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A Note for New Readers

Urukundo Village is an independent home for Rwandan children created and funded through Hope Made Real and its incredibly kind donors. We are not funded by any particular denomination or organization and welcome all who seek to help the children of Rwanda and create a better world not just for a child, but for us all. 

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Thursday
Oct052017

September 2017 Newsletter

September is the month six of our kids return to University.  Three more start their freshman year. We need sponsors for these kids.  Feel free to volunteer.  Even a small amount helps.

It also seems to be a make things beautiful month, adding to the playground in last months Newsletter.  Covering the cushions in the boys house fits the category but the cushions were recovered because the material was warn so thin that the kids could dig holes in the material and play with the foam they removed. They thought it was fun but I remember when one of the kids put foam up their nose and it became a serious infection.  It took some time to discover the problem. Better to recover the cushions. I think they look great. The material is washable with warm water and a cloth. What do you think?  Improvement? I vote Yes!

Now if you want cute, how about the new chairs for Day Care?

Taking possession with an attitude.

The children love them. They are just their size.

 

Chantel, Day care manager, appreciates having a play table and chairs where the kids do not set on the floor all the time. Better for her too.

Child of the month

Soso's Story

Four years ago, Soso was born at a local hospital. His mother had no money for a bed and was placed on a Moto before she was healed. Carrying her newborn son; she started home to her village across country on very bad rutted roads. When the driver reached her village it was discovered she had hemorrhaged all the way home and had died from loss of blood because she had not had time to heal, Soso is an orphan. He is a delight and a very active little boy.

His name is Hildebrand but such a big name for a baby.  He was nicknamed Soso by his sister Solange. The nickname stuck.

Soso continues to enrich our lives at Urukundo Village. 

 

Soso was our very first Preschool dropout.  He was a very resourceful little 3-year boy who had decided he did not want to go to school.  It took a bit of time for me to figure out what was going on. He had been so excited when he turned three because he could go to school but suddenly after the first day he decided school was not for him.  For a week, we tried to deal with the problem to no avail. It occurred to me there was something else going on so I watched him during that week.  He had the best of times not going to school. In the morning, he could play with the kids who went to Kindergarten in the afternoon and in the afternoon he played with the younger set after naptime.  He didn’t need school to make his day perfect.

Mama took steps.  I went to talk to Soso and told him “It is ok if you don’t want to go to school. You do not have to go any more. You can stay home.” He was so pleased.

“But while the other kids were in school you will have to stay in your room on your bed with no books or toys or other kids to play with until school was over.” He said, "Ok, I will do that.”

That lasted one day, after an alone no play day he came to me and said “Mama, I want to go to school please.”  Soso is in school and happy to be there. No preschool drop out.

 

Soso graduated from Kindergarten in November 2016.  He is now in Primary 1(First grade) and doing well.

 

Soso’s greatest wish was to have a place to go to visit during holiday from school.  Recently some extended family has been found and one member has accepted to have Soso during the school holiday.  We are pleased that this has happened.  Soso’s found relative Erneste came to meet Soso at Urukundo Village.  We are hoping it will happen for other of our children. It is so good for children to have a connection.

Our boy, Soso “Hildebrand”

 

Urukundo Learning Center

Look for an update on the bus project in next month’s newsletter.

“Education Fund” Supporters

Those of you who have contributed to the education fund will be pleased to know we now have textbooks for all classes. This has been a goal for some time. How awesome is that?

 

Books for Primary  1 – 5.  We are blessed thanks to all of you.

Three hundred textbooks for our Primary 1 -5 kids at last. Thank you who have donated to the Education Fund. More are needed but these 300 textbooks are a great start

Next school year we will need text books for P6.

 

In January 2018, all 6 Primary grades will be in session at Urukundo Learning Center.  This will be our first class to take the National Exam.  How our children do in this critical exam will tell us if we are doing a good job.

Our future looks bright as we have been given the go-ahead by the District to build and operate a Secondary School (High School) as part of the Urukundo Learning Center. 

Our vision

 

More about that later.  This is now in our 5-year plan. Ever on ward and up ward in education.  Who knows maybe someday a University on the top of our mountain? Can’t wait to see that picture.

 

Top 10 in classes

Incentive works wonders so it was decided to give a small gift to each child in their class who were in the top 10 academically. Each received a small bag with a gift inside.

 

Gifts ranged from stuffed animals for the youngest to school supply kits for the older group. Next year, we will find another category for the prizes. Like most improved, best attendance etc. You get the idea. Rewards must not be only for the top achievers but must include those doing their best. Any suggestions for categories?

Jeanne is back.

Check out her message on the web site.

Jeanne Willis joins the teaching program at Urukundo Learning Center.  

Kids welcome Jeanne

 

Jeanne hails from Pennsylvania and is returning for 3 months to volunteer at Urukundo Learning Center. Do read her message to you on the website

Welcoming Jeanne after more than a years absence was our Headmaster I’rene’s pleasure. Preschool teachers are excited to have Jeanne in their classrooms.

 

Comforting hug from teacher Jeanne

 

Preschool is such fun.  Hands up - good exercise

 

Teaching tools colored chains.

Construction

New home for Electric Generator.

We thank God for Benjamin, our construction engineer and technician.  If it can be built, he will build it. He is the best.

Required for Dental program.  It was necessary to meet regulations for us to build a home for the Generator. It now is housed in a small building of it very own. The generator supplies electricity for the Dental Clinic when power goes out. Who wants to be half way through a process have the power fail and wait 4 or 5 hours in the chair for the electricity to return? The generator saves the day. It kicks on as soon as the power goes and kicks off when it returns.  Our dental Clinic operates very well.

 

Rwanda is famous for being the land of a thousand hills. That is great but not for building. After you build you must add retaining walls to keep your building from moving down the mountain on its own. This wall is for the toilet at the Primary school. Funding for this building was donated by WOF (World Orphans Fund), we are so grateful for their support.  The fence is to protect the kids from a serious fall and maybe broken bones. We love and protect our students.

 

Entrance to lower lever of Primary school

 

The walk way is extensive but the building cares for both levels of the Primary school.

 

Oswalde escorts Mama on an inspection tour. It is good to have an arm for support. 

 

Looking to the Future

In line with our five-year plan, three classrooms are under construction and hopefully will be ready by January 2018.

The two classrooms will facilitate our growing school population and one will be the new classroom for computer studies both for our students and adult classes for the community. The adult computer ICDL program under the direction and encouragement of Dr. Bob Dove is aimed at helping businesses in the area to better understand and us computer programs to their advantage. Dr. Dove and wife Amy will be residence of Urukundo Village in November 2017. We are excited to have them join our family.

Amy will be an asset to our education program working directly with the school administration on curriculum and administrative problems.

Building and roof completed on three classrooms. 

 

 

Inside work started. More work to be done. Cement walls, chalkboards, windows and doors, flooring (stones and cement), finishing work paint, décor and desks, and chairs.  Then kids. Wow!

 

University News

Keeping you current, we now have 13 students in University. Two are in the USA.  Nine in Kigali Universities and two are attending Gitwe Hospital School of Medicine.

Visiting

Alexander, Esperance, Cecelia, Dada, and Divine welcomed a visit from Jeanne our long-term visitor. Lilliane came later as did HMR Secretary, Marge Krogh. Knowing our kids are safe and living in a good house is a blessing and an added bonus for us is it is a place in Kigali that we can take visitors to and they can meet the

“BIG KIDS” not day care babies but just as cute. Some difference.

Cecelia and Pacifique (Dada) have moved to University house in Kigali. The girls started University in September. They are missed here at home.  Study hard and do well girls.

 

Deborah also started University in September.  All our students receive an English bible upon finishing Secondary and before starting University.  These bibles are gifts from donors in the US.  Reading English and having an English Bible is special for Urukundo kids.

Visitors

We are delighted to welcome visitors who come for only the day.  Brian Booker (glasses) from Tennessee and Jennifer PrudHome from California where a team brought to us by Yvan from GEI.  The are representatives from “Onestep” Education is their priority.  We had a delightful visit and they enjoyed the tour and lunch with the kids.

Mama and Baby Outreach

Yes, our supplies of basic needs for babies nearly were depleted. Of course, I sent out the word.

Thanks to your devotion to the Mama & Baby program!  We are again able to supply mamas with much needed supplies for their newborn infants. I am so grateful. From our clothes closet when we can, we also send some clothing to other siblings in the family not wanting them to feel left out.

We also give baby gifts to the newborn babies of our staff.

Bona one of our male teachers became a father this month and is so proud. His first-born a boy. New papa’s need encouragement & love also.  I am featuring his son and wife in this newsletter.  Thought I would let you know how your donations for M&B are working to support Urukundo and the community.  Thank you, all who love and care for babies and support this program.

 

Note from Mama Arlene.

I so appreciate hearing from those who read the newsletter. Feel free to comment either in the comment section at the bottom of the newsletter or send your comments to me at my email address (Arlene@hopemadereal.org)

Thank you

Arlene Brown

Monday
Sep252017

Jeanne's message

Hello,

 My name is Jeanne Willis. I am a retired schoolteacher from Hughesville Pennsylvania, USA. I earned my bachelors at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pa. My major was Early Childhood Education.  I taught in schools in Florida, 20 years, Quito Ecuador, 1 year, St Croix in the Virgin Islands 6 years.  When I am home I work, as a substitute teacher in Montgomery Elementary School near my home in PA. Teaching for 26 years has been a great experience. As a retired person I hope to teach for many more years.

My first visit to Urukundo was in January 2016.  I stayed for four months teaching the students and working with the teachers at the Urukundo Learning Center Preschool. The time went much to fast. In my off time from the school I was engaged with the 26 kids under 10 years at Urukundo Home for children.  What an amazing place. I enjoyed them and participated with the kids in dancing, creativity and singing. It was interesting watching them solve their problems and helping each other out.  They truly are family.

I am so thankful how Mama Arlene has worked so hard to expand the Learning Center to include community children in the education system. The 566 students from the community and 26 from the home are getting a good education. The school and the foundation provide many jobs helping the economy in the area.

I returned to Urukundo for a second time last month, “September” and I intend to be here for the graduation in November 2017. It will be exciting to see the children I taught on my first visit graduate from Kindergarten to Primary school. The graduation is special as the little ones wear caps and gowns and receive a diploma, just like University kids. They are so proud.

If you love children, love to teach and want to make a difference in lives of vulnerable children you would feel right at home in Urukundo Learning Center in Rwanda, Africa where every care is for the child. You would be most welcome to a life changine experience. It makes my day when students come running to me take my hand and in English say  “GOOD MORNING TEACHER.” Their precious smiles and bright shinny eyes grab my heart. They share so much affection and want to learn. Oh what joy I feel when they recite poems or sing songs I have taught them.

Working with the teachers especially in a second language (English) is also rewarding as I am able to see the results as they share what I have taught them with the children. The teachers welcome and so appreciate new skills and new ideas other teachers from other countries bring to share with them. Coming back the second time I am able to evaluate the changes taking place because I and others have been here. How rewarding to see the school growing, teachers blooming and the children progressing.

It is also rewarding when a teacher seeks me out and asks for help and invites me to their class room. They so appreciate my help.  I often wonder what I have to offer and God gives me the answer most often. We come here with what we have and God provides the rest.

Mama has many goals for Urukundo Learning Center and Urukundo Sewing Center. Yes, so much love and compassion are involved.

Take it from one who has been here. If your heart is for children and you want to make a difference your next trip should be to:

Urukundo Village, working at Urukundo Learning Center , touching the lives of children who just need the opportunity to have a firn foundation in education.

Education is the future for these kids.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you.

Jeanne Willis

Monday
Aug282017

August 2017 Newsletter

August is awesome for about 2 weeks with so many of the kids are home and then my kids all go back to school.

I promised a photo of the secondary school kids. You will find it's a much smaller group than July’s picture. Why? Five of the kids in the last photo have started University or will start in September. We now have 18 kids who have finished Secondary school and are moving on to Universities, technical school or employment.

Child of the month: Rebekah Landis

Rebekah Landis 5 years old

Our little girl came with no name. It was my privilege to pick a name for her. Rebekah in the bible is one of my favorite woman with a strong character (forceful woman). I chose that name for this little girl. She is living up to her name.

When Rebekah came to Urukundo, Pastor Sharon Landis was volunteering with us. We needed a last name for her and Pastor Sharon suggested she have her last name and so Rebekah Landis became a part of Urukundo family.

Becca for short arrived at Urukundo on October 24, 2009. Her date of birth was figured as about June 29.  She was brought to Urukundo by Exec. Sec. of the Gitarama Cell, Misago Matias.  

The social worker who also came with her told us,” this baby girl was left in the house of a poor family who already had many children and could not support another child.  "Can she live with you?” Saying no to a baby is not possible. At 4 months, she was a tiny girl with a will of her own.

Rebekah has a personality like no other.  In early childhood, she tried getting her own way by crying every time things did not go the way she wanted. It took her some time to learn that crying did not get her what she wanted but gave her time on her bed away from the other children.

She is the most loving and friendly child in our home.  She is a forceful little girl.  

She is now 8 years old in Primary 2 and doing well.  She could edit a newspaper. Her abilities run in that direction.  

Rebekah has leadership abilities and looks out for the other younger children. She is alert to happenings in the village and is first alert if there is a problem brewing. Love that little girl.

Rebekah today

 

She will be an interesting one to track as she matures. Expect great things from her.

 

Returned to Arizona University USA

Tresor is so special at Urukundo. His visit after being gone two years was much too short.  His return to the USA was sad for us but we know he will return to make a difference in his home land in two years.

Jacob and Jason needed a photo with him and Banita would not be left out. Makes a great picture.

 

Play time with the kids for Tresor

 

Progress of a sort

A first for Urukundo Kids.  Having a drivers license is indeed an accomplishment.  Both Tresor with his USA license and Divine with her’s from Rwanda are now drivers. To make it a special event Tresor rented a car and for the first time my University three came home driving a car.  Shock for Mama.

Tresor, Lilliane, Divine

 Aspiring Soccer (foote ball) player, Jason.

A very happy reunion

A delightful surprise when my phone rang and it was Pastor Alexi saying he would visit me the next day with a friend.  How great when the friend was Bill Graf.

Pastor Alexi and I have a very long history in Rwanda and his family are part of the Urukundo family. Pastor Alexi serves a United Methodist church in Kigali City.  Bill Graf first came to Urukundo when we were only a home for girls in 2007. He was a witness when we bought our first piece of land.  Bill is an attorney from Colorado, USA. He has been a faithful supporter for Urukundo and our family.

Inspiring Woman

Charlotte Sauer & Lena Claro both Medical students in their 6 year of medicine came to spend the day at Urukundo Village.

These soon to be doctors were an inspiration to our girls.  Yes, girls can be doctors. Set your goals and do your best in school. It can happen.

Another Pleasant surprise

This has been the month for pleasant surprises. My dear friend since 2007, Dr. Otto Fischer from Austria arrived Sunday, August 13 to worship with the children, share lunch with us, and spend several hours just talking with me.  Some of you will remember Dr Otto as the Veterinarian.  

So everyone seems to be taller than me.  

Dr. Otto Fischer brought with him 3 of his “Verein Future for Kids” students and a driver/friend with him.

Check his web site: www.future4kids.at

This is a great photo but white hair does not show well in the sun light from the lunch room window.

 

Visitors

Our visitors are few but very special.

Christoph Rass & Carolin Horacek from Germany visited the Urukundo Learning Center in August. Short visit but very nice. They brought soccer balls for the kids. Great gift.  Their interest in Rwanda is schools. I do hope we made a good impression.

Mama & Baby Outreach

Baby #10 for August

Baby #15  This little preemie almost didn’t make it. Born at 7 months.

 

Playground gets a facelift

Our playground was funded by “Raised Hands For Africa” out of North Carolina, USA several years ago. We are grateful. It is used by the school, our kids and the Day Care kids. What a blessing.

Included in the facelift is lines and back boards on Basketball Court.

Ready for another umpteen years. 

Construction of Wall

It is very necessary to establish a retaining wall at lower level of Learning Center.

In order to protect the toilets, WOF (World Orphans Fund) helped us build this essential wall. Without the wall a heavy rainstorm could bring the building down the mountain. Our mountain is beautiful but soft ground requires much care.

Sand, stone, cement, and hard labor gets the job done. Great crew.

Secondary Kids 2017

As promised in last months newsletter.  In photo from left to right; Bosco, Belise, Esperance, Abias, Giselle, and Olivier.  They are great!

Bosco and Abais & Oliver are in senior 5 graduate in 2018

Giselle & Fabrice are in senior 6 and graduate this year 2017

Esperance & Belise finish Jr. High this year.

Fabrice was not present for the group photo but is also a High school student.  He did make it home on a short visit.


In closing, I leave you with this thought:

The vulnerable children of Rwanda and the world.

Opportunity is what they need. Your love. Their lives, Our world, You can make a difference.

Your most appreciated gift can be sent to the address below or use the Donate button at the upper right- hand corner of the screen:

Hope Made Real
PO Box 3222
Williamsport, PA 17701

Much love,

Mama Arlene
Director 
Urukundo Foundation/Hope Made Real

Tuesday
Aug012017

July 2017 Newsletter

Hello from Urukundo Village

We are please to reveal the new Logo for Hope Made Real

Love it.

The month of July is a dry month in Rwanda but beautiful. We look forward to the rains starting in August. Agriculture is our focus during the 3 months of rain. This is also the month the second term of school finishes and our secondary kids come home for a short break about 3 weeks. Our little ones love having the older brothers and sisters home with them.

On July 4th an important holiday takes place in Rwanda.  Liberation Day is a national holiday commemorating the day in 1994 when the killing stopped, marking the end of a 100-day genocide that left nearly a million Rwandans dead.

On that same day July 4th we celebrate Independence Day in the USA.

 It is the anniversary of the publication of the declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.

July 4th is a special day both in The USA and in Rwanda. A day we share. Celebrated very differently. IN Rwanda a long walk to the stadium and many speeches in memory of that day.

In the USA we celebrate with Family, fun, picnics and fireworks. Ok, Yes I miss it all but especially the spectacular fireworks display.

Take a look

Anyone have an idea who these two people from my past are?

Child of the Month: Luki Medland

Luki’s Story

Luki just turned 11years old and is a healthy, happy boy and in Primary 5 (Fifth  Grade Level).

Luki came to Urukundo when he was about 6 month old.  We were surprised one afternoon when we had a visit from a social worker carrying a little baby boy in her arms.

The story is an older woman in Gitarama came into her house from outside to find a little baby boy sitting on the floor just inside her front door. There was a basket beside him with some clothes and a paper stating his name was Luki.  The older women called the District for advise, as she was not able to care for the boy. The social service person brought Luki to us.

Louise Midland from the UK and working in the president’s office at the time was on her weekend visit to Urukundo when Luki arrived. He reached out his arms to her and she lost her heart instantly. Louise asked at once could Luki be her little boy? I was delighted as finding a sponsor is not always easy.  Louise remained in Rwanda for three years and was a part of Luki’s development. She helped him learn to walk and speak English with the UK accent not the same as USA accent. Luki loves her and she loves him. He has Louise’s last name, Medland

When Luki was three years old, another three year old little boy arrived and he and Luki became best friends. Claude was the opposite of Luki in many ways. Luki was light and Claude was very dark skin toned. Luki is tall and thin. Claude is shorter and of stocky build.

Luki’s passion is Basketball and Claude’s is Foote Ball.  Luki is the serous one and loves science projects like the one he received from his mom, Louise.

Both excel in school and both work hard to be # 1 place in their grade.  The boys help each other with homework and sports.

Where you see Luki you see Claude.

Do opposites attract? In this case they do and it has been such a blessing for both boys.

Watching Luki grow I am sure he will be very tall and he is already very handsome.

Luki’s dream was to go to England to be part of Louise’s wedding celebration this year. That did not happen. Visas for children are hard to get in Rwanda.

Luki now has a complete family. His stone a gift from Peter & Louise says it plainly.

Prince and Soso are the half pints on luki’s team.

Coach Luki and little brothers Prince and Soso.  Luki is dedicated to Basketball.

Luki playing basketball here with friends on our field. In case you wondered Luki is not the tall one in the green shirt. That is Joe.

Luki today

Visitor In July

Our only long term visitor in July came from Texas

Alicia is a fifth grade teacher in Texas and so fit well in our school.

Alicia Warren Johnson

Her happy cheery smile was a blessing to all.

Alicia teaching the preschoolers Spanish. Now they will have four languages; English, French, Spanish and their mother tongue Kinyarwanda.  Awesome.

Alicia was a delight to have. It was difficult saying good-bye to some of her students. Others were in school. 

Development in Progress

It was necessary to remove ground to build a retaining wall at the area where the new class rooms were under construction. Where to put the dirt?  Now it made good sense and also saved us money and labor to use the dirt in a practical way.

The perfect place for the dirt was the soccer field. It was not level and the kids got scrapes and burses playing on that field. We had talked about digging down and leveling the field.  The question. Was it necessary to remove earth to level the field and make it safer?

Wouldn’t it be just as good to level and widen with the fill dirt removed from the school area. Yep, that is exactly what happened. We now have a great soccer field and in the pictures below you will see a great retaining wall at the construction area for 3 classrooms.

Site where the excess dirt and high bank had to be removed.

Dumped clean fill dirt on the field before leveling.

Rather than digging down to level we decided to use fill dirt from the school and level and widen up instead of down. Killing two birds with one stone. (Another of my dad’s sayings)    Lookin’ Good!

The back view where the dirt was removed and the retaining wall built

Big project

 

Showing where the old classroom connects with the new construction. Well not so old but previously constructed and in use.

Front view of new buildings.  Blue door is where the buildings connect.

Another big job.  There are 11 count the tails.

 

Homecoming

Welcome home Lilliane. We had a pleasant surprise when she picked up the guitar and played it very well.  Lilliane, Diescor and Tresor sang in worship with Lilliane on the guitar. It was wonderful.

It is so great having Tresor home although it is for a short time. He returns to Arizona State University in August for two more years. The kids were so happy to welcome both Tresor and Lilliane home. We would have been complete if Solange could have joined them. 

More Farm News

We were so blessed when a group from State College developed a project called, Fill the Coup.

One of our main sources of income is the chicken industry. We purchase one-day-old chicks (they are so cute) and raise them for 3 1/2 months.  In my youth, we called the babies, peeps. However like all baby animals and birds they do not stay 1 day old as they grow they do not stay cute.

Near Finished Project

Construction finished just a few more used bricks and we will have a Great walkway.  We now have 3 new baby calves. Only one in photo. Others visiting mothers for food.

Short-term visitors

Tom Gardner a Journalist from the Economist Group out of the UK came asking for an interview. It was interesting.  What he wanted to talk about is a sore subject in Rwanda. Discretion is the better part of valor. I do not do interviews well on delicate subjects.

Divine, our Kigali University ambassador surprises us with visitors. They come for a few hours and are introduced to Urukundo and the kid’s in Divine’s family.  

Martin (dad) and Mairie (daughter) Hutchison  were visitors from Scotland, UK.  We had a nice visit with them but much too short.

Mairie browsing through our 10-anniversary photo book.

 

Mama & Baby Outreach

 

Mama and baby Outreach needs hats please.

Thank you every one who pitched in and sent new born clothes when I sent out an appeal. We are so grateful for your love, caring and sharing.

1  of 17 precious babies born this month. 

Hours & Hours Spent

Egide and Claude are accomplished Lego builders.

This was not an easy accomplishment for these boys.

Until next time

Eight of Secondary kids home 2015-2016

4 missing

New current photo coming in August Newsletter

Bosco, Belise, Anitha, John Paul, Desere, Emmanuel, Esperance, Dada


In closing, I leave you with this thought:

The vulnerable children of Rwanda and the world.

Opportunity is what they need. Your love. Their lives, Our world, You can make a difference.

Your most appreciated gift can be sent to the address below or use the Donate button at the upper right- hand corner of the screen:

Hope Made Real
PO Box 3222
Williamsport, PA 17701

Much love,

Mama Arlene
Director 
Urukundo Foundation/Hope Made Real

Wednesday
Jul052017

Urukundo Essay by Sarah Smith

Love. Urukundo is the Kinyarwanda word meaning love. How incredibly fitting. This astonishing school and orphanage, decked with blue and white buildings, is the creation of Mama Arlene. Immediately, we were greeted oh so enthusiastically by all of the school kids. They were so excited to shake our hands and give us hugs and high fives. One of the classes even sang their days of the week song for us! We then were led on a tour of the expansive grounds – from the school classrooms to the kids’ sleeping quarters to the dentist office in the middle of a patient visit.

All the while, Jacob, a boy maybe 3 years old, held my hand and trudged along in his black rain boots through the whole tour. Eventually, I had to break away from the group to walk him to his lunch. The group made their way to Mama Arlene’s home where we got to talk to her for a while. She told us her story of how she came to live and love Rwanda. She found herself at the Christmas church service worrying about the meal she was hosting for 75 people later that evening, she said that she “was a very busy woman, but [she] wasn’t a satisfied one.” There is a verse from Ecclesiastes that begs the question, “God has given you breath, what are you doing with it?” So, she found herself praying to get her life on a more meaningful track and she warned us, “be real careful when you pray seriously to the Lord, he may send you to Africa.”

With her newfound mission, it is easy to say that God won by unlocking the potential of a phenomenal servant, but Mama Arlene said, “God didn’t win, I did.” Now, she has a Christmas that is not about presents and is not about Santa Claus. Urukundo does those things of course but the focus is on the birth of Jesus, because that’s what it is all about. She remarked, “It’s so great to celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ and not the birth of Santa Claus.”

Mama Arlene sees herself as “simply a Christian serving the Lord and doing [her] best to fulfill His mission.” She is carrying out this mission through operating Urukundo, a school for 465 children and a full-time home for 26. Urukundo is a safe haven for children that are without families. The pure love and care that surrounds them here is incredible. We asked Mama Arlene about adoption in Rwanda and she said international adoption isn’t allowed after Rwanda backed out of the Hague agreement due to believing that they lost too many children in the genocide. Adoption within the country is allowed but Mama Arlene said, “don’t you dare take one of my kids for someone here. When children are taken out of orphanages here, they are made to be servants and are abused as second-rate citizens.” Such a wonderful home has been fostered at Urukundo that a child whose mother was in jail but was soon to be released told Mama Arlene, “Mama, when my mother gets out of prison, I will visit her on holidays, but I’m going to stay at home with you.” Urukundo is home. Urukundo is love.

Posted with permission from author: Sarah Smith, student at Southern Methodist University