The Rwandan Orphans Project has never had much to call our own. In the early days the Center was nothing more than a half-built, abandoned warehouse in Kigali’s dingy industrial district where hundreds of street kids came in search of food and a place to sleep. Fast forward to the present and the ROP Center occupies what was once a boarding school that sits on a large piece of land in a peaceful area called Nyarugunga. As wonderful as our current home is, it doesn’t belong to us. We only use it thanks to the generosity of a wealthy Rwandan couple who own the property and allow us to use it rent free.
The dream of all of us at the ROP has always been to have our own purpose built center on our own land. For years that was nothing more than a pipe dream, as our greatest priority was, and remains (we are facing tough times now more than ever) raising enough money to continue providing the care, education and other needs of our nearly 100 boys. To be frank, we put the dream of even owning our own land in the back of our minds; hopeful but not very optimistic about it happening anytime soon.
That all changed after a visit from a group of Australians back in July. Jenny and I were on holiday in Bujumbura, Burundi, but Jenny cut her vacation short, taking a six hour bus ride alone back to Kigali in order to meet this group. Jenny had been in touch with one of the group before their visit, who was keen to see the center, and particularly our quilting project. The day they came Jen gave them a tour and explained our project and what our goals were. They had kindly bought some quilt batting with them from Australia to help our project, along with some gifts for the boys. They all seemed very enthusiastic about our work and they spent a couple of hours with our boys. One of them even bought one of our quilts.
Not too long after their visit one of the members of the group, Tony, contacted Jenny and informed her that he and his wife Carol wanted to help the ROP to buy our own land. We were pleasantly shocked at the offer and told him we already had a plot in mind. In fact just a few weeks earlier we had been told about some land that was for sale in our own neighborhood. This land was being sold by a local family at a very low price considering its size and location. Tony asked us about the price and within days he had made a donation to cover the full cost of it. All of us at the ROP were thrilled. For the first time in our existence we would OWN something. As an organization we have been making great strides for some time now, but having our own land would be a giant step forward for the ROP.
A couple of weeks later, after making the final negotiations, Celestin, Tom, Jean de Dieu and I met with the owners of the land at their small house, next to what would soon be our land. Relatives and neighbors of the family were in attendance and we all sat together on old couches that they had brought out from their homes. It had the feel of a small ceremony rather than that of a business transaction. We filled out and signed the necessary documents and handed them the check for the land. I was sitting calmly but inside I was bursting with joy. The owner of the land then made a short speech thanking us for taking the time to make this deal with his family. As the ROP representative I also wanted to say a few words. I thanked the family for their patience during this long process and added that, “For many years this family has used this land to raise strong, healthy crops. I have no doubt that in the future this land will allow us to raise strong, healthy Rwandan children.” We stood together for one final photo. Now, officially, the ROP was the rightful owners to this beautiful plot.
The land itself could hardly be more suitable for us. It sits on a gently sloping hillside, with a road at the top and a river at the bottom.
The river is significant because it gives us the ability to build greenhouses that would allow us grow crops year-round to sell at the market. This could potentially be the ROP’s first income generating project, and could help the ROP get on the track to self-sustainability. Of course we can’t afford this, or any other construction at the moment, but now that one dream has been realized we can move on to grander ideas.
So here it is, OUR land, in all its grandeur.