Thursday, April 16, 2015
I am not a traveler. I have vacationed in Bermuda and twice in the Bahamas, but except for a trip to Israel with my mother in 1989 and a 3 month stay with a family in the Philippines in 1963, I have seen little of the world. Thus, my trip to Rwanda and Kenya with my brother John and his friend Peter was anticipated with both excitement and a wee bit of trepidation. However, we arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, after two flights and many hours in the air, without incident. It was dark when we deplaned, so I had little opportunity to see much on our short ride to a new, very luxurious hotel, the Grand Legacy.
The following morning, while John tended to some business, I checked with the front desk to see if it would be safe for me to explore several blocks around the hotel on foot. No problem I was told, so off I went. I knew of the horrible genocide that had taken place in Rwanda in 1994, so I was surprised to find the streets not only safe, but also the cleanest I have ever seen. Even as I ventured into some of the poorer sections, everything was immaculate. Later that day, John and I toured Kigali with a local guide who had lost his father and older brother in the genocide. We learned that not only had plastic bags been outlawed in Rwanda several years ago, but also, on the last Saturday of every month, all citizens are required to clean the streets from 9 to 11 in the morning. What a concept---and it really works!
Traveling with John, I met many extraordinary people in Rwanda and Kenya, both African nationals and westerners. All were bright, educated, committed, and very caring individuals who were living their dream to make Africa a better place. In Rwanda, we visited the Millennium Village in Mayange where innovative farming techniques are being passed along by the lead farmers program. Eliminate Poverty Now is financing this project.
Goals in both Rwanda and Kenya are improvement in infrastructure, medical services, farming techniques, education, and economic opportunity. Nairobi has it’s own problems with traffic, garbage, and Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world. However, with all that I experienced, it was the children that gave me the most hope.
Today, we live in a world filled with violence, hatred, and intolerance. Terrorism and the resulting fear it is meant to cause, is rampant. However, the children I encountered in Rwanda and Kenya were well-behaved, happy, smiling, and eager to meet new people. In Kenya, John, Peter, and I visited an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary. We were joined by scores of elementary school children dressed in their various school uniforms, children full of laughter and joy. Hopefully, their schools are encouraging tolerance and acceptance of other’s beliefs as part of the curriculum. In Kenya, on the outskirts of the Kibera slum, such a school already exists.
The Little Rock School is one of the most amazing, heart-warming places I have visited. It opened its doors in 2003 with an enrollment of 12 children. Since then, it has moved twice and now provides schooling and lunch for over 400 students, most of them preschool age. A third of the student body is made up of special needs children who are included in regular classes wherever possible. But before one can fully appreciate the tremendous success of Little Rock, a walk through Kibera, home to most of these children, is essential.
No photograph can depict the poverty that defines Kibera. Without the smell from rotting garbage and open sewers, the sound of buzzing flies and infants crying, the feel of slimy mud beneath your feet as you wend your way down narrow garbage filled allies, can you understand the conditions in which over a million people live. The small one or two room homes, made mostly of tin and wood with rusty tin roofs and dirt floors, are crammed together. There is no running water and limited electricity. Yet from this slum the children, guided by parents or older siblings, dressed neatly in their clean school uniforms, come by the hundreds to Little Rock, an oasis of hope.
As a teacher, Lilly Oyare saw the need to reach out to children at the pre-school level. In addition, she wanted to provide support for older students so that they could continue their secondary school education. Eliminate Poverty Now provides funding for tutoring and tuition so that qualified students can continue their education at secondary boarding schools. I began my involvement with EPN by funding a 4-year high school education for Victor Andiva. I then learned that he had a sister, Theresa, who wanted to attend nursing school. Little Rock provided the day care for her 2- year-old daughter; I provided the tuition.
While in Nairobi, I met Theresa and her now 3-year-old daughter. Together we walked to her home in Kibera, and I am humbled by the hard work and sacrifices she is making to both raise her daughter and attend school. Often, we feel that there is little we can do to really make a difference in this world. By supporting EPN and the Little Rock School you can see your dollars at work. YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
John promised me an unforgettable experience and he was true to his word. It is one thing to look at photos and listen to heartwarming stories, but nothing is more inspiring and energizing than to see places like the Little Rock School in real time. A special thanks to my sister-in-law Judy, cofounder of EPN, who volunteered to baby sit for my house, 4 dogs, scores of plants, and wild birds who expected their feeders and water to be filled on a daily basis. When she suggested my going in her place she had no idea that she would also be “enjoying” the worst winter in Boston history. Thank you John and Judy for making possible this life-changing trip.
Carol and John