The Center is keeping me busy as always. Jenny has begun working with us as well. She's assisting with our development of a program to graduate many of our older boys as well as reintegrating many of the other boys with their families. It's a pretty mammoth task that I'm not looking forward it, although it's something that needs to be done for the sake of our own financial survival. Unfortunately our organization is on fiscal life support (hint hint, nudge nudge). Because of this we've had to reluctantly decide to cease the funding of tuition for the boys who have the poorest performance in secondary school and attempt to reunite them with their families or integrate them into society. The major dilemma with such a plan is that the very reason these boys went from the streets to our Center is that their families either abandoned them, were too poor to care for them or they died. In the vast majority of cases the family situation has not changed, so we could be sending some of these children back to the very situation that forced them to live on the streets. It's a horrible conundrum to be in, but sadly it's a choice we've been forced to make on account of our budget. If we run out of funding we won't be able to help any children at all. I know that the economy is bad but I just wish more people would contribute to our cause. It sounds cliché but just five or ten dollars a month, or slightly more, would make such a difference to us. If every person I knew passed on buying one magazine, one Value Meal or any other frivolous thing each month and instead sent that money where it would provide a child with hope for his future, well it would make a huge impact on what we're trying to do here. I wish more people understood that and would find it in their hearts to make that small sacrifice to make a big difference. One can hope.
Anyway, Jenny has also done a couple of art projects with our younger boys. The first was an attempt to teach the boys how to make sock puppets. She had brought some socks that her dad had given her before she came back to Rwanda and bought some craft supplies to go along with them. At first the boys had no idea what she was doing, but they quickly caught on. By the end each boy had their very own puppet (remember, anything they can call their own is a big deal) and a big smile to go along with it. It was pretty obvious that she grew on them pretty quickly.
Last week she brought some paper plates, string and other stuff to the Center to make masks with the boys. All of the young boys were outside sitting on the grass when I approached them and told them to go see Jenny. They looked at me with confusion, so I pointed to the library and said "Jenny. Go to Jenny." A few of them stood up and shouted "Jenny! Jenny" and before you knew it about 25 of them were sprinting to her. It was hilarious. There were so many who wanted to participate that we had to move to the dining hall so they had enough room to work. I don't know how she did it, but she was able to maintain enough order to instruct them. In the end I ended up making a mask of my own – definitely the poorest of them all – and then helped the smaller boys with theirs. It was great fun.
That same day was exciting for another reason. You may remember that back in July we had a big party at the Center to celebrate all of the hard work and progress we have made this year. One of the attendees was a manager for a very large Kenyan company called Davis and Shirtliff, and his wife. They arrived before the event began and we gave them a thorough tour and explanation of our project. His wife committed to assisting us with our cultivation project (growing our own fruits and vegetables) and finding funding to construct a new kitchen for our Center. The manager, Richard, upon seeing the condition of the boys' mattresses, pledged to get his company involved with our project and to provide new mattresses for them. Of course this news was exciting, but we've had several individuals and businesses promise to help us in the past and never follow through, so we always take such commitments with a grain of salt. Well last week the accountant from Davis and Shirtliff contacted Celestin, our director, and told him that he had a check for our new mattresses. We were thrilled!
In the middle of the week Celestin and Tom, our accountant, purchased the new mattresses and had them transported to the Center. On Friday two representatives from Davis and Shirtliff visited the Center to witness the boys receiving their new beds. Unfortunately Richard, the man who provided the gift, was away in Nairobi and couldn't attend. I gave a short speech thanking the company for their generous contribution followed by a few words from some of our children. Then we began handing out the mattresses. You'd think it was Christmas morning judging from the size of the smiles and the enthusiasm, all over mattresses. You see these boys haven't received new mattresses in well over a year. The ones they were using were flattened, ripped and odorous. Then there was the scourge of the bed bugs. So having new, clean, soft and insect-free beds was worthy of celebration. When I entered the dorm for the younger boys they were laughing and jumping on their new beds in jubilation. The older children were no exception.
(I had to try one out for myself)
It's day like that that really put things in perspective. Jenny and I both experienced it. I remember thinking, while I was watching the joy with which the children received their mattresses, would such a thing even excite an American child in the slightest? I highly doubt it. I'm sure an such an event would inspire nothing more than general apathy. "Oh boy, a new mattress. Whooptie-doo" would probably be the prevailing opinion.
After leaving the dorm Jenny and I met up in the office. She was obviously a bit distraught. She told me that she was sitting with one of our younger boys, Samuel. Samuel is extremely quiet and shy, yet is always the first to offer to help anyone. Jen feels a bit worried about his isolated nature and has taken him under her wing. She told me that she saw his bag of possessions, a little dirty gym bag which held everything he owned. With tears in her eyes she expressed how sad it made her seeing that everything this little boy owned – everything that he could claim to have in this world – fit inside this little gym bag, with room to spare. It's a more than a hard pill to swallow. It is a jagged shard of glass.
I think sums up things for now. I'll leave with some other photos from around the Center and elsewhere. Enjoy!