Bret and I got a little contemplative last week. However, we kept our energy levels high and it has not stopped us from ploughing right through this week.
Keeping our hopes high but expectations low, we opened the library on Monday. We had to split up the boys into two main groups. The younger ones, who are schooled on site, were to be introduced to the library on Monday, and the older ones, who go to school in the area, on Tuesday. The younger boys were accompanied by one of the teachers, Alphonsine, who helped us explain the library rules to the boys in Kinyarwanda.
The boys were overall very attentive (apart from the few usual suspects) and had many good questions to ask. The library rules are a bit of an experiment and we soon found out that putting theory to practice is a whole different ball game. The following day it was raining a lot and the older boys were at school, so the younger boys came in to actually USE the library. Admittedly, it was quite challenging. Everything was new and exciting for them. The games in particular were going out of the cupboard like hot cakes.
We struggled to keep up with signing all of the items in and out in our logbook. Apart from the gamers who wanted to open each game just to have a look, there were also artists – quiet and contemplative – who sat around one table colouring and happily sharing pencils and crayons.
We also had readers, who perused many of the wonderful books (or just looked at the pictures). The older boys actually did read, and it was a joy to hear some of them reciting passages from fiction and even asking questions about what certain words meant. Finally, we had two or three painters who, next to our seasoned artist Rene, were getting to grips with using watercolours. After 45 minutes or so we had more boys lining up outside wanting to get in and we realised that some boys had to leave first as we were already way over our manageable capacity. It was not easy to explain all this to the boys waiting outside and eventually we did ask a few boys who had tried almost every game in the cupboard to leave the library, so that more boys could come in. Despite all the chaos and a few tears, the boys were so happy to be in the library. For the most part, they were mindful of the rules and reminded others of them too. It filled our hearts with joy to see them try new things and be as curious as children their age should be.
The library opening was not the only new event this week. One of the old buildings on site, which at one time was the ONLY building, had to be demolished. A crew of a few guys with hammers pounded away for a couple of days and finally managed to knock the whole thing down using just hand tools. We were again amazed at the Rwandan ingenuity – finding ways to just DO things without complaining about improper equipment, safety measures, etc. While watching, we had to run away from a huge cloud of dust when the main wall of the structure came down.
The old building coming down seemed to release some kind of magic as the rest of the week was filled with more new developments. After everyone had been introduced to the library, we shifted our attention back to the storeroom as there were still many unpacked donations to sort out there. We were working through them when on Thursday something very exciting happened. The new mattresses arrived! Here's the backstory:
There are currently 108 boys living at the centre. Up until now most of them had to sleep two to a bed. A while ago funds were secured to build a second floor above the current dormitory and that work was completed. Beds were also purchased. The final element of the puzzle, the mattresses, took a long time to materialise even though they had been paid for by generous donors as well as straight from the pocket of Faraz (the centre's owner). When I saw Jean-Baptiste's truck drive in loaded with brightly-striped Rwanda Foam mattresses, I was jumping for joy. The ministers who represent the boys had to decide which boys would move where, and they decided that younger boys would remain downstairs and older ones would move up. Suddenly, we had 53 new beds to set up! We started rummaging in the storeroom, counting all of the donated sheets and blankets to see if there would be enough. Luckily, we had enough bedding to provide a top sheet, a bottom sheet and a blanket for each of the beds. Charles, the social worker, and some boys worked on Friday evening to put these on the beds, so when we arrived on Saturday and went into the top floor dorm, it was a magnificent view. Beautiful, colourful, clean beds were ready for the boys.
There was a very special witness to this bedroom rainbow – Faraz. He is the man behind the centre. He is the grandson of the Sulfo founder, who started the centre 10 years ago (and founded Sulfo 50 years ago). Faraz made a brief visit to the centre from his home in Kenya to check in with the PM, staff, children and ourselves to see how everything is progressing. We had a lovely lunch with him and his grandparents at their house in Kigali. The Indian food served was magnificent, al fresco dining delightful and company exquisite. Faraz's grandmother is turning 80 this year but I would only ever suggest that she is 60! She is a marvelous lady and her husband is a very sweet man. It was a great pleasure and honour to meet them. They have not been to see the centre in a while as they share their time between Kigali and Nairobi, and they decided to drop by on Sunday. It was lovely for some of the boys to see the man responsible for setting up the centre. Faraz's grandfather is a living legend in Kigali, and it was wonderful to see he still shows so much love to street children.
We had some interesting conversations with Faraz regarding our plans and work to be done. He is full of great ideas (including getting rid of the rabbits within a month!!!!!!!!!), and we are looking forward to working closely with him. He had to leave the centre this afternoon to return to Nairobi, but we still had plenty of work head of us.
Because we had 12 new mattresses left over, we decided to take a peak in the downstairs dorm as we heard that some of the mattresses used by boys there are very old. Indeed, some were in very poor condition. We changed the worst ones, but it was not easy to do with boys peering through the windows with hopeful gazes, wishing that they might be one of the lucky recipients.
There are around 50 beds downstairs, so with only 12 new mattresses left, we had to come up with a plan. We decided to use donated duvet covers to cover the old mattresses (most boys have been sleeping without any sheets, directly on uncovered foam mattress). We soon realised that four of us (Bret, myself, Charles and one of the boys) would need reinforcements. Pulling mattresses off beds, trying to squeeze them into duvet covers and hoisting the monsters back on was not an easy job. We grabbed some eager ministers, and three hours later all of the mattresses had been covered with new sheets. We made sure each bed had a blanket, the floor was swept and any unidentified 'junk' was thrown out (including many useless old mosquito nets which were full of holes and smelt terrible). It was around 5pm, so we decided to head home having survived the whole day on two slices of toast. We left with a sense of accomplishment and wished the boys a good night's sleep in their new or refurbished beds. They were happy and buzzing with excitement.
Oh, and that's not all... on Friday, a welder arrived. For a while now we had been trying to arrange for someone to cut off the old broken basketball rims and install the brand new ones donated from the US. We could not believe our own eyes when we saw the baskets going up on Friday. Boys immediately flocked to the court and started playing.
We decided to let the boys use some of the outdoor toys we had just received – rollerblades and a couple of cool, sturdy metal scooters. They went completely crazy and we just could not ask for the stuff back when leaving for the day, so we left it all out with the boys under one of the staff's supervision. When we arrived on Saturday and Sunday, the boys were still playing with these outdoor goodies and shooting hoops, and Charles has moved them permanently out of the storeroom so that the boys have daily access. It was really great to see them having fun, sharing and taking turns. Here's a little video of the action with music from Beyondo's new album, Siren Silence.