Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Child's Smile

Prior to the start of the trip, I knew that I wanted to find an organization or an orphanage near where I would be staying and try to volunteer at it a few times after work at the hospital. When I arrived in Rwamagana, we had the entire day free so I walked around most of the town to explore and to hopefully find an organization to volunteer at. After passing a few cooperatives and a women's education center that I was considering, I spotted a sign along the road for an organization called the Children Might Foundation (CMF). They even had a website listed on their sign, so later that night I looked into what their organization does and they have some amazing projects. I eagerly sent them an e-mail asking about any volunteer opportunities they had and after about 2 weeks of e-mails back and forth, I finally started volunteering there this past week! It's about a 20 minute walk down the road from the hospital and our home stay, so Wednesday after we finished at the hospital I headed down there for my first day. I had met Douglas, the director of the program, the previous Friday when we were lining up when I could start but I also got to meet Joseph, the accountant and office worker, and Jacque. They told me about the different programs they have, answered my endless questions, and we figured out a schedule for when I would volunteer there.

The organization serves 84 children and also supports women. They have a women's farming program on Mondays and Thursdays where they teach women various farming techniques and also how to save their money after selling the crops at the market. Wednesday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings they have a homework club where the children in their program can come and receive additional instruction. Tuesday nights they have an English program where women in the community can come to learn some new vocabulary and to practice their skills. Saturday afternoons they have a sports program where all of the children are invited to come and play football (soccer) or volleyball. During the week, they also do home visits once a month to every family that has a child in the program to check in on their progress in school and to see how the family is doing. For extremely poor families, CMF also gives them a goat which provides the family with milk and a source of income. The family must give their first female goat back to the program, but then they can sell the others. CMF also has a house building program and have built several houses in the local communities. In addition to these programs, there is also a child sponsorship program that helps to support children whose families cannot afford to pay for their uniforms or necessary school supplies. I highly encourage all of you to check out their website to read more about the amazing work that they are doing! http://childrenmightfoundation.org/

Thursday I had the privilege of accompanying Didier, their educational field worker, on 4 home visits which were heart-touching memories. On these home visits we were also delivering a few shirts; one for each of the sponsored children and one for the mother. The first home we stopped at was a widow with 4 young children. They previously did not have a house, then had a house but it was constantly flooding, so CMF helped to build them a house and also gave them a goat. The two youngest children in the family, Diana who is 5 and Bob who is 6, are sponsored through CMF and we had a shirt for each of them. Watching Diana get her shirt was such a simple act, but it was one of the coolest experiences and I wish I had it on video so everyone could share in her joy. Covered from head to toe in dirt, her face lit up more than I can describe when she saw Didier pull her new shirt out of his bag. Instantly she took off her current, raggedy shirt and Diedier put on her new one. For the rest of the time while we were there, she was constantly smiling and admiring her new shirt. I got to give Bob his new shirt and although he wasn't as outwardly excited as Diana was, it was still a really special experience.

Diana and Bob with their new shirts

Her smile when she got her shirt could have melted anyone's heart!
The next family we visited was a widow with 5 children, one of which was still crawling. Her husband had been killed by a grenade when he accidentally hit it while working in the fields. To get to their house, we had quite the off-roading experience, all while on a little moped with no gears. The next family we visited was a mother and 17 year old girl. The final visit was to a widow and her 16 year old son, Alex. The father had died from AIDS and the mother also has AIDS, but is taking medication so that she could continue working. Thankfully Alex is AIDS free. Even among her circumstances, the mother had one of the biggest smiles and most welcoming personalities. Visiting these families, it figuratively hits you in the face how overwhelmingly blessed we are in the States. Every morning I'm able to go to my closet and put on a clean shirt and pants, brush my teeth with clean water, eat, and have pencils and paper to use at school. After seeing how incredibly joyful and thankful each person was for receiving something as simple as one shirt, I wish that everyone could see that because so many times we become unhappy that we can't have the latest and greatest gadget while completely forgetting that we are still incredibly blessed.

Maybe some of you have heard of the song 'Kings and Queens' by Audio Adrenaline, but if you haven't, definitely check it out tonight. Simply go to Youtube and type in 'Kings and Queens by Audio Adrenaline' to find the song. It's one of my recently favorite songs and I've found myself frequently humming it the past 2 weeks. After going on the home visits, the song immediately popped into my head. Even though they are living on a dirt floor in a mud hut with 2 shirts and barely anything else, someday they will be kings and queens in heaven, dancing and singing with their Heavenly Father.

Saturday afternoon, myself and 3 others from our group played football (soccer) with about 40 children from their program which was so much fun! Although they are way better than I am and much more energetic, it was a lot of fun getting to interact with so many of them and simply enjoy playing a fun, yet competitive game of football. CMF even has a lot of jerseys, so at the beginning everyone changes into the jerseys and then returns them at the end. Complete with a referee and all, the game was pretty official!

Douglas is to the right of Andi and Didier is to the right of Katey.

Brett, Andi, and Katey were able to come to Rwamagana for the afternoon and join us for an awesome game!

Monday I shifted my hours at the hospital around a little bit so that I could visit the women's farming program in the middle of the day. After a good hike off the dirt path, we arrived at their fields where there were about 15 women and 7-10 men. They have a few cows, a donkey, chickens, a small storehouse that currently half-way finished mud walls, and an extremely small 1 room house that a family with 5 children live in to watch over the land. Their fields are a decent size, but they want to buy more land so that they can grow more types of produce and also rotate the land. With the money that they earn from selling the produce, they can pay for health insurance and other expenses. It's currently the dry season here, so they are mainly working on preparing the land, but they have some vegetables planted right now. On Thursday afternoon I'll be headed back there to work alongside the women and water the crops.

One of the fields they are currently growing crops in

Their storehouse for the harvested maize (corn) which they then grind up into maize flour

They've had to use tree branches and mud to construct the storehouse since they didn't have enough money for finished wood or concrete.  While I was there, they were mixing up mud (same way as they did on muganda in the Millenium Village) to work on finishing the walls.  Douglas is currently working with a builder to draw up plans for a larger storehouse and is applying for a grant for the building.

They even had Holsteins at their farm!

In the future, they would like to build 2 greenhouses like the ones in the distance so that they can grow more vegetables out of season which will help them earn more money due to the majorly inflated prices in the off season.

This afternoon I was helping Joesph and Didier to find some apps to download onto CMF's iPads, specifically for basic biology. Several iPads were donated to the organization and are used during the homework clubs as a way for the students to either learn or review, so we were working on finding new apps that pertain to what the students are currently learning. Tomorrow afternoon and then Saturday morning I'll be helping at the homework club which I'm looking forward to. Next Monday I'll be helping Joseph and Didier to learn Excel. Tuesday and Thursday of next week I get to go on some home visits again which I'm excited about since I get to experience new parts of the surrounding communities and see new families. Next Wednesday I'll be back at the homework club and then it's hard to believe I'll be heading home that weekend!

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