Rwanda: Our Family’s Heart in Africa.

As we drove in the dusty truck, our bodies being knocked around for hours over the rough-and-tumble roads, I kept thinking,

“This is an honor!”

Even as we stopped in to talk with people from the organization in this very, very remote place amongst the thousands of hills of Rwanda, I wanted to express how thankful we were to be there and how honored we felt.

Why?

We were being invited into the home of a Rwandan family who we love and have been writing back and forth with in detail for years.

INTO THEIR HOME!

(Yes, I’m gonna use all caps, baby!)

Sure, it took flying from Europe into Kigali, spending a couple nights in the most crammed + moldy hotel room of our trip, being thrown around for hours while traversing some of the worst roads imaginable to where there literally were no more roads and then we had to “hike” in to where they lived…

None of us cared.

We were going to meet them and get to hug them and hear their voices and SEE THEIR FACES IN REAL LIFE!

Every step was all so, so worth it.

Many times when you visit an organization like this, you might see the school they run…but you’re not getting invited inside anyone’s home. We hadn’t expected to be invited into their actual home, we thought they’d probably just take us to see the school, but here we were!

Rwanda is BEAUTIFUL! “The Land of 1,000 Hills!” This view is on the hike to visit “our” family.
As you can imagine, I was checking out in detail all the different types of home construction we were seeing, from sticks to mud “bricks”…I took a LOT of pictures of the different types of home construction in the remote areas…
Men, women & kids all working in the seemingly-endless green fields in the low areas.
About 40% of the population lives below the poverty line and 16 percent lives in extreme poverty.
I don’t normally take pictures of flowers but I took a photo of every interesting plant my girls and I found that we’d never seen before!

You know you’re in Africa when…you get to see ALL KINDS OF MASSIVE LOADS of things being carried/pushed uphill on bikes! 🙂 We’ve seen everything from casava and bananas to charcoal and roof thatch in even taller, larger stacks than this…always impressive.

Our connection to Rwanda “officially” goes back to 2010 (when we first started sponsoring boys/young men there)…

…and “unofficially” back to 1994 when I was a girl who heard about the Rwandan genocide and it somehow got stuck in my heart.

Fast forward to us having the opportunity (during our time living and working remotely) to actually and finally travel to Rwanda to meet these people, especially our current sponsored boy and his family who we’ve been writing to for years.

What was so unexpected to me was the great degree to which we connected with so many other Rwandans (who we didn’t know prior) once we actually were there, too many to list…some of the young women are now pen pals with my daughters…I text via WhatsApp with some others now…and now we have so many faces to names with the organization, the translators, and especially “our” boy and his family. (We met more of them than we ever expected!🤣)

After spending several days around our family as we basically lived and recovered in our hotel (and especially our daughters who would go talk with them as mama and daddy finished eating), about 4-5 of these beloved young ladies working at our favorite hotel fell in love with our girls and were constantly looking out for them, giggling with them, making them little African-print purses and headbands…it never stopped and we felt GUTTED to leave them! We still email back and forth with them. I took this pic after hearing THE LOUDEST laughter as they played and made voices with the “Talking Stick” and swished their skirts around…never wanted to forget how much fun we had here.
Working with the sounds of the jungle all around!

We appreciate this interesting heart-connection even more now, because since leaving Rwanda, we’ve traveled for months through Eastern Africa and STILL never connected with the people to the great level we did in Rwanda…

And I’m not gonna write a book about my emotions and feelings about this country…

…so I will just say that my heart for some reason feels different for Rwanda, and I didn’t expect to be so overwhelmed when I got there.

If you can, I want you to go. (Most tourists do gorilla treks so if you’re into that, let that be your reason that pulls you there!😄)

We felt safe there, even though there are guards at the entrance of every building and store (understandably) and—as in most of East and South Africa—there’s barbed and electrified fences guarding all homes and buildings.

The entrance to our favorite coffee shop, looking back over Kigali.
Walking along our Kigali street at night.
Red helmet = moto taxi! 1 for the driver, 1 for the passenger.
As you go around the city of Kigali, these are everywhere!!!
The striations on these were SO PRETTY I tried to capture it…and failed…but here it is making it into my blog post because I still remember how gorgeous some of these plants were in person.

Rwanda is one of the few African countries not marred by corruption! (Which we grew to appreciate more and more over these past months.)

And in fact, their country is pushing to rebuild and grow in so many ways, from entrepreneurial efforts and exports (like coffee!) to so many amazing artists!

And if you can’t travel to Rwanda right now, find some good Rwandan coffee. It’s the best.

And then, while you sip that coffee, consider sponsoring a child in Rwanda. And don’t do it with just your money—do it with you! Create a relationship! I’ll share more on that below.

We’ve been sponsoring boys and young men in Rwanda since 2010, but why?

When I was young, I remember hearing about the Rwandan genocide. (Thankfully I didn’t hear too much when I was that young, but it stuck with me. I know so much more now…sometimes feels like too much…)

When an organization we were familiar with started working in Rwanda, I was all over it. I can’t explain why but when I saw the option in Rwanda, my heart was almost literally beating

Yes! THAT is what we are doing!”

We got paired up with our first boy before we quit our jobs to move to New Zealand and weren’t having kids when we expected (another long story). So I was pouring myself into him (and 3 others of “our kids” we were sponsoring in different countries) via letters back and forth at least once a month…

If you’ve ever been a part of any “child sponsorship” program your involvement may have been different. They usually prompt you to communicate with your child once each season with a pre created card or something you can write a short message on.

SIDENOTE:

If I may, I would LOVE to encourage you if you’re already in one of these programs (or thinking about it!) to write longer letters more frequently to your child! I won’t list all the amazing specifics but the feedback we’ve gotten from our kids in various countries and cultures and ages has been heart-wrenching-in-a-good-way…and even with the translators we’ve built recognition and relationships that are meaningful and real.

You CAN make a huge difference in the life of the child and it’s not just with your dollahs…it’s with YOU! Your voice, your encouragement, your relationship.

I’ll be the first to admit now that I have kids and work full time it’s much easier to procrastinate with my goal of writing four kids once a month, and I miss this goal sometimes, but I still keep the goal.

Our first boy in Rwanda knew all about our struggles and pain to have our own children at the time, and he and his family were some of the few people I know really CELEBRATED when I became pregnant with our first daughter.

Now it’s almost 14 years later since we started sponsoring in Rwanda, and after our first boy graduated several years ago we were paired up with another young man. We’ve written back and forth with him for most of his life, and in recent years as our daughters grew older they’d exchange drawings, pictures and stickers. The girls and I would make flat things we could send to him, like bookmarks for school that we’d use our little “homeschool laminator” for!

We do the same with all “our kids”, but I’d say our Rwanda boys have been some of the most responsive and engaging in letters.

So when we talked about traveling through Africa for a few months during this 1.5+ years of living and working remotely…

…paired with the fact that there were some direct flights from where we were ending in Europe right into Kigali…

…and talking with the organization we worked it all out with dates and transport…

…so we were ACTUALLY going to go to meet him!

IN Rwanda!

So proud of our little travelers!
Part of our hike in to get to their home…

The guys (our beloved field worker/letter translator + one of the administrators from the area office) were concerned about the length of the hike in for our kids, but then we laughed because our youngest girl was running ahead and leading the way there most of the time! (Which I clearly didn’t take a picture of because we were apparently too busy making jokes about it.😂 They had just asked and re-asked so many times if the kids could do it.)

Their generous gifts to us were a ball and jump rope made of dried banana leaves (SO STRONG) and this bunch of small bananas (pictured below)! Grandma carefully cut each of them up and put into a bag for us to take with us.

When I showed them to one of our Rwandan friends at our hotel later, he told us impressively, “Those are the ‘expensive’ bananas at the market!” So it felt like an extra-special gift that they gave us to them from their land.

You want to tell them not to give you gifts and that being invited into their home for a day is enough, but you just say thank you…and enjoy the heck out of those Bananas of Love!

As a big rainstorm was heading our way, we were forced to leave but it did hold off long enough for all our long goodbyes, hiking all the way back, and making it back into the truck as the first raindrops fell.

Honestly, it felt like even the raindrops were like, “Whew! We were hanging on for you guys as long as we could!” Every moment felt like it was meant to be.

One of my sweetest memories…being “escorted” out by our boy and several of his cousins. Our girls hiked with them as we adults took up the rear…

These boys could have just stayed at their house with the rest of all the family and relatives there…there was no reason for them to hike out with us all the way to the truck and then walk back, but they were determined. “Our” boy (who I guess is now a young man and that’s just crazy to me!) insisted on carrying Matt’s big heavy backpack for him too. He is super quiet in person but man was he stubbornly refusing to let Matt carry it. 😆🥰💛 We love him.

We also (well, I should say my oldest daughter and I) really enjoyed learning the language there (Kinyarwanda).

Probably because we had so many Rwandans around us SO happy to teach us and practice with us!

So if you go to Rwanda, here are my recommendations on how to make almost instant friends with the people you meet, who will LOVE that you took the time to start learning their (beautiful) language!

“Murakose chane!” Thank you (so much).

“Mwaramutse!” Good morning!

“Mwiriwe!” Good afternoon!

And of course after a week of repetitively saying the above, like us you’ll want to start greeting your friends differently in Kinyarwanda, so we learned more everyday-casual phrases like,

“Amakuru!” (what’s up!) answered with “Ni meza!” (all good) (I enjoyed that one. It’s a beautiful language and fun for your tongue so win-win!)

I mean, SERIOUSLY, if you’re traveling in another country and you can bring THE BIGGEST SMILES to faces by speaking these things with them, why wouldn’t you?!? How can you NOT?!?😆

Tip: add “chane” to the end of many things, because it means “so much” and the Rwandans like to throw it in phrases a lot.

I also practiced more complicated words and phrases in Kinyarwanda I wanted to say to our child’s family, particularly his grandmother…

The area worker took this picture of us saying goodbye…with my limited Kinyarwanda but our many-years-known translator finally stepping up…this pic makes me want to cry because I remember how much I was soaking it up and I took no pictures at any of these points, I was just soaking everyone’s eyes and faces and skin and voices up…

Other helpful phrases if you’re invited into someone’s home:

“Nishi miye kubabona.” (nice to meet/see you)

“Imana iguhe umugisha.” (God bless you)

“Musigare amahoro.” (remain with peace)

We don’t know the exact date we’ll be back in Rwanda next, but our whole family (Matt, me, AND our daughters) all have no doubt in our minds that we’ll return.

Wanna join us?!?

If you missed it/FAQs…

  1. “Why are you living/traveling like this right now?”
  2. “Where have we been traveling and living so far?”

PS: See all our home-related project posts here!

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