Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Bridge2Rwanda Scholars Program goes INTERNATIONAL

The Bridge2Rwanda Scholars Program has opened new "on ramps" onto the Bridge!


We have been often urged to build a Bridge2Malawi or a Bridge2Burundi or a Bridge2SouthSudan or a Bridge2Ethiopa. But we have very clear and easily articulated reasons for being such Rwandaphiles. Moreover, we must recognize our limited "bandwidth," limited resources, and the limits to which we can stretch our talented team. But we do have an exciting development to report to those who have not yet heard: B2R has indeed gone international, and here's how it unfolded:


A phriend in Phoenix was pierced when he watched a documentary about "the Lost Boys of South Sudan." He felt compelled to act, and urged us to collaborate with him to build a Bridge2SouthSudan. "Sorry, but no can do." He insisted that he must do something, and he then asked if we could select and absorb some extraordinarily gifted South Sudanese students into our Kigali-based program. To our own surprise, his persistence caused us to widen our Rwanda-focused tunnel vision, and this friend generously funded our recruitment and training of five gifted students from South Sudan, two from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and two from Burundi. Thus, among the objectives of the B2R Scholars Program is now cultivating peace, security, and stability in this very unstable post-conflict region. Although it is a long-term play, we are contributing to the dissolution of barriers and enmities,... and raising up a cohort of servant leaders in East Africa.

Is anyone in Rwanda concerned or jealous? Not at all. They are very supportive and proud of the role Rwanda plays as a model, host, and leader within East Africa. 





Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rwanda: Ahead of the Curve

In recent weeks I have received numerous communications from scheduled visitors asking whether they should cancel their trip to Rwanda in light of the Ebola epidemic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebola_virus_disease    
It is for me to explain that they are much closer to the Ebola epidemic in the U.S. than they will be in Rwanda. Perhaps Americans should flee to Rwanda for safety. Click on: http://tomallen3.blogspot.com/search?q=the+size+of+Africa

For those who have an interest in healthcare delivery, I "re-post" an insightful (slightly edited) piece by Erin Hohlfelder, Global Health Policy Director, of ONE Campaign, entitled...


"AHEAD of the CURVE – 4 reasons why Rwanda is prepared to handle the Ebola crisis better than West African countries"
....
… [Although] I have been stunned at the severity of this Ebola crisis, I can’t say that I was surprised to see that Ebola was taking hold and spreading in a place like Liberia devastating its healthcare facilities.

Contrast that with my experiences… in Rwanda, [where I was] primarily interested in learning more about how its health care system continues to evolve and improve.

It was my third trip to [Rwanda], having visited previously in 2007 and 2011, giving me the chance to compare its progress against itself and against its peers. As I was packing for the trip, I was asked repeatedly by well-intentioned friends and family, “Aren’t you worried about getting Ebola?”

Given what I knew about how the disease spread, and with only one case to date approaching Rwanda’s borders in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, I was able to answer them with a fairly confident “no.”

But after two weeks in the country, I realized I had so many more reasons to say “no.” Of course, I’m still not bold enough today to predict that Ebola will never arrive in Rwanda, given the urgency of the crisis and models of exponential spread that merit real concern. But I had a greater understanding of why Rwanda was not Liberia, and why the health system there was better able to weather new (and old) threats.

Here are four key reasons why:

1. Health care workers

One of the clearest lessons of the West African Ebola epidemic so far has been how dangerous it is to have weak health systems and insufficient human resources for health.

In Rwanda, they not only have recruited, trained, and retained a vast army of volunteer health care workers (HCWs) — three for every single village across the country — but they have also built up a referral process around them.

These HCWs are the lynchpins of the system, ensuring that Rwandans with common and more easily treatable illnesses (such as fever, diarrhea, and malaria) can receive care at the local level without overburdening higher levels of the health system.

That, in turn, frees up nurses and doctors to work in health centers, clinics, and hospitals and to have the time and space to treat more severe or specialized cases. We visited each level of the system in our time on the ground, and it was clear at each stop that health staff knew their roles, knew when to refer patients, and had the tools available to deliver effective care.

2. Political prioritization

We heard frequently in our site visits that health care for Rwandans was a top political priority, from President Kagame on down through the government’s chain of command. This was not news to me, as I had heard Rwanda’s dynamic Minister of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, speak at many international meetings over the years and even engage citizens in a Q&A via #MinisterMondays on Twitter.

She was always the first to unabashedly point out how Rwandans knew what was best for Rwandans’ health and how focused she was on achieving outcomes for her people.

Critically, this was not just political grandstanding — it had translated into real dollars (or Rwandan francs, to be specific) and real outcomes for health in the country. Rwanda is one of just six African countries to have met its 2001 Abuja commitment to spend at least 15% of its budget on health; in fact, Rwanda regularly exceeds this target, averaging 22% each year since 2006. And unlike many of its peers, Rwanda is on track to achieve many of the Millennium Development Goals, including MDGs 4 and 6, focused on child health and HIV/AIDS, respectively.

3. Money

In addition to a growing pot of domestic resources for health, Rwanda has been the definition of a health “donor darling” over the last decade, receiving what some might argue disproportionately high levels of foreign assistance from key donors and programs relative to its size and disease burden. At nearly every health facility across the country, you see staff supported by and commodities purchased by donors including the Global Fund, PEPFAR, PMI, GAVI and various other bilateral initiatives.

By some estimates, external resources make up anywhere from one-third to nearly half of Rwanda’s health budget. But these resources appear to have had an additive effect on overall health spending and programming. By allowing donor resources to support key programs to fight diseases like AIDS and malaria, the Rwandan government has been able to spend its own health resources on broader systems strengthening, preventative health campaigns, and innovations that put it ahead of the curve.

Anecdotally, one Rwandan hospital we visited had one of the more sophisticated neonatal units I had ever seen in the region; fingerprint scanning technology for staff to enter specific buildings; and a full range of vaccines, including more expensive options such as HPV, for all its children.

4. Trust

Despite concerns about the Rwandan government’s political proclivities (I’ll leave that discussion to others for the time being), but when it comes to health, it is hard to argue that the government is not delivering results for its people.

In turn, the overwhelming majority of citizens with whom we met expressed that they trusted their government to provide health care and felt like they were seeing improvements in their day-to-day lives.

Contrast that with the situation across West Africa at the moment, where trust between the governments’ officials and their people has faltered.

We’ve seen citizens turned away from overly full health facilities, myths about Ebola continue to flourish despite formal information channels, a mistrust of health care workers, and even violence towards those who aim to provide care.

At the end of the day, if citizens don’t trust that showing up to a health facility will lead to care and improved health, they are more likely to stay home and perpetuate the spread, rather than containment, of diseases.

Of course, none of this is to say that Rwanda’s system is perfect or that the Liberian health care experience should or even could look like Rwanda’s.

And indeed, ten years of Liberian civil war a decade ago took a dramatically different physical, economic, psychological, and political toll on the country than did the (equally horrific, but very different) Rwandan genocide 20 years ago, which also has implications for how the country rebuilt and how citizens respond.

But surely, if we hope to rebuild Liberia and other affected West African countries when the Ebola crisis is eventually contained — an effort that will likely take years, not months — we can benefit from borrowing some of the lessons highlighted in the Rwandan experience.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rockin' Ramones: Hey! Ho! Let's go!

Tommy Ramone, the last surviving member of the Ramones, joined his bandmates this month, but the Ramones rock on in Rwanda:


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dez is back,... with great stories to tell about Marvin Lewis and fast livin'

Last night I ate at Meze Fresh and hung out with my longtime friend, Desire, who I've known since he was a gifted student at Sonrise. But this was an "especially special" time together as I listened to Desire report stories to me with a smile so enormous that I feared his face was going to break. Because Marvin and Peggy Lewis decided to make an investment years ago (in truth, Marvin's Mom dictated the initial move), Desire has walked quite a journey from no shoes, no plumbing, no electricity, to a good education, and then on to jetting around the U.S. in a private jet and hanging with Marvin, Peggy, and Kelly Ripa. Until recently Desire did not know the identity of his anonymous sponsor, and when he was told, his only possible response was "Okay, I am certainly very grateful, but who is Marvin Lewis?" It is really good to have Desire back home again,... and on top of the world.

Here is a re-post I have lifted from the Cincinnati Bengals. [BTW: References to the owner of the restaurant, Meze Fresh, and "my friend" and "my boss" are to the great, inimitable Griffin Richards.]

Lessons from Dez, by Geoff Hobson

Spring is revival. Whether it is a quarterback launching one deep, or a father playing catch with a son, or using a machete to cut the relentless backyard grass, everyone is on the comeback trail in the spring. It just so happens that this spring Peggy and Marvin Lewis ran square into the circle of life.



Dez (right) and Marcus Lewis hanging out at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Spring is revival. Whether it is a quarterback launching one deep, or a father playing catch with a son, or using a machete to cut the relentless backyard grass, everyone is on the comeback trail in the spring.

It just so happens that this spring Peggy and Marvin Lewis ran square into the circle of life. A month after they said good-bye to Lewis’ father in the tiny brick church on Main Street in McDonald, Pa., on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, they watched the child they sponsored all those years stand up in front of the congregation just a few Sundays shy of Father’s Day.

“You don’t realize what you’ve done by helping us when the world was forgetting us,” Dez told them. “We are going to be the light that goes on.”

Dez, now 22, is short for Desire and he was one of those millions of faceless little victims of the atrocities that were the 1990s in the east African country of Rwanda. He was three years old when genocide wiped out 20 percent of the population during a chilling 100 days in 1994 and four when his father, like everyone else on his side of the family, died. Or disappeared. They really don’t know.

When he was 10 and had yet to set foot in a pair of shoes, McDonald’s First Baptist Church turned to their members to help Rwanda’s children that were starving to death and that’s when Marvin Lewis’ parents approached their son and wife Peggy about helping when he was still an NFL assistant. They agreed to sponsor a boy and two girls and a dozen years later the boy flew 25 hours to say thank you in an unforgettable 30-day visit.

“They came through the village looking for people that were starving,’” Dez says. “I was lucky to be picked…I call Peggy ‘Mum,’ and Marvin, ‘Dad.”

The money sent Dez to school from fourth to 12th grades. It’s where he got his first pair of shoes. Seeing lights for the first time scared him. When they showed him where he would sleep, he didn’t know what a bed looked like, never mind not knowing he could get under the covers.

He didn’t know one of his sponsors was the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals until he was 19 and got a laptop when he went to college. But then, he didn’t know anything about American football or Cincinnati for that matter. His boss at the Mexican restaurant where he works near the American embassy told him, “Can’t be that Marvin Lewis,’ and Dez was able to verify it all on the internet.
“They had to explain it to me like it was soccer. Like it was Alex Ferguson,” Dez says of the former long-time Manchester United manager.

In order for Dez to get his visa, his boss had to convince the authorities the kid’s sponsor was really that Marvin Lewis because they didn’t believe him.

“My friend who runs the restaurant told me what a great man Marvin is,” Dez says. “Everyone has value. They said he couldn’t give me value, but he gives me value.”

Now Mum and Dad are continuing their sponsorship and sending him to college in Kiagli, where he is majoring in computer science but has a hankering for the restaurant business. When Dez got off the plane last month in Cincinnati, he was shy and unsure had to ask a stranger to call Peggy’s cell phone to find him. When he left on Wednesday after spending a month teaching lessons without even knowing it, Peggy was a three-car wreck by Thursday afternoon because she had yet to hear he was back in Rwanda.

“He’s just such a great kid with one big heart,” Peggy Lewis says. “It’s amazing how fast you can fall in love with somebody. I was telling a friend, “I feel like he’s mine.’ Another person to worry about. It’s been very emotional. No words can describe it. A lot of laughs. A lot of tears.”

There were a lot of firsts these past 30 days, she says. His first swim in a pool. His first milkshake. His first bacon. Before he was sponsored he remembers eating few meals. When he did, it was potatoes or beans, and his mother often didn’t eat so her kids could. Which is maybe why he’s fascinated by the huge supermarkets.

“It’s so fast in America. There is always something to do,” Dez says. “You go to a restaurant and the service is so fast.”

Dez checked out his team, too, during the trip. He was a semi-staple at Paul Brown Stadium in the last month with a smile that can light up a fourth quarter. At the end, the guy who arrived shy would greet just about anybody with “Hi, I’m Dez,” and in a quiet moment he’d say, “I like to meet new friends.”

He got to meet most of the players, including his favorite, A.J. Green.

“I like the way he’s so fast,” he says.

There was a startling moment, too, when Dez revealed to the family he’d been shot when he was little. He doesn’t know who or why.

When he was in school, the sponsors and child could write letters back and forth Dez’s missives to primarily Peggy were the typically sweet musings of a little boy. There would be drawings and talk about God, a sign of the faith-based education.

Dez seemed to be everywhere this month, including backstage with Peggy Lewis at Live! with Kelly and Michael during his trip to New York City.

Then when Dez got the computer a few years ago, the exchange of e-mails became fast and furious and everyone in the family got more involved. Their kids connected with him on Facebook and Peggy found herself receiving and sending e-mails about three times a week. When he figured out who Marvin was, he asked for a Bengals shirt and Peggy sent come gear.

The only chance he gets to see the games is when he’s working in the restaurant.

“When he’s wearing a shirt or his hat, people always stop him on the street,’ Peggy says. “He says, ‘I’m pretty popular when I wear my Bengals’ (gear). People stop and talk to me.’”

For Marvin Lewis, who coaches guys his age, he can only shake his head. What were you doing at 18? When he was 18, Dez was finally able to get electricity to his mother’s house.

“He’s amazing,” Marvin Lewis says. “The guy who runs the restaurant says he has no problem leaving him in charge. He’s such a good worker I guess. And he wants to help his country.

“His country, his family, his friends, that’s all he’s concerned about. How he makes his country better and provides for his family.”

The 30 days seemed like three. Dez visited Lewis’ daughter and husband in Arizona, where he also met members of Peggy’s family. Back in Cincinnati the Lewis’ son, Marcus, who is about the same age, bonded with him immediately.

“The brother he never had,” Peggy says.

On their trip to New York City that included a stop at the Empire State Building, Dez’s eyes were wider than the slim-and-trim Rex Ryan and he kept using the word “magic.” Especially after his favorite part of the visit, a ticket to “The Lion King,” on Broadway.

You get used to this, but that very big heart is still in Rwanda.

“I have responsibilities. I have my family and I’ve got to take care of mom,’ he says. “I want to further my studies and pursue my master’s so I can get a very good job and work in my country. If you help your family, it’s helping your country.”

A little removed from the plush world of the NFL and Marvin Lewis savors it.

“It gives you an appreciation or things everybody here takes for granted,’ he says. “The shoes on your feet. It’s a big deal.”

Just like they take Dez for granted back home when he wears his Bengals stuff and when he tells him he knows the coach they tell him that’s not possible and he’s lying.

“Marvin Lewis is a great man. He gives me value,” says Dez, which is his gift.

Everyone has value.

Even after 30 days, Peggy Lewis is still fighting the emotions. She and her husband oversee one of the most effective and important charitable foundations in the history of Cincinnati, but how do you ever really know its working?
“You start anything like that and you don t know where it’s going to go. You give money to many different things and you hope you’re just making a difference,” Peggy Lewis says. “Boy, this one, seeing him face-to-face…and having someone sit across from you and say, ‘You saved my life, you made a difference in my life,’ it gets you.”

Summer is starting to catch up to spring.

“It was a great 30 days for us to meet him. Now that he’s gone, we miss him,” says Marvin Lewis, sounding like a dad here in the circle.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cow Park

In America, from New York to Los Angeles and many places in between, there are Dog Parks, where people with their pooches congregate for "business" and play.


As suggested in some previous posts, Rwanda does things BIG and is often "one up" on America. For example, Rwanda leapfrogged over the dog park thing, and has established Cow Parks, where cowboys and their bovines congregate. But this really is for business, and where the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) sends a veterinarian to very efficiently deliver important services for free or on a very affordable basis: vaccinations, artificial insemination, castration, etc.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What the world needs now

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

Anne Casper is a high-ranking diplomat, who serves very professionally and effectively at the U.S. Department of State, but also serves well in the world, as she dives into people and local culture with total abandon. Anne is very much alive, making the world a better place.
Blayne Sharpe does what makes him come alive as the Director of the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars Program, and as a result, is making the world a better place.
Dale Dawson, Founder and CEO of B2R, lives and breaths and teaches this principle. But it is noteworthy that I did not receive this quote from him, nor from a super successful, wealthy person in New York or Chicago or Denver or Seattle. I found it on the wall of Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, founded by Anne Heyman to serve orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda. This is not a Harvard Business School management principle (although it should be), but rather a principle of humanity.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Simply Rwandaful!

Although I have shamelessly "borrowed" this footage, every image, every place, (almost) every face, is familiar and part of living and traveling in Rwanda. Treat yourself and step into our world.

CLICK HERE on >  Simply Rwandaful! 


Friday, May 9, 2014

A psychological analysis of Frasier Crane

His fauxhawk suggests that he was not breastfed and therefore craves motherlove or, in the alternative, attention from anyone.

Looking for love in all the wrong places, Frasier is somewhat myopic and often becomes disoriented and easily lost. "Has anyone seen an Ark around here?"


He definitely has criminal tendencies, and has been captured on Security Cameras committing a burglary.




... but the CSI Unit discovered that the foolish burglar left unmistakable DNA evidence on his victim's floor.

As punishment for his crime, the authorities will soon remove Frasier Crane from he who loves and cares for him, and incarcerate him in Akagera National Park, where crocodiles will be quite interested in him. Fly, Frasier, fly! ... ♪♫ ♪ into the light of the dark black night ♪♫ ♪!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Happiness happens!

“... It is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to 'be happy.' But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to 'be happy.' Once the reason is found, however, one becomes happy automatically. As we see, a human being is not one in pursuit of happiness but rather in search of a reason to become happy...". 
Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

We mustn't search for "happiness," but rather for "meaning." Only when we find meaning, will we be truly happy. But, to draw from a country western song, many may be "searching for meaning in all the wrong places," and they despair when they come up empty, "discovering" only meaninglessness and nothingness. I understand their disappointment and despair, but I reject that the failure to find meaning establishes that there is none to be found.

By traditional Western measurements, Emmanuel has not enjoyed a "happy" life, but rather a life of loss and great pain. (See earlier post.) "Pursuit of happiness" never occurred to him. However, he has found meaning and purpose in encouraging and serving others, and in that, he has found great happiness and joy



Thursday, May 1, 2014

Homeless Jesus

I thank Judy Capozzola for sharing with me this NPR post, which I have edited down a bit and now re-post, followed by a few of my own observations and experiences:

A new religious statue in Davidson, N.C., is unlike anything you might see in church. The statue depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. St. Alban’s Episcopal Church installed the homeless Jesus statue on its property in the middle of an upscale neighborhood filled with well-kept town homes. Jesus is huddled under a blanket with his face and hands obscured; only the crucifixion wounds on his uncovered feet give him away.

The reaction was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t. “One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. “She thought it was an actual homeless person.” That’s right. Somebody called the cops on Jesus.

“Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,” Boraks added.

Some neighbors feel that it’s an insulting depiction of the son of God, and that what appears to be a hobo curled up on a bench demeans the neighborhood.

The bronze statue was purchased for $22,000 as a memorial for a parishioner, Kate McIntyre, who loved public art. The rector of this liberal, inclusive church is the Rev. David Buck, a 65-year-old Baptist-turned-Episcopalian who seems not at all averse to the controversy, the double takes and the discussion the statue has provoked. “It gives authenticity to our church,” he says. “This is a relatively affluent church and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society.”

The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the passage in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus tells his disciples, “As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” Moreover, Buck says, it’s a good Bible lesson for those used to seeing Jesus depicted in traditional religious art as the Christ of glory, enthroned in finery. “We believe that that’s the kind of life Jesus had,” Buck says. “He was, in essence, a homeless person.”
....
The most high-profile installation of the bronze Jesus on a park bench will be on the Via della Conciliazione, the avenue leading to St. Peter’s Basilica — if the city of Rome approves it. Schmalz traveled to the Vatican last November to present a miniature to the pope himself. “He walked over to the sculpture, and it was just chilling because he touched the knee of the Jesus the Homeless sculpture, and closed his eyes and prayed,” Schmalz says. “It was like, that’s what he’s doing throughout the whole world: Pope Francis is reaching out to the marginalized.”

Back at St. Alban’s in Davidson, the rector reports that the Jesus the Homeless statue has earned more followers than detractors. It is now common, he says, to see people come, sit on the bench, rest their hand on the bronze feet and pray. 
Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue installed in front of his church















Forgive me. Change of mind. Change of heart. Why would I offer "a few of my own observations and experiences" if Scripture makes all the necessary points so much more effectively? I will just point out the undeniable fact: Jesus was homeless and poor, very poor. 

A teacher of the law came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but I have no place to lay my head.” Matthew 8:19-20 

... though Jesus was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:34-40

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:1-3

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. James 2:14-18

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Atkins or Pritikin?

I eat only salad (without dressing!)
...and I just can't seem to lose weight! 
I guess I must have Big Boy genes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Justus

Life, indeed survival, was always difficult for 8-year-old Justus Uwayesu, but Sundays were particularly difficult. The garbage trucks did not run on Sundays and that meant his food would not be delivered to the Kigali City Dump where Justus lived as a double orphan. Justus’ father was executed (by immolation) for the crime of being born into a family to whom the Belgians had issued an identity card with the “Tutsi” box arbitrarily checked. His mother vanished shortly thereafter and no doubt met the same fate for the same crime, for she never would have chosen to abandon her 2-year-old child, Justus.

By the time he was 8, Justus had meandered more than 100 kilometers to the garbage dump for Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. The stench was unbearable for most people, but to little Justus it was a buffet he called “home,” or more specifically “home” was the stripped out, tireless car in which he slept on and under pieces of cardboard. The car had no windows, but it provided sufficient protection from the rain and the equatorial sun… and the pigs, those damn pigs with which Justus competed for food! They all preferred the waste brought in from restaurants and hotels, from which Justus separated out bottle caps, toothpicks, soiled napkins, and more disgusting things, before dining on the remaining scraps of food.
When Justus lived in the City Dump, there were no family or friends to take photos,... so this, of course, is not Justus.  But this is the all-too-common face of a child with no one.


Then one Sunday, the traditional day of disappointment and hunger, down the dusty road rattled a taxi transporting Clare Effiong, a visitor from the U.S., and the type of “do-gooder” that seasoned development workers are quick to disparage. She was on a mission, but not certain what it was when she awoke that morning. She spoke of “letting the Spirit lead” in a way that causes many to feel very uncomfortable and even suspicious.  But the Spirit had led her to Rwanda, and that day the Spirit had led her into that taxi and onto that dirt road. And when Clare saw a particular group of children (for their were many groups of OVC’s – orphans and vulnerable children), she exclaimed, “Stop!” Clare got out of the taxi and through an interpreter, she engaged the children in conversation asking each of them many questions, including “What do you want?” She heard the usual responses: some said money, some said clothes, etc. But when she asked little Justus, he said, “I want to go to school.” Of all the OVCs in that crowd, Clare told Justus to get in the taxi. Like the Samaritan who took the beaten and battered traveler to the inn for treatment and rest, Clare drove Justus to a friend’s home in Gikondo and told him to “educate this young boy and I will send money to pay for it: School fees, school materials, uniform, shoes, whatever." From his first day of school, Justus’ most distinctive attribute has been (and remains) his ever-present conviction that it is a precious privilege to have an opportunity to learn and study his way out of poverty.

When Clare pulled Justus from the city garbage dump, he spoke only Kinyarwanda. When he graduated form High School, Justus spoke five languages. But languages were not his focus. He had become a brilliant Math and Chemistry student and was selected to join 30 students (out of 1,200+ applicants) in the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars Program, a rigorous gap year program that prepares Rwanda’s most gifted and promising students to successfully compete for international scholarships. See Bridge2Rwanda.org. Justus obsessively studied Kaplan SAT and TOEFL test prep, English, leadership, entrepreneurship, and discipleship, and received B2R's guidance in applying for colleges and universities in the United States.

As stated in my prior post, all college applicants (and their parents) know that March Madness is not about basketball, but rather admission decisions. Emmanuel, another B2R Scholar and my housemate, invited Justus to our home the night of March 27, to search the internet for anxiously awaited decisions. They asked if B2R Founder Dale Dawson and I could stay up and be with them, for better or for worse. The anxiety was palpable. For Justus, it was all about Harvard.

At 11 PM, Rwandan time (5 PM EST), Justus went to the secure Harvard admissions site. He was so nervous he fumbled and struggled to get in. It was actually a bit pathetic and tensions rose. But then Harvard’s letter to Justus loaded, and all he could read was the first word: “CONGRATULATIONS!” Justus screamed with joy and fell to the floor (where he joined Emmanuel). Minutes later, he sufficiently composed himself enough to ask me with labored breathing if he could borrow my phone to call Clare in the U.S.: “Mom, MOM! I’m going to Harvard!”
"Mom. MOM! I'm going to Harvard!"
As I reflect upon this highly improbable story of a young boy gleaning garbage at the city dump he called “home” and then later matriculating at Harvard University, I necessarily reflect on the butterfly effect and Clare and all the others sandwiched between the two bookends of the garbage dump and Harvard: Clare, Dale & Judi Dawson, Anna Reed, Richard Siegler, Blayne Sharpe, Mary Claire Frazier, Joy Beth Bodie, Cassie Fuenmayor, Mark Karugarama, Andrea Redmond & Bill Ferguson, Dub & Val Stocker, Rod & Diane Dammeyer, Anne Heyman & Seth Merrin, Dan Nova, the generous people at Kaplan, and so many others – each of whom would quickly point out: “I’m no Justus. I’m no Emma (see prior post). I’m no Clare.” But without their willingness to play their particular role, Justus could still be gleaning at the city dump and Emma could be digging potatoes, barefooted. These good folks might ask themselves, "Who was/is there to help young Justus and give him a chance?" ...and properly answer the question: "just us." We are seduced to take great comfort in the self-deception that the problems are too big and too many, and we cannot make a difference. But these folks knew that they could and should give it a try, make a contribution from whatever they had, and as a result Justus is going to Harvard and Emmanuel to U Penn. And yet another Bridge2Rwanda Scholar is also going to Harvard, and still others were admitted to Dartmouth, Brown, University of Chicago, Northwestern, U.C. Berkeley, Claremont Colleges (Pitzer), Vanderbilt, Emory, Michigan State, Babson, Bates, Abilene Christian University, and other highly selective schools. As I continue on my own meandering journey, may I be like Clare and know when to tell the taxi driver “Stop!” And may I too have the necessary discernment and courage to respond to the opportunity before me… and act.

I also reflect upon Justus’ declarations that unmerited favor has been lavished upon him, and what has been done for him, he must now do for others. If he denies the poor, he denies himself, his own history, who and what he is. Self-affirmation requires him to pay it forward. Accordingly, Justus has established a nationwide charitable organization, SEVEN United for the Needy, which helps the poorest students by providing necessary school fees and supplies.

And lastly, I reflect upon an oft-asked question: “Why are you here in Rwanda?” I have many deeply embraced answers to that question, but after spending these recent days sharing life with Emmanuel and Justus, I will presently offer only this: Living in Rwanda is more thrilling than watching the best, most powerful, most emotionally rich and raw movies imaginable, and I actually get to have unvarnished, intimate conversations with the great actors as they are performing. Sometimes those conversations may even color and sharpen the performance. But whether or not I influence the performance, the performance always impacts and transforms me. I can hardly believe that I get to do this day after day. Each day I arise with joy and amazement that I get another one.
Justus (off to Harvard), Christian (off to Dartmouth), me (stayin' put), Jonathan (also off to Harvard), Emmanuel (off to U Penn). The painting behind us was collectively painted by their cohort of 27 B2R Scholars.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Nightmares, dreams, and tears

Two weeks ago Emmanuel Nkundunkundiye observed "New Year" as he does every April 7. Quietly, as he "commemorates" the senseless slaughter of his father upon the outbreak of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, followed a few days later by the brutal gang rape of his mother which left her physically and mentally unable to care for her 2 year old son. That is how Emmanuel measures time; he reviews and concludes the past year; indulges his hopes that this New Year may bring something better.


The start of Emmanuel's life was an unimaginable nightmare that, no doubt, partly explains his tender, pensive spirit. But maybe that tender, pensive spirit was shaped more by his grandmother, Emertha, a desperately poor but saintly widow who "registered" and raised Emmanuel as her own son. Together they cultivated and harvested her small plot, and she cared for him as best she could in her mud hut, with neither water nor electricity. Emertha was much more than a grandmother. She was mother, mentor, and teacher, who told Emmanuel that the only inheritance she could leave him was what she was teaching him. Fortunately, in time, a kind man provided the modest school fees required for "Emma" (as he is called by friends) to attend school. Not a good school. An overcrowded local village school made of mud bricks. No electricity. No water. No qualified teacher. But it was a welcome alternative to passing time alone on the streets.

Then in December, 2008, local government officials placed Emma's name on a list of "OVC" (orphan and vulnerable children) to be considered for admission to a newly opened institution, Agahozo Shalom Youth Village (ASYV), a 4 hour drive from the only foot paths Emma ever new. Emma was selected to attend ASYV, and spent his first year focused on what is called "tikkun halev," healing the (broken) heart. During that year Emma emerged as a fine artist and learned English. It was also during this time that he developed an extraordinary bond with Anne Heyman, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who founded Agahozo Shalom Youth Village atop a mountain so that she could teach (and demonstrate to) her 500 children: "If you can see far, you can go far." At ASYV Emma maintained his tender, pensive spirit, but also revealed his indomitable, enduring spirit as he cared for and lead his fellow students.

During his four years at ASYV, Emertha died and Emmanuel had to leave and return to his village to burying his grandmother. This was the first time Emmanuel ever cried. Emmanuel had no father, no mother, no grandmother, no family to cheer him when he graduated from ASYV. But Anne Heyman and her husband Seth Merrin were there. So was President Paul Kagame. And Emmanuel was selected as the Students' Representative to address, encourage and inspire them and the entire community.

Emmanuel was then selected to join the Bridge2Rwanda Scholars, a rigorous program that prepares Rwanda’s most gifted and promising students to successfully compete for international scholarships. Bridge2Rwanda.org.  Because he had no other place to stay, Emma moved in with me. When I pointed out early on that he did not seem to eat much, and Emma responded matter-of-factly, "I resist hunger." Emma obsessively studied Kaplan SAT and TOEFL test prep, English, leadership, entrepreneurship, and discipleship, and received B2R's guidance in applying for colleges and universities in the United States. Thanks to the Kaplan curriculum, Emma improved his SAT score more 600 points! Emma dreams big, and his unimaginable, immodest dream was blended with extreme improbability when he applied to the University of Pennsylvania ("Penn"), the alma mater of his great hero and inspiration, Anne Heyman. He so wanted to please and make her proud by following in her path of rigorous academics and action to make the world a better place than the nightmare into which he was born.

I knew that something was wrong when I awoke pre-dawn on February 1,... but I did not know what. I walked out of my bedroom into the hallway and saw a silhouette against the wall. Quivering. Whimpering. "Emmanuel? EMMANUEL?!? What's going on?" After an unbearable pause, Emma whispered "Anne is dead" and cried for only the second time in his life. We both cried, for I too adored and was greatly impacted by Anne. Through tears, Emma explained the reason he studied so hard, all of his work and achievements, were for Anne as his way of assuring her that her efforts were not in vain and that he loved and appreciated her. [Anne Heyman, a most amazing person who blessed and inspired thousands in the US, Israel, Rwanda, and around the world, died as the result of an equestrian accident on January 31, 2014.]

As all college applicants (and their parents) know so well, March Madness is not about basketball, but rather admission decisions. Emma asked if he could invite a fellow B2R Scholar over to the house on the night of March 27, and if B2R Founder Dale Dawson and I could stay up with them. The anxiety was palpable, and Emma did not want to be alone when he received such news and the resulting ecstasy or crushing disappointment.

At 11 pm, Rwandan time (5 pm EST), Emma clicked on the U Penn portal site. Nothing. Reload. "C-O-N-G-R-A....." and Emma fell off his chair onto the floor and cried,... for the third time in his 22 years, but for the fist time they were tears of joy. O, how we all wished that his father and mother, and his grandmother, and Anne Heyman could have celebrated with us. (By the way, the other B2R Scholar who was with us that night received word the very same minute that he has been admitted to Harvard,... but that story deserves its own separate blog post.)

U Penn-bound Emma (left) with Harvard-bound Justus (right)
30 minutes after release of admission decisions
My intellectual capacity and promise is far eclipsed by Emma's. I am not his peer, but he sees that my soil has been tilled decades more than his, and thus he comes to me with an endless stream of questions that American youth simply do not ask their parents. "Tonto [Uncle, as he calls me], What are the attributes of a true friend?" "How do you discover your passion?" "When you were my age, how did you use your free time?" And just this morning, "Do you think 'effectiveness' can be learned?" I am greatly privileged to sow in him whatever I may have, and his soil is so rich and receptive. For example, last Sunday morning I asked whether we would be going to church together. Emma reply "No, my black shoes have finally given out and fallen apart, and I had no shoes to wear to church." I knew that he had other lesser shoes, but he did not think it appropriate to appear at church in them. I assured Emma that he was not required to go to church, and that he does not even need a reason or explanation for not going. However, I challenged him on his illegitimate reason: "Do you really think that anyone notices or cares about Emma's shoes? Do you think God cares about the condition of your shoes? Or, the condition of your heart? Do you notice and judge other people by their shoes?" And we talked about pridefulness. I really did not think it was important whether Emma went to church last Sunday or not. But upon reflection, he stated that he really wanted to go, and we went,... and he stated afterwards that the message was the greatest message he had ever heard and he would carry it with him his entire life.

Emma recently vowed that he will serve his country not as a job seeker, but rather a job creator. As I write this blog post, Emma sits across the room reading Peter Drucker. He is the most focused, disciplined person I have ever known, and he has committed to reading 100 pages every day until his Penn classes start, and then he will increase his reading. Quite impressive for a young man who comes from a non-reading culture, and had never even held a book nor spoken any English until five years ago. At church last Sunday, the Pastor spoke of there being "purpose beyond pain." Emma joyfully declares that pretty much sums up his life,... and it pretty much sums up Rwanda.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The speech delivered by President Paul Kagame at the 20th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi

I am mindful that Rwanda and it's leadership have some critics. Don't we all? I am comfortable with the discussion and debate, for by it, we move closer and closer to mutual understanding. Fan or foe, every person who chooses to participate in the discussion should give careful consideration to the speech delivered yesterday by President Kagame to a packed stadium, which included Heads of State (and former Heads of State), the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Church leaders and other dignitaries from around the world, including thought leaders in genocide education and prevention.

It most certainly is not my place to add or subtract from the words of President Kagame. However, one brief clue to context: Two days before this Commemoration of worldwide significance, France chose to boycott the event to which it was invited and had planned to attend. Why? France's boycott was a protest to President Kagame's very calm, factual reference during an interview that France and Belgium played historically significant roles in the preparation of the Genocide, and France was actually somewhat of an accomplice. This is a very well understood historical fact, understood and acknowledged by all observers except sensitive, guilt-ridden French leaders who choose to deny the facts. President Kagame is both clear and gracious in noting that the facts are the facts, and we cannot change them, nor can we be well-equipped to move forward and avoid future genocides unless we acknowledge and learn from them. I was present when the speech was delivered, and can attest that it was delivered with calm humility, and there was no element of accusation or condemnation.

***********************************************************************************************

Speech by President H.E. Paul Kagame at the 20th Commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi
Kigali, 7 April 2014

•       Excellencies Heads of State and Government;
•       Excellency Secretary-General of the United Nations;
•       Excellency Chairperson of the African Union Commission;
•       Former Heads of State and Government;
•       Distinguished Government Officials from around the world;
•       Esteemed Guests;
•       My Fellow Rwandans:

I don’t have enough words to express my appreciation to all of you, who have come from near and far to be with us, on a day as important as this. I also thank all of those who have stood with us in Rwanda’s incredible journey of rebuilding.

We are gathered here to remember those who lost their lives in the Genocide and comfort those who survived.

As we pay tribute to the victims, both the living and those who have passed, we also salute the unbreakable Rwandan spirit, to which we owe the survival and renewal of our country.

To our parents, children, brothers, and sisters who survived — to Rwandans who defied the call to genocide and to those who give voice to their remorse — it is you who bear the burden of our history.

We have pursued justice and reconciliation as best we could. But it does not restore what we lost.

Time and again these past twenty years, Rwandans have given of themselves. You have stood before the community to bear witness and listened to others do the same. You have taken responsibility and you have forgiven.

Your sacrifices are a gift to the nation. They are the seed from which the new Rwanda grows. Thank you for allowing your humanity and patriotism to prevail over your grief and loss. Thank you very much.

Historical clarity is a duty of memory that we cannot escape. Behind the words “Never Again”, there is a story whose truth must be told in full, no matter how uncomfortable.

The people who planned and carried out the Genocide were Rwandans, but the history and root causes go beyond this country. This is why Rwandans continue to seek the most complete explanation possible for what happened.


We do so with humility as a nation that nearly destroyed itself. But we are nevertheless determined to recover our dignity as a people.

Twenty years is short or long depending on where you stand but there is no justification for false moral equivalence. The passage of time should not obscure the facts, lessen responsibility, or turn victims into villains.

People cannot be bribed or forced into changing their history. And no country is powerful enough, even when they think that they are, to change the facts. After all, les faits sont tĂȘtus.

Therefore, when we speak out about the roles and responsibilities of external actors and institutions, it is because genocide prevention demands historical clarity of all of us, not because we wish to shift blame onto others. And those others should have their moment to be humble in the face of historical facts.

All genocides begin with an ideology — a system of ideas that says: This group of people here, they are less than human and they deserve to be exterminated.

The most devastating legacy of European control of Rwanda was the transformation of social distinctions into so-called “races”. We were classified and dissected, and whatever differences existed were magnified according to a framework invented elsewhere.

The purpose was neither scientific nor benign, but ideological: to justify colonial claims to rule over and “civilise” supposedly “lesser” peoples. We are not.

This ideology was already in place in the 19th century, and was then entrenched by the French missionaries who settled here. Rwanda’s two thousand years of history were reduced to a series of caricatures based on Bible passages and on myths told to explorers.

The colonial theory of Rwandan society claimed that hostility between something called “Hutu”, “Tutsi”, and “Twa” was permanent and necessary. This was the beginning of the genocide against the Tutsi, as we saw it twenty years ago.

With the full participation of Belgian officials and Catholic institutions, this invented history was made the only basis of political organisation, as if there was no other way to govern and develop society.

The result was a country perpetually on the verge of genocide.

However, Africans are no longer resigned to being hostage to the world’s low expectations. We listen to and respect the views of others. But ultimately, we have got to be responsible for ourselves.

In Rwanda, we are relying on universal human values, which include our culture and traditions, to find modern solutions to our unique challenges.

Managing the diversity in our society should not be seen as denying the uniqueness of every Rwandan. If we succeed in forging a new, more inclusive national identity, would it be a bad thing?
We did not need to experience genocide to become a better people. It simply should never have happened.

No country, in Africa or anywhere else, ever needs to become, quote, unquote, “another Rwanda”. But if a people’s choices are not informed by historical clarity, the danger is ever present.

This is why I say to Rwandans — let’s not get diverted. Our approach is as radical and unprecedented as the situation we faced.

The insistence on finding our own way sometimes comes with a price. Nonetheless, let’s stick to the course.

To our friends from abroad — I believe you value national unity in your own countries, where it exists. Where it doesn’t, you are working to build it, just as we are.

We ask that you engage Rwanda and Africa with an open mind, accepting that our efforts are carried out in good faith for the benefit of all of us.

For those who think that for Rwanda, or Africa to be governed properly by its people, by the leaders chosen by these people still requires their endorsement, they are still living in a too distant past.

We want you to know that we appreciate your contributions, precisely because we do not feel you owe us anything.

Rwanda was supposed to be a failed state.

Watching the news today, it is not hard to imagine how we could have ended up.

We could have become a permanent U.N. protectorate, with little hope of ever recovering our nationhood.

We could have allowed the country to be physically divided, with groups deemed incompatible assigned to different corners.

We could have been engulfed in a never-ending civil war with endless streams of refugees and our children sick and uneducated.


But we did not end up like that. What prevented these alternative scenarios was the choices of the people of Rwanda.

After 1994, everything was a priority and our people were completely broken.
But we made three fundamental choices that guide us to this day.

One — we chose to stay together.

When the refugees came home — we were choosing to be together.

When we released genocide suspects in anticipation of Gacaca — we were choosing to be together.

When we passed an inclusive constitution that transcends politics based on division and entrenched the rights of women as full partners in nation-building, for the first time — we were choosing to be together.

When we extended comprehensive new education and health benefits to all our citizens — we were choosing to be together.

Two — we chose to be accountable to ourselves.

When we decentralise power and decision-making into the towns and hills across the country — we are being accountable.

When we work with development partners to ensure that their support benefits all our citizens — we are being accountable.

When we award scholarships and appoint public servants based on merit, without discrimination — we are being accountable.

When we sanction an official, no matter how high-ranking, who abuses their power or engages in corruption — we are being accountable.

As a result, our citizens expect more from government, and they deserve it.

Three — we chose to think big.

When Rwandans liberated our country — we were thinking big.


When we created Rwanda’s Vision 2020 and committed to meeting our development goals — we were thinking big.

When we decided to make Rwanda attractive for business — we were thinking big.

When we invested in a broadband network that reaches all our 30 districts — we were thinking big.

When we became a regular contributor to United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions — we were thinking big.

We may make mistakes, like every country does. We own up and learn and move forward.

There is more hard work ahead of us than behind us. But Rwandans, we are ready.

A few years ago, at a commemoration event, I met a young man who was one of the twelve people pulled alive from under 3,000 bodies in a mass grave at Murambi.

He still lived nearby, totally alone. When the perpetrators he recognised came home from prison, he was understandably terrified.

When I asked him how he managed, he told me: “I could not do it unless I was convinced that these impossible choices are leading us somewhere better.”

Twenty years ago, Rwanda had no future, only a past.

Yet as Fidel told us just now, today we have a reason to celebrate the normal moments of life that are easy for others to take for granted.

If the Genocide reveals humanity's shocking capacity for cruelty, Rwanda's choices show its capacity for renewal.

Today, half of all Rwandans are under 20. Nearly three-quarters are under 30. They are the new Rwanda. Seeing these young people carry the Flame of Remembrance, to all corners of the country over the last three months, gives us enormous hope.

We are all here to remember what happened and to give each other strength.

As we do so, we must also remember the future to which we have committed ourselves.


I thank you.