Rwanda Relief

Update June, 2015

“Blessed are You…Who strengthens the weary.”
“Blessed are You…Who lifts up the fallen.”

—Morning Blessings

Rabbi and Sandy Soffin returned to Rwanda with Fred and Ronni Pressman in March, 2015. The women were excited to see them and Dr. Kenneth, our new representative.

On Marthe’s wall there is a framed picture of these words: “G-d has not forgotten you; don’t lose hope; your time will come.” She says that her time is now since we are helping her.

Francine

Francine

Once again, much time was spent with Francine who has AIDS. Again there were involuntary tears as she explained that she now has personal responsibility for 16 people, two more than before. Among them are six primary school children who need to go to school, but she has enough money for school fees for only four of them. To earn extra money she takes on day jobs in the construction industry.

Francine’s Group of Genocide Widows

Francine’s Group of Genocide Widows

What would she do if she had some money above the $500 that each woman receives annually? “I’d buy a cow. Then there would be milk for everyone and extra to sell.”

It is decided that JHH will provide Francine’s group with two very pregnant cows ($700 each). Within 15 months, and with G-d’s blessing, each of the six women will have a cow of her own. All expenses will be covered. The women applaud in appreciation, smiling as broadly as they can.

The other major partner of JHH in Rwanda is MindLeaps (formerly Rebecca Davis Dance Company). They are now independent, in their own rented center. It has a vegetable garden tended by the boys, a kitchen, classrooms, a well-floored dance space and even an outdoor shower. Why do they come here? “Because they love children here,” the boys answer.

The 45 boys, ages 7-18, live on the street. They are orphans or from extremely poor or abusive families. They walk here for classes, often asking for more.

We hear them learning English (“I love to swim…” I love to ride a bicycle…!”) and IT, sitting around a table, each with a computer to use. They are very eager to learn.

Computer Room

Computer Room

Each of the three groups present a special dance, as well as their own choreography. After that, we give each one a “cubby,” a plastic box, containing his dance outfit, and basic supplies. They have earned this through their hard work.

Cubby and Uniform

Cubby and Uniform

As before, the goal is to enable the boys who show the most promise to go to Sonrise boarding school or to a vocational school. JHH has been supporting two boys: Zidane, an excellent student at Sonrise, and Manishimwe, who has been following the vocational track.

Manishimwe has received a certificate in garage mechanics and is soon to receive another one in plumbing. Then he’ll go to Driving School, hoping one day to become the MindLeaps’ driver! He is in his late teens.

JHH will now support a third boy, Moise. His mother is remarried to a drunk and has rejected him. So he is completely on his own. He will go to Sonrise in April, after the Genocide Commemoration on the 7th.

Then three other boys come in. Were there other donors, they would be the next ones to go to Sonrise.

Three Boys Waiting to go to Sonrise

Three Boys Waiting to go to Sonrise

Josue (Jezooway) is 10 and wants to become a musician and to help other boys. If he had a guitar, he would write a song for us.

Felix, 16, wants to become an IT expert and a dancer. The Center has changed his life. Indeed, it has become his lifeline. He hopes it will enable him to help himself and his family because no one else will.

Fiston, 17, speaks English pretty well and is not hesitant to talk with us. He is in G.9, needing support for three more years. He must look after his mother and provide for her.

There are 8 of our boys at Sonrise, but some will not have sponsors for next year and may have to leave. Sonrise has such a good reputation that when our boys succeed there, and most of them do, they will be eligible for HS scholarships and will be on their way to a better life.

How to Support These Programs:

Change the life of one genocide widow for a year: $500.

Send a former street boy to Sonrise Boarding School and give him a real future: $1800/year.

Show these widows and street boys that we have not forgotten them!

 

***Previous Update***

“Thanks for not forgetting us. We so often feel abandoned.”

Rabbi Soffin met Winnie, who spoke the words above, in the neighborhood of Mont Kigali in Rwanda. She lives on a street with eleven other genocide widows who lost their families in the 1994 genocide. JHH has sponsored more than 30 such widows in four different neighborhoods over the past five years in partnership with AVEGA, the Association of Genocide Widows.

On his fifth visit to Rwanda, Rabbi Soffin felt as if he were visiting his extended family. There were hugs and smiles in every one of the women’s homes. It costs $500 to support one widow and her family for a year. With that money, they can grow vegetables, buy a goat or a rabbit, start a small business and most importantly, have renewed hope for the future. Several women have become independent, generating enough money to meet the needs of their families. Others are sponsored in their place.

In June, 2013, Rabbi Soffin returned to visit with each woman in her home. He went to Mt. Kigali to visit our youngest group of widows. Most are in their 40’s. At times, this is an especially sad experience. Fully half of the ten women have AIDS and travel to the hospital for tests and treatment, including two whom AVEGA didn’t know about since the women often hide their diagnosis. One has known since 2000 but just now spoke about it. (This is but one positive result of our being here.) All of this is a result of rapes during the genocide, a horrible reminder.

The women have created a very strong association. Each woman contributes 5000 Rwanda francs every time a quarterly check from us is deposited. They also put in 100 francs each month to cover bank fees. They won the coin toss and received a rent-free stall in the new market which is under construction. There they will sell fruits and vegetables. They can hardly wait for the market to be completed. Given the money they have saved and the expert advice that AVEGA will offer, they expect to be highly competitive. All of the women are eager to attend the bi-weekly meetings for the fellowship and mutual support and hope that they offer.

Francine

Thanks for not forgetting us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Association President is Francine, but she suffers so. Tears roll down her cheeks as she speaks of AIDS and of her gratitude for what we do to help her. She still has her very productive goat, purchased with our first support payment years ago. She now houses and supports 12 people, as her younger sister left a little one with her and a deceased former neighbor’s baby is dropped off with the only woman she has ever really known. To us, Francine is a saint, but she worries endlessly about helping everyone else.

What would she want us to know? that her son wouldn’t be in university if it weren’t for us. All for $500 a year!

These women benefit greatly from the breathing and movement exercises designed for them by our partner Suzanne Levy’s Darchei Shalom – Paths of Peace program. (http://jewishhelpinghands.org/2012/01/darchei-shalom) Every time I mention her name there are warm smiles. The women gather each morning for exercises and some do them in the evening, too. They make a real healing difference in their lives, and they are very grateful for Suzanne and her Rwandan teachers.

One day, our social worker Constance must leave us earlier than usual. It is her personal day of genocide remembrance, for the murder of her family took place on this day in 1994. She will attend the annual ritual and will gather with other members of her village to share testimony and to offer each other support around a campfire.

Our second major partner is the Rebecca Davis Dance Company (RDDC). Working with Fidesco, she draws boys off the street and teaches them to dance and to use computers.

 

Kids dancing in our shirts

Kids dancing in our shirts

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fidesco began in 1992 when a couple spoke to street kids and realized how smart and intelligent they were. After the couple was killed in the 1994 genocide, Fidesco (faith + compassion) was created in their memory. It has become a center where up to 50 street kids can live and learn for six months. They have two staff members on the streets full-time to make connections with the children and to offer them a better alternative. Twenty-one new kids came last Monday.

There is a psychologist and a social worker who research the kids’ families and try to understand why they left (90% do have families). The reasons for turning to the streets are family conflict, poverty, irresponsible parents, or runaways who seek drugs, etc., on the street. There are catch-up classes since the kids have missed school or never attended, including those offered by RDDC.

After 6 months, the children leave and return home if possible. In the latest group of 20, five can return home, but there are three whose mothers are prostitutes and who need to be placed with foster families. The remaining 12 come from very poor families.  In those cases, the plan is to help the parent(s) create a micro-business.  $250 will enable this to be done for one family and will transform it into a safe place for one of our street boys. There is already a successful local beer business. Fidesco has very limited funds. JHH offers to pay for two families. So many more boys need this help.

The best future for these boys is to attend Sonrise Boarding School. There they can be in a supportive learning program. JHH supports Zidane, one of the five graduates of the RDDC project, who has shown himself to be an excellent student. He is happy and has adjusted quickly, enjoying his English classes and of course, playing outside.

It costs $1600 per student for each of the five years at Sonrise.

The boys ask for watches with alarms so, like the others, they can wake up early to review their lessons and can be on time during the day. They also want soccer balls like the other boys bring from home and Bibles so they can participate more fully in the English classes that use them. JHH will provide them all.

 

Gifts for Our Sonrise Students_2

Gifts for Our Sonrise Students

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back with RDDC and the boys learning the choreography to perform for me, I meet Manishimwe (Ma- NISH – im – way) who came to Fidesco as a wild, ever-fighting child, but who has become enthusiastic and well-disciplined. He is eager to learn and is in the Catch-Up class since he never went to school and needs to learn to read and write. He draws me a picture of the universe and proudly announces that he is interested in science.

A Happy Manishwe with Rabbi Soffin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you want to go to Sonrise boarding school? I ask. YES! he answers emphatically.

A sponsor has already been found to provide his tuition, but there are so many more boys waiting for this opportunity for a decent future.

Wearing the new green performance t-shirts that we have provided, they dance most enthusiastically and well, the new students with the “veterans.” It is very exciting to see.

Why are the t-shirts green? It’s the color of growing things. They return the t-shirts to be used at later performances by themselves and future students.

We hope they will continue to grow and flourish, too.

How to Help These Programs:

Change the life of one genocide widow for a year: $500.

Enable a poor family to create a micro-business and bring its son home from the streets: $250 per family.

Send a former street boy to Sonrise Boarding School and give him a real future: $1600/year.

Show these widows and street boys that we have not forgotten them!