July 24, 2008 (Kigali, Rwanda) — After the genocide, each home had many, many children.
"What could you do?" says Peace Ruzage. "You had to help where you could."
That was the reality that also caused centers for children to spring up all over Kigali.
Two of those are Amizero and Benimpuhwe, pronounced Benie-poo-way (I think).
It was our task this week at Benimpuhwe to build a playground, guardrail and sandbox, and paint the interior, exterior and playground equipment. At Amizero we were charged with purchasing mattresses, painting and providing new saucepans, which are used to prepare the gallons of porridge passed out every morning. The crew at Amizero provided a little extra item — a mural designed by our very own Sharee Miller. At both centers we were privileged to serve breakfast to the children we have all come to love deeply.
Every morning as we arrive at Amizero — where I was stationed — 40 or 50 little smiling faces come to greet us. "Muraho, muraho, hello, hello," we say to each other.
On Thursday, as we pulled up at Amizero, we could hear the children chattering away behind the big metal door that is the entranceway.
"They are saying, 'They are here,'" explains Peter Murara, our interpreter.
Seconds later the big green door opens wide and the little ones make their way to our embraces.
It is the morning ritual.
Then they assemble to sing and dance their welcome to us: danse de enfants et visiteurs.
The singing continues as we assemble our painting equipment and begin to "cut and roll," as we were taught in a quick lesson provided by my husband, Wally Bostwick, two nights before we left for Rwanda.
A little while later, our youngsters are called to serve the breakfast. Big, round dishpan-shaped saucepans full of the gruel are brought out, and the center's workers dip multicolored cups into the mixture, and pour it into pitchers for the kids to serve from.
"All of those children waited until everyone was served before eating," Barbara Young observed.
"After the genocide, many families had many orphans," Florida Mukarubuga tells us. Florida is the executive secretary of CHAMP, the organization that funds the two centers.
The children were taught to share.
They were also taught to ponder. Peter explains a conversation we were eavesdropping on.
"They are not used to seeing black people who aren't Rwandan," Peter says. "They are saying, 'These people aren't very smart. They don't even speak Kinyarwandan.'"
Meanwhile, at Benimpuhwe, all the V.I. men with us were working to build a playground — which wasn't as simple as that might sound.
First they had to dig a foundation for a wall, then carry some heavy stones to form the wall.
The stones weren't exactly your average V.I. cement block, says Denzel Browne: "They were sharp and a lot of us got cut." But no one was seriously hurt, just a few scratches. The Rwandan laborers were quick to assist if they saw the stones were too much to carry, Denzel said.
By the end of the day Thursday the wall was finished, and all felt a sense of pride.
"We really did something that was nice, that wasn't for us," Denzel told me as we sat working on the journal together.
"Julia Casazza said, 'The kids are really going to love this tomorrow,'" Denzel recalled, adding that Julia noted the children never really used the playground before. "But now they are going to be all over it," she said.
With most of the work at the two centers completed and the purchases made, ceremonies are to be held Friday afternoon to honor the visitors from the Virgin Islands. The teenagers: Denzel Browne, Andrew Casazza, Julia Casazza, Rene deJongh, Chelsea Galiber, Twanna Hodge, Sheree Miller, J'moi Powell, Brandon Rhymer, Karlen Talbert and Sterelina Warner, along with the adults; Cecile deJongh, Wilma Galiber, Sonya Melescu, Barbara Young and myself.
And then it will be time to get some well-deserved R&R and see the rest of this tiny country in the heart of Africa.
So, bright and early Saturday morning, we're off to Musanze, formerly Ruhengeri, to see the mountain gorillas.
To be continued ….
Editor's note: For more about the trip, read first lady Cecile deJongh's Travel Journal.
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