Monthly Archives: October 2011

2011 Trip – Oct 23

October 23, 2011 | Steve Fredlund

Seriously? What another amazing day (I know it sounds like I’m over-using that word), but you ain’t here.  This afternoon, three people said independently that after yesterday they thought nothing could be better only to have it rivaled today.

After breakfast we drove to the Anglican Church in Kivuruga where we were received like royalty as we walked through a beautifully dressed choir and dancing children.  The entire service was amazing filled with singing, dancing, and even some of our sponsored children joining us where we were sitting. Both Mark & Joel had a chance to preach through a translator even though they were not told about this until we were leaving after breakfast.  They did a wonderful job and were very well received.

After the service we were hanging out around the church with hundreds upon hundreds of children clamoring to meet us and shake our hands.  Many of them would just grab our hands and hang on.  Two of our sponsored children, Jean de la Croix and Gerome walked out of the church with me and didn’t leave my side the entire time we were greeting the other children.  It was an unbelievable experience.

We then headed back to our hotel where we had lunch followed by a meeting with the representatives of the Inter-Church Committee which is comprised of all 7 churches within Kivuruga. The ICC is dedicated to working together to promote child welfare.  The representatives in attendance were from the Muslim church as well as Christian churches including the Gospel Church, 7th Day Baptist Church, Anglican Church, and the Catholic Church.  Two other churches were unable to send representatives, but serve on the ICC; they are the Pentecostal Church and the 7th Day Adventist Church.  The main goal of the ICC is to take care of children by understanding their life, health, and spiritual growth and helping them improve on each.  How this happens is based on the religious organization, but helping children is the common goal.  I have much more notes on the comments of the individual gentlemen, but for the sake of time, cannot type them here.  Suffice it to say, they all love World Vision and have seen fantastic things happen through World Vision and their generosity.

After our meeting, we had a couple of hours free and decided to drive north about 30 minutes to the border of Rwanda with Uganda near the volcanoes (in fact, I found some volcanic rock I will be bringing home for Ryan).  The drive was breath-taking including amazing views of the volcanoes and volcanic lakes.  We hung out at the border for a while.  Trent and I thought we were very brave by waiting for the guards to turn away and then touching our toes over the line of dirt that we thought was the official border into Uganda… turns out it was the start of a garden (we are so brave). As the sun started to set, we made our way back to the hotel and concluded the night with dinner (including Rwandan pizza; nothing to write home about!).

As another night fades away, we look forward to tomorrow when we will get to visit the schools to get an update on the Education project, visit a mushroom project as part of the multi-sector Transformational Program, and visit the base of the volcanoes on an educational and leisure activity to see how the government has transformed former poachers into entertainers for the tourism industry.

I know y’all want to see pictures, but I just don’t have many to upload.  First, because we have so many fantastic photographers on the trip, I have very little to add in that way.  Secondly, because internet is so sporadic and weak, uploading photos will be tough. Trust me, there will be a billion photos for everyone… but you’ll have to be patient!  They don’t do the experience justice anyway.

Thanks again to all of you who have made this trip possible as well as all of you who have captured this vision and are sponsoring children or otherwise supporting the effort.  Nicole talked about yesterday meeting their sponsored child as “the day a picture became a boy.”  Also, sometimes we face doubts that these kids are actually real; it was interested that in our ICC meeting today, one of the pastors said that meeting us will help dispel the myth that some of his parishoners have that these white people who are sending money don’t really exist.  What Our Response is doing in partnership with World Vision is seen to many Rwandans as “too good to be true.”  Although we see the trip on such a personal level, our visit is encouraging the WV staff, pastors, community leaders, and residents even more than they will ever be able to tell us.

Thanks to all of you!

2011 Trip – Oct 22

October 22, 2011 | Steve Fredlund

Today was an absolutely amazing day of meeting and getting to know our sponsored children and their families.  The only bad part of the day was that Shannon was sick and could not join us in meeting our children; Charles assured us that they would try to arrange a special meeting of her with her child and family.

The morning started as we left about 8:30am and arrived at the ADP around 9:00 (after enjoying again the amazing drive).  We arrived to singing children, parents, and pastors who sang while we clapped along.  Once they were finished, the children were introduced and began meeting with their sponsor.  We spent about 3.5 hours of one-on-time with our sponsored children and parents with an interpreter available throughout.

In my case, both Jean de la Croix (sponsored by Chris) and Gerome (sponsored by Ryan) were part of the singing and could meet with me right away; I recognized them from their pictures and my last visit. There mothers were also there and we were able to connect immediately and start talking about how things are going with school and at home.  About 30 minutes later, Claudine (sponsored by Annie) arrived with her mother (actually, Claudine ran ahead of her mother because she was so excited to see us, and was at least 10 minutes earlier than her mother in arriving!).  We had a fantastic visit about many things.  I asked each of them about the soccer balls I had given them two years ago and they said they were all either completely worn out or very damaged; when I said I would try to get each of them a new soccer ball they all jumped to their feet (kids & parents) to hug me.  Thanks to the people of Immanuel Church in Forest Lake (who donated about 25 soccer balls), I was able to make this happen and bring great joy to them. I had a picture of the family to show them and in each gift included a picture of our kid who sponsors them.  Claudine said she really wants to meet Annie one day, but is happy to recognize her in the pictures.  In addition to visiting with them, I went outside and played soccer/volleyball with them for hours in the space that we had.  Initially they were all a little bit nervous, but as the time went on they really opened up and we had a great time.  Through our conversation, I was asking if Jean & Gerome knew each other because I found out they attend the same school.  They said they knew each other and their mothers then told me that Jean’s Sister is married to Gerome’s brother; they are actually related!  That was so crazy to find out.

About 12:30pm or so, a buffet lunch was brought in where we all just feasted on many great items.  I helped my sponsored kids dish up and they all three ended up with loaded plates and a bottle of soda.  The amount of food each of my kids took was much more than what I took and became full on; they all completely finished their food and their soda pop.  What a blessing for them to have a feast like this.  Claudine mentioned that they get meat about every 10 days when they go to the market.  Without electricity or refrigeration, the meat is sold on the day it is butchered and then the families eat it within 1-2 days.  The meat is quite expensive, so they don’t get a lot, but the family understands the importance of the protein it brings to their children.

After lunch, we had more time to play with our children (which we did!) before we started winding down.  On this trip we brought over 400 dresses from three different sewing groups and we laid many of them out on the tables and invited the families to come and choose dresses for the other girls in their families; almost every family had another girl and most of them multiple. They were very blessed to receive these dresses.  We also had given money for the World Vision staff to pick up supplies for each family such as soap, food, etc, and after they had done their dress “shopping” we gave each of them one of these bags which were about 60-70 pounds of supplies.  Of course, they were quite heavy for us to lift, but these women just grabbed the bags, threw them on their heads, and off they went.

At the end of our gathering, the sponsored children blessed us with gifts which I found quite emotional.  Jean de la Croix, Gerome, and Claudine came out from the back room of the ADP singing a song and carrying two gifts for me which were a wooden raised map of Rwanda and a set of small hand-woven baskets.  It was so humbling to receive gifts from them; they already have no idea of how much they have given us.

Once we had ended our time at the ADP, we were so blessed to be able to visit two of the children’s homes including the family of Jean de la Croix.  These were incredibly beneficial opportunities to understand the day-to-day life of those who live in Kivuruga.  In both cases, they are subsistent farmers growing things such as bananas, beans, and sugar cane. Each family had a cow and Jean de la Croix’s family also had two pigs.  At our lunch, I found out that both Jean de la Croix and Claudine’s family has a cow they take care of up it belongs to another family.  Their agreement is that they take care of the cow in exchange for getting the cow manure (for fertilizer); also, the first born calf would be given to the owner but the 2nd calf would belong to them.  At that point, the deal is over but they may decide to start another arrangement.

After a drive back to the hotel, we had a couple of hours to relax before dinner.  The reason I bring up dinner is because not only was it a great chance to share stories and catch Shannon up on the days events, but a few of us had the chance to hear Eric spin a fabulous yarn.  We heard of his first trip to Nicole parent’s house in Nebraska… I can’t do the story justice, but let’s just say it involved a horse, a speech, a costume party, karaoke, and ramen noodles; fabulous.

We wrapped up about 9pm and headed off for bed; it was yet another amazing day in Kivuruga.  Tomorrow we will attend the Anglican Church service followed by lunch and meeting with the 7 pastors whose churches make up a local church association which accounts for 99% of Kivuruga church attendance.  I am hoping that these pastors will include Jean Baptiste (Pentecostal Church) and Samuel (7th Day Adventist Church) that I met last time I was here.  We shall see!

News 1

2011 Trip – Oct 21

October 21, 2011 | Steve Fredlund

Wi-Fi is working… gotta move fast and wont even try pictures… here is my update for an amazing yesterday!!!!!

The morning started with a fabulous breakfast and included Trent getting a chance to catch up with a friend of his who teaches in Kigali.  After breakfast and time together, we set off about 7:45 to meet with the World Vision Rwanda National Staff.  We were picked up in our three vehicles by our drivers for the trip: Alex, Ephraim, and Bosco.

National Staff

We arrived at the WV Rwanda headquarters to a warm greeting.  I had the opportunity to catch up with Jean Paul, who was one of our interpreters for the 2009 trip.  It was great to see a familiar face and we shared some great memories and briefly caught up on each others lives.  Jean Paul is now working in the Operations group within WV Rwanda and is busy preparing reports for the Annual Meeting of African WV Groups coming up in Uganda.

Before our meeting time, we had a chance to participate in morning gathering and devotions led by Charles, who is the WV Rwanda staff helping to lead us through the trip.  In addition to the National Staff we also had the opportunity to meet other guests including a gentleman named Cameron who flew 40 hours from World Vision New Zealand and is participating in meetings in Rwanda and Uganda.

After devotions, we spent a great time with the World Vision National Staff led by new National Director named George Gitau.  He was joined by his senior staff which gave us a great opportunity to hear from them as well as ask questions.  His staff included Russell, Pascal (Quality Assurance), and the HR Director (whose name is failing me at the moment). Some of the things that came out of the meeting are included below:

WV Rwanda started in 1994 to serve those returning after the genocide.  In about 2000, this work transitioned toward community transformation.

The work of reconciliation and healing continues, but it now referred to as “Peace-Building” to reflect the more forward-looking approach.  The programs and approach have been so successful that the national center in Rwanda is home of the Peace Building Learning Center and is receiving national recognition outside of WV.

The WV National Staff was very encouraged by us being there and sharing the stories and prayers of the many churches represented by the Our Response movement.  Our visiting and sharing help them remember that all of the things they are doing are funded by individuals and churches; and hearing the encouraging reports really gave them a shot in the arm to the point of being an emotional moment.

There are 8 US-funded ADPs in Rwanda with 4 of them recently re-designed for the final phase of the project, which is really focusing on sustainability.  There are typically four phases which include a 2-year start-up phase followed by three 4-5 year development phases.

In Rwanda there are a total of 76,000 Registered Children (RC) with about 63,000 of them actually sponsored.  WV is introducing a “cow for every family” project; there is a significant visible difference between children who regularly have milk and those who do no; families would be healthier as well as have extra milk to potentially sell for additional income. WV is working to secure partners to help in building the milk distribution infrastructure. Other partnerships include the area of advocacy where WV is working with UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Rwandan government.  WV is also working on partnerships for milk procurement and cell phones.

The National Rwandan WV staff is asking for prayer for:

1)      People to become WV employees through a sense of deep calling as they cannot compete with for-profit opportunities

2)      Healing for those who are working toward the healing of others

3)      Leadership development for empowerment

One of the stated national goals puts limits on the maximum distance between schools; the ADPs are working toward this goal.  WV Rwanda is also working hard at uncovering and bringing justice in the areas of child protection, specifically sexual abuse.

Genocide Memorial

Following our meeting, we then drove to the Kigali Genocide Memorial which was a very powerful experience for everyone on the trip.  At this location, nearly 260,000 Rwandans are buried in mass graves.  The Center focuses on 1) giving the victims a respectful burial place, 2) educating the public as to the issues with the genocide, and 3) helping move people toward making sure this is not repeated.  We were excited to have over two hours to tour the memorial which includes both inside and outside elements.

Lunch near “Hotel Rwanda”

We then enjoyed a fabulous lunch at a restaurant in Kigali which is right across from the Hotel Des Milles (spelling?) which is the actual “Hotel Rwanda” from the famous film about the Rwandan genocide.  Mark Coughlin had the chance to catch up with a friend of his (Gary Bennett) who has been a missionary in Rwanda for about 25 years; we were also able to hear some of Gary’s story which includes an amazing story of living through the genocide in the middle of the fighting.

Exchanging Cash

OK, this shouldn’t normally be its own category, but since it took about 30 minutes (or more), I felt it was worthy.  To make a long story short, the exchange rate (603 Rwandan Francs per $1 US) was only available if we had the new 100 bills (with the purpose on them).  The rate of 575 applied for any other bills.  But, then as we started exchanging, they would only accept 100 bills if they were issued 2006 or after; so the 100 bills we had issued 2003 could not be exchanged.  Then, 20 bills had to be 2003 or newer and the 10 bill had to be at least 2000 or newer.  Their automatic bill counter counted a different amount of $1 bills a couple of times.  At the end of the day, we all got our bills, but since the biggest Rwandan Franc bill is $2,000, we have a lot of paper money!

Drive to Kivuruga & stop at the Market

After lunch and exchanging money, we embarked on a long drive (2-3 hours) to Kivuruga which, although crazy winding roads, is the most beautiful drive you can ever imagine.  Shannon has already taken well over 300 pictures!

Along the way we stopped at a local market (Gahenke district; near Kivuruga) for a chance to experience that part of the Rwandan culture and purchase about 120,000 Rwandan Francs ($200 US) worth of food for the families of the sponsored children.  At the market I found Geoff who was one of our interpreters in 2009; we also chatted about our families and what has happened in the past couple of years.  It was wonderful catching up on our stories and that he will be with us again on this trip to help with the interpretation.

Also at the market, I was able to start chatting with about 30 kids & adults (well, at least I could chat when I had help of an interpreter or a 19-year Rwandan man who is learning English quite well as he prepares to be a doctor). Through the interpreter I asked how many of the children and adults had heard of World Vision… it was a resounding, nearly unanimous show of hands; I then asked them if WV was good and there was great excitement and affirmation.  This, more than anything WV could have told us, was huge in understanding the impact WV is having in these communities.

We left the market and continued the beautiful drive to Kivuruga arriving at Hotel Gorillas just as the sun had set.  This beautiful hotel is about 30 minutes from Volcano National Park at the border of Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda and is home to the last remaining mountain gorillas; unbelievably gorgeous.  The hotel seems wonderful and again had some great food.  I was so excited to enjoy some passion fruit; on our last trip I drank passion fruit juice whenever I could and here they had the actual fruit which has a rind thicker than a tomato that you cut open with a knife and then pull out the fruit from inside… fabulous!

Closing off

After dinner we quickly met to debrief on the day and ask Charles any additional questions. We then went through all of the things we had brought (about 500 pounds worth) and separated them out to be prepared to give them out as we have opportunity going forward. Tomorrow is almost exclusively going to be spent with our sponsored children; about 5 hours of time with them and some of their families.  Should be amazing.

As I write this I am overwhelmed with the day we had!  It’s about 11pm local time and I’m exhausted, but so excited.  Everyone seems to be having the experience of their life and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

2011 Trip – Oct 20

October 20, 2011 | Steve Fredlund

Our trip is off to a perfect start with everyone meeting at Eric & Nicoles (except Carol who met as at the airport on her way from another trip!).  We packed, ate, and starting talking about Our Response and the trip (what a fabulous team).  We arrived at the airport with perfect timing (actually ran into Bob Jonsson at the airport who is one of the Our Response board members and original travellers in 2009).  The flights & layovers all went perfect from Minneapolis to Chicago to Brussels, Belgium and finally arriving in Kigali, Rwanda the evening of October 20.

We met Charles who is World Vision Rwanda’s Donor Liaison to U.S. Donors; he will be with us on the entire trip and is just fabulous.  Several of us also enjoyed some Rwandan cuisine while sitting on the outside porch of our Kigali hotel.  All of us are working on our gizmos to keep you updated and to say hi to the ones we love.  I was able to video skype Chris, Ryan & Annie and call Tracy.  Even when I am in Rwanda, I have a rad family!

Will get to be soon as we are getting up to have breakfast, meet with National World Vision Rwanda staff, go to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, and drive to the hotel near Kigali where we will be staying.  There are a couple pictures to show a bit of our trip, but certainly many more will be coming!  Thanks for your prayers and encouragement on our journey.