Part 2: Meeting Lilliane
Our family sponsors two children in Rwanda, a girl named Lilliane and a boy named Paul. My youngest daughter views Lilliane as “her” child and she put together a package of gifts for her that I brought with me on the trip. Groovy Girls dolls come in many different skin tones and she chose one that looked similar to Lilliane’s coloring. She also included a t-shirt, shoes, school supplies and some candy. She wrote her a note and included a picture of herself.
We spent the first day in Rwanda in the capital city of Kigali. For the remainder of the trip we were in the Nyamagabe district in the south. One of the first things that we did when we arrived in the south was to go see one of the elementary schools. We drove for a while and as we were coming to the top of a hill I heard a haunting sound that I could not at first identify. When we got over the hill I saw 400 children arrayed out at the bottom of the dirt road, singing and dancing to welcome us to their school. We were ushered up to a place of honor at the front of the school as the children continued to perform for us.
For some reason I looked over to my right and my heart stopped. I saw a little face and I was quite certain that this was my sponsored child, Lilianne. All of the children have their hair cropped very close to their heads and the girls all wear the same blue school dress, so this was really quite extraordinary. I went over to her and tried to communicate with her but, of course, she did not understand what I was saying. Then I looked down and saw that she was wearing my daughter’s flip-flops. Quite honestly, I had forgotten that we had sent them—little red Old Navy flip-flops!
Later on we visited with Lillianne and her mother and I gave her the gifts that Natalie had put together for her. We were able to film our get-together and when I got home I showed the tape to Natalie so that she could see how much Lilliane appreciated the things that she had chosen for her.
Part 3: Visiting World Vision Projects
Most of our days began with a short breakfast with our group and then we travelled to the World Vision office. The staff members are Christian, and they begin each day with a devotion where they would do a Bible reading and sing some hymns. Each day they talked with us about the things that we would be doing that day and then we would go out to see different projects.
One day we met with a group of women who have set up a basket weaving collective. World Vision has a microfinance loan program where clients, mainly women, receive loans from $25 to $100 to help them set up and run a business. When they repay their loan they can receive another one. Each person in the collective is responsible for every other person in the group to make sure that the loan is repaid. This has been a wonderfully successful program with a very high repayment rate. These women, who could never qualify for a loan from a typical bank, could use their skills to provide for their family.
We were able to visit our sponsored children and other families that were being helped by World Vision in their homes. Many of these homes had been built with help from World Vision. Most of the homes consisted of two rooms, a sleeping area and a common room. They are made of mud brick and have a thatched or corrugated metal roof. Farm animals are very precious to the families, so they often live in the homes as well.
One of the most moving experiences we had was visiting families in the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program. In Rwanda there are many families where a child or very young adult is the head of the household. The parents may have died of AIDS, been killed in the genocide of 1994 or be in prison for genocide crimes. World Vision has supported these types of families by assigning them a trained mentor from the community who looks in on them on a regular basis, providing them with emotional support as well as general information usually provided to children by their parents. The mentors and the World Vision staff also make sure that the children are going to school or are learning a skill to help them support themselves in the future. These visits were very sobering. Although some of the children were quite cheerful, some were clearly very traumatized. One of the things that we all realized over the course of the trip was that everyone, even those who were born after the genocide, has been affected by this traumatic event. Those over 14 years old had more firsthand experience as a victim, a perpetrator, the child of a perpetrator or victim, or they had fled the genocide only to come back to devastation.
I was only in Rwanda for eight days, but the impact on my life has been tremendous. I know that I have been much more effective in my role as Child Sponsorship chair since my return. I have been able to speak about the incredible dedication of the staff and the impact on the children in the program. I know that the project is well run and that the children are well taken care of.
I came back into something that is so different than what I had just experienced that it took me a little while to process my experiences. I do know that I will never be the same again. Most importantly, my heart has been changed in a way that I could not even have imagined. I am increasingly mindful of having my children involved in the things that I am doing. I think that it is meaningless if you just tell children how lucky they are.
My experience in Rwanda was so wonderful that I have signed up to go with Women of Vision to Cambodia this April. I cannot wait to experience a piece of this beautiful country and to see the good work that World Vision is doing there.
Nina Gustin is a mother of 3 and active child sponsor for Fairfield County, CT Women of Vision.