the morning with a smiling face. No matter what kind of day I’m having, he can always turn it around for me with his silly antics. I only hope I can return the favor.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ice Cream and Dreams

The dream started with Claire. She hatched this crazy idea that one day, every boy at the center would be able to eat ice cream. We both thought it was pretty far fetched in the beginning. It would be expensive and a logistical nightmare. 

But as Claire was preparing to leave Rwanda, she wanted to give the boys one final gift and she wouldn’t settle for anything less than an ice cream party. So, last Friday, she and I piled into the EDD truck and headed for Nakumatt (a supermarket with pretty much everything you can imagine) to get the ice cream. 150 plastic spoons and 16 liters later, we were back in the truck praying we would get to the center before it melted.

scooping away

We scooped quickly into plastic cup and tin plates and passed the sloppy mess to all of the boys. A few asked, “Does this come from a cow?” Most just sat and scraped their plates or cups until they were clean. At the end, we had a bit of melted ice cream left over so Claire poured it over the boys’ heads.

Total chaos

As I sat and watched the boys savor each and every bite, I couldn’t help but think how lucky they were that they ended up on EDD’s doorstep. This center has allowed them to have a childhood again; something, which was stripped from them the moment they ended up on the streets. They can go to school, have 3 meals a day, play, eat ice cream and have dreams: all things any kid should be entitled to.

For more about the ice cream extravaganza, check out Claire's Blog. Be sure to look at some of her other posts too!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Fishing Story

I knew that Friday would be an interesting day from the moment I heard chanting voices as I walked down the dirt path on my way to work.
“Do you hear that?” I asked Claire.
“Yeah. Is it coming from the center?”
And sure enough, from our vantage point on the top of the hill we could see a crowd gathering at the fence near the fishpond.
“Looks like they started fishing already.”

We continued down the hill and across the road. Locals had stopped their morning routines to come watch the action. When we came close enough, I could see our boys covered in mud, digging through what appeared to be silt on the ground. When they saw us, they proudly presented their trophies: fish who were still wiggling their tails as they struggled to get free.

Some nice tilapia.

It was organized chaos on the bank of the fishpond. Boys were grabbing fish out of a net that had just been dragged aground, tossing them into barrels, taking them out of the barrels, gutting them and leaving the entrails on the ground, and weighing them. Charles (EDD agronomist, who traveled to Burundi with us) had a book where he was keeping track of the kilograms of fish collected.

Getting ready for round 2

We arrived just in time to see the final pass across the pond with the net. A few boys jumped in the pond to pull the far end of the net across. Once it was fully submerged, the groups of boys on either side of the end began to chant again, pulling the net in unison across the pond. When they reached the bank, other boys helped to pull it ashore. Amongst the muck and grass that had tangled in the net were a few fish flopping around freely.

Claire vs. Mr. Fish. He wriggled free a second later.

Hardy and I. That fishing lesson at summer camp years ago prepared me well.

The fishpond is one of the ways the center generates income. Two or three times a year, they harvest the fish and then sell them to local buyers. The pond contains tilapia and a type of catfish. In all, the boys collected 60 kilograms of fish that day which was a bit less than projected. Projects such as this are very important as the center strives to become self-sufficient. Right now, they rely heavily on donations and in times of economic crisis it’s difficult to obtain donors. 

Too small. Throw them back!

Thank Heaven!

Thank Heaven!

Claire and I were determined to have our own Thanksgiving. Our original thought was to cook it on our own since Rwandans do not celebrate Thanksgiving. A few things got in our way:
  1. We could not find Turkey at the store, so we would have had to substitute chicken
  2. Our stove has one temperature and we have no idea what that is. We’ve successfully made banana bread before, but cooking a chicken would have been a whole new beast.
  3. Neither one of us has cooked a whole turkey/chicken on our own before.
  4. We found out that a local restaurant was serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

 All these factors combined led us to the decision that we would celebrate Thanksgiving at a restaurant in Kigali. This was THE BEST DECISION we’ve made in awhile. The restaurant we went to is called Heaven and it definitely lives up to its name. The restaurant is situated on top of a hill close to the city center and has a covered deck, which allows you to see Kigali from above. Created by California couple that expatriated to Rwanda, Heaven uses local ingredients to create simple yet flavorful foods. Heaven is also socially responsible and was created to help train Rwandans in the hospitality business. They support local farmers, suppliers, artists, and act as a center for vocational training. It has become a regular haunt for westerners who live in Kigali, including Claire and I. This was my third time and I was not disappointed.

Pumpkin Soup

Turkey, stuffing, honey glazed carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach

Pumpkin pie, but not as good as Memere's

This was my first Thanksgiving away from home. Although I am sad that I could not celebrate with the rest of my family, I am happy I could spend it with my friend Claire, eating good food and enjoying the view of the city from Heaven.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fun Fact #2

Lake Tanganyika (the lake we visited in Bujumbura) is the second deepest freshwater lake in the world, second only to Lake Baikal in Serbia. At its deepest point, it measures a depth of 4,820 feet. The lake spans four different countries including Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bujumbura, Burundi

Burundi is one of Rwanda’s neighbor countries and it’s roughly a 7-hour bus ride south from Kigali. Claire and I woke up very early Friday morning to meet our friend Charles, who works at EDD, to catch a bus to Burundi. We thought that arriving at the bus station half an hour ahead of time would be enough to ensure us good seats (this entire continent is in a perpetual state of lateness so “on time” can mean anywhere from 20 minutes to hours later). However, it appears that buses to Burundi are the exception.

We got stuck with aisle seats. When I say aisle seats, I’m sure you are picturing something reminiscent of an aisle seat on an airplane. This is not what I mean. Buses in Africa are ALWAYS packed to capacity (I’ve been packed into a minibus with 22 other people before) so they’ve invented these seats that fold up when people need to get out and fold down when people need to sit. Since the bus is my main mode of transportation here, I can say that the vast majority of these types of seats are broken. Either the seat itself is lopsided or the seat back flops around. So for 7 hours, we sat on the bus, trying to get some sleep in between the unintentional elbows we received from the people sitting next to us.

We finally arrived in the capital Bujumbura late in the afternoon. The heat was a bit overwhelming and a drastic change from the cool weather of Kigali. Claire and I were in desperate need to a good nights sleep. We had nearly pulled an all-nighter hanging out with our friends Pervez, Kate, and Bret from Catalyst Rwanda because we didn’t want to say goodbye and were running on 2 hours of sleep. As I tried to fall asleep, I could swear I heard people talking with British accents.

The next morning the British accents were gone and I was feeling much better. We wandered around the city, finding a market where I bought Obama strawberry flavored gum. After this first purchase, Claire and I were on the hunt for Obama gear and Bujumbura did not disappoint. There is a company named Obama Vodka based in Burundi, which packages vodka in tiny plastic pouches. It was definitely one of the best discoveries we found. We spent the rest of the day walking around the lake where we spotted a hippo eating some grasses near the road. On Sunday, we visited Saga Plage on Lake Tanganyika. The waves and the white sand beach made it feel like we were on the coast.

Charles, Claire, and I at Lake Tanganyika

Charles and I

The crew on the beach

I feel as if Burundi is a raw place compared to Rwanda, but they are so closely tied together. The wounds of war and political tensions are fresh and there is still a battle for security and stability within the country. Hutus and Tutsis have been battling for power ever since the Belgians left, staging coups, assassinations, and civil war. Although Rwanda is infamous for the 1994 genocide, many people forget that the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was in the plane that was shot down on April 6th, 1994. This crash sparked the systematic killing of Tutsis in both Rwanda and Burundi. In Rwanda, the killing has stopped. In Burundi, people still feel as if they have a score to settle. Attacks have continued, even as recently as September of this year. It’s examples such as this that make me marvel at Rwanda’s reconciliation process. Seventeen years after the genocide, Rwanda remains a peaceful country while neighboring Burundi continues to fight a never-ending battle.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Live 2 Break

These past two weeks have been very chaotic and unusual, but they have probably been the most fun I’ve had in a long time. As I have mentioned before, the center welcomed a group called Catalyst Rwanda two weeks ago who put on a break dance workshop for the boys. Three members of the group, Kate, Bret, and Pervez, lived with Claire and I. We had so much fun hanging out with each other and I was so sad to say goodbye on Friday.

The boys learning a freeze

Kate helping Dariya

Everyone involved with Catalyst Rwanda has made more of an impact on the center than anyone thought possible. The boys at Les Enfants de Dieu take their studies very seriously, but I have never seen them display more focus and intensity than they did over these past two weeks. They practiced constantly, awaited the next lesson eagerly, and refused to take their “Live 2 Break” shirts off until Joseanne (member of EDD staff) insisted that they wash them.

Pervez demonstrating the Superman stance

Sam breaking it, Bret and Nicola behind

On Thursday, EDD put on a “Jam”, a chance for the boys to dance and show off their new moves. It was one big party where the boys never stopped smiling. Nothing can top happy kids, good friends, and a bit of dancing. I might even seek out a breaking class when I'm back home...

Pervez and Claire

The Jam started with some traditional dance

As a side note, check out this amazing video shot by Kate and starring Pervez and Bret at the Kimirannko Market in Kigali. If you look close when the camera pans, you'll see Claire and myself (the two white people). We took the gang shopping for some African fabrics and this is what happened:

A trip to Kimiranko market with Pervez and Bret - Catalyst Rwanda from Catalyst Rwanda on Vimeo.