Thursday, 6 September 2012

Thank You Until Next Time

Last week in Rwanda... last week at EDD... last week with the boys… I am writing this sitting at the airport in Doha, waiting for my flight to London. I feel somewhat detached, as if I am in denial of what I have just experienced. It was a very emotional LAST week. The very thought of that word LAST makes me shiver. I did not want it to be the LAST week. I was not ready to leave.

I could see in the eyes of some of the boys that they were processing this information as well. I have discussed our departure with them many times and they all knew the time was nearing. Some of them started acting up out of the blue, others became quiet and withdrawn, others very affectionate. Many were asking questions throughout the week about the imminent departure, how many days we had left together, when Bret and I would come back to Rwanda, and so on. As my heart grew heavier and heavier, my feelings of guilt also increased exponentially that last week. I felt that I was abandoning the boys, that the timing was SO wrong, that we had made too much progress building solid relationships to simply up and leave. I had serious thoughts about extending our stay, but life on the other, Western, side was also running its course and it would not be easy to stop those wheels which were already set in motion.

Sadness was my shadow that week. It was overwhelming and exhausting. All of the days were filled to the brim with activities and things to sort out. Maybe this is why I had not completely fallen apart emotionally, because of the adrenaline, the rush of getting things done before our departure.

I cannot describe in words how hard it was to leave, but I had never imagined back in April that it would be THIS hard when the time came. We spent most of our time that last week at the centre, extending our days there until after dark. The library was the usual hub of activities and conversations. Many boys with whom I had not really spoken much before came by to chat. They wanted to thank me for everything I had done. I was taken aback by their kindness and honesty.

After last week's song competition and party, Bret was shooting two music videos of the winning groups, we had visitors arrive from England and there was a lot of excitement connected to football. One of the games involved Bret, and his team won when, as keeper, he blocked a penalty shot. Both teams crowded around and carried him off the pitch. It was a great goodbye match. Friday was also our last day with the staff. We prepared some small gifts and thank you cards for all staff members and shared lunch together, followed by some lovely pineapple. Everyone was extremely kind and sweet, and grateful for our work at the centre. We could not have wished for better hosts. I could feel my throat tighten as I was saying my thank yous. I am terrible with goodbyes. I absolutely despise them and have a terrible predisposition to crying like a little baby. Tears were shed and lips were trembling.

Around 3pm we were scheduled to meet with all of the boys in the dining hall to hand out our final gifts and say goodbye. Slowly but surely the boys gathered in the dining hall. We had planned a screening of all of the short videos Bret had made for our blog as they nicely document the many happy moments of our time at the centre. The boys and some staff watched them with attention, every now and then bursting with laughter. It was a happy sight yet I found myself standing slightly outside the main door, having to hold in the tears welling up in my eyes. Many deep breaths allowed me to stay semi-composed, but as I was looking at the many happy faces watching the videos I was feeling overwhelmed with sadness. Even recalling these moments now sitting on the floor of Doha airport makes me teary. I can imagine how a surrogate mother might feel giving up her baby, only I was giving up over a hundred of them!

After the screening, we gave out some sweets and, most importantly, each boy received a CD with all of the songs recorded by Bret for the Kigali Street Kidz album (FREE to download), produced by many of Bret's friends and mastered by Dave Clayton. This gift was met with much applause, especially due to the fact that each CD was in a sleeve with a fresh graphic by our designer friend A76! More on this in our last post.

When all the gifts were handed out, one of the ministers spoke on behalf of the boys to say thank you. We were very moved. Rwandans have a custom of rubbing their palms together and sending sunshine and happiness your way in a special gesture. They do not do it often, so when they did it for us I cried. I was sitting on one of the benches, amongst the boys who looked at me in amazement as my big tears fell on their little arms. They knew I was sad and they were telling me how sad they were. That did not help either. I really had to fight hard to keep myself together and not break into loud sobs.

My crying performance was far from over as many of the boys with whom we have bonded the most wanted to come up in front of everyone in the assembly to say their thank yous and express their thoughts. Some spoke in English, some in Kinyarwanda, and Charles, the social worker, kindly translated for us. These words meant the world to me and also made me see that despite any issues or doubts, our overall impact there was positive. Our stay and work was meaningful to these boys. They were sad to see us leave and told us specifically why we had mattered to them. It was lovely but also very emotional. We even had two older boys perform a cappella for us – our goodbye songs. I left Bret to say a few words as I simply could not speak.

Staff also came forward to thank us and we heard many warm and kind words. I was overjoyed to hear that they appreciated our contribution and enjoyed working with us, and that we had both learnt things from one another.

We then also gave out some prizes to about 30 boys who had worked the hardest in the library. The commotion helped to take my mind off things for a few minutes. Most prizes were for boys who diligently and without fail came to the library almost every day to draw. We gave out paints, colored pencils, coloring books, etc. There were also about ten disciplined boys who had been coming to the library to read and work on their English. They received dictionaries and notebooks.

I then received a note from one of my star pupils at the centre. He was helping me with the prizes and once we had finished and I closed the door, I sat down to read the note. He was standing next to me and I just could not hide my tears. It was very moving to read. I was so proud to read his lovely handwriting and clear English, not to mention all the kind words. I also read a card signed by the entire staff and filled with even more warmth and kindness, which inevitably made me cry more.

Luckily, the sun was setting and I was now able to hide my puffy eyes and tears in the greyish light of dusk. We sat and chatted with the boys in the library well after dark until we decided to head home. It was Bret's last time at EDD so many last hugs were exchanged. Once we got past the gate, I was crying like a fountain. We both cried some more on the bus ride home, while packing our bags and some more in the shower. It was a tough day. I felt physically exhausted and so very sad. I could not fall asleep for hours.

The next day, I returned to EDD despite my fears of yet another emotional rollercoster. The boys were happy to see me and it was great to see them. Thanks to Ian's sale of TOMS and his mum's help, we received some more underwear and I was able to give each boy a brand new pair of boxers. It was fun to be able to get that done. I then spent some time chatting with them and enjoying their company and slipped away before dusk, saying my second goodbye to just a few. It was again hard to leave, even harder because I knew that I would not be back the next day, or the one after that.

Sunday was hard. Neither Bret nor I had slept much the night before due to waves of anxiety and emotion. When I woke up and went onto the porch, the mountains were covered in thick fog. The sky was grey and it was raining slightly. Once again, it seemed, the weather appeared to reflect how I felt. I was sad. As I have said, sadness seemed to have become my inseparable companion this last week. I continued busying myself with chores and final tasks. Willy arrived at the house soon after, unusually quiet and withdrawn. I tried to put on a happy face and make a few jokes but we all knew the inevitable departure time was in sight. We also had to say goodbye to Sangeetha, the centre's accountant, who has become, along with her husband and sons, a good friend. That goodbye was also not without tears.

Rafiki and his wife drove us to the airport where some more members of staff and two boys surprised us by arriving to see us off. I was hungrily looking at the mountains before walking up the stairs to the plane, as if I wanted to remember every detail forever.

Sitting on the plane and seeing familiar streets and buildings grow smaller and smaller as we flew away from our home for almost five months felt very bizarre. I had grown so attached to the place in this short space of time. We had become a part of a community, meeting people we knew on the street and exchanging greetings and smiles. Rwanda is a special place and it will be hard to be back in the much more impersonal world of London. I cannot imagine how this transition will unfold. All I know is that I feel a great void and a slight dizziness sitting at Doha now, as if someone has taken a part of me away.

Throughout this adventure we had support from our friends and family back in the Western world. They followed our blog and sent us messages of encouragement, which may have seemed like nothing to them, but to us this was huge. It helped us to stay strong and focused on our mission knowing that people elsewhere cared about us and were being inspired by what we were trying to accomplish.

So many people have donated and made it possible for us to complete various projects in Rwanda, one of the last and largest was acquiring lockers for the boys. Our friends Dave and Kate came through big time in the home stretch, so thank you all so much for that! In total, we ordered 42 lockers at a local cooperative. They were made from scrap metal, which was reclaimed and hammered into sheets. Here is a short video showing the locker production. Bret is always excited to see how many tasks which would normally be done by complex machines in the West, are carried out by hand here in Africa.

The lockers were intended for the new upper floor dorm and were going to provide each boy with their own personal space (at the moment most boys share lockers 2 to 1). However, after careful inspection we have decided that the space is too limited in the upper floor dorm to keep the lock-boxes between beds. The boxes will instead be given to boys who each year go to secondary school (this year it is 12 boys), and will allow them to keep their belongings safe (they usually leave the centre and go to boarding schools in various parts of Rwanda). Rafiki, the centre's manager, suggested that the money the centre would have to spend on buying these lock-boxes could be used to have some locked cabinets built on the second floor. So, it is a winning situation for all.

We would also like to say an official thank you to family, friends and colleagues who have donated to us and therefore made a donation to the boys and the centre. Your donations made our various projects possible, including purchasing shoes, lockers, producing CDs and most importantly – donating around $1650 in cash directly to the centre's account, which shall be used to provide education, healthcare and food for the boys.

We would like to thank the following people for their monetary contributions:

• Dave Warner aka Serval for his most generous support and backing throughout the project
• Misan Begho for his 'save the day' donation
• Dorota's colleagues from Darling Associates in London for all donations (including the one from the directors)
• Shirley and Steve Syfert for wonderfully supporting our project
• Steve and Danielle Davis for their amazing contribution
• DJ Floskel
• Rachele Agnusdei
• Kate Scanlan
• Marcin Piatek and Anna Bauer
• Aaron Grill
• James Stride
• Iris Godding
• Gianluca Galetti
• Anoushka Isaac
• Piotr Doszna
• Krystian Godlewski
• Ti Nghiem
• Lisa Sweeney
• Sarah Thelwall
• Kristy Gosling and Barry Woods
• Barry Gibb
• Sam Elliot

We would also like to thank our friend Malcolm Chivers for taking care of our little flat in London and making it possible for us to have a home to come back to (and a well-kept one too!). Major thanks are also due to our landlord, Roland, who has been most supportive of our venture.

Bret has already written a post about all of his amazing and inspiring musician, producer and designer friends who contributed their time and talent in order to make the Kigali Street Kidz album happen. Here is to them again!

Many of our friends, family and even complete strangers have shown us incredible support and encouragement before our journey commenced as well as throughout our adventure. Many words of kindness and genuine appreciation have helped us to keep on going. We are grateful for all the support given to us and faith shown in our venture. We hope that following our blog has opened a window onto life in another part of the world and inspired people to make positive changes in their own communities. One final note is that we want to return to Rwanda some day to continue this work. We have left many friends there, who are now a part of our life and our community, so the work must continue.


  1. Thank you so much for all your work there, we followed with envy and suspense every step you took on your mission, and this made us feel part of the project, spreading sense to our lives at the same time than in yours.

    Thanks for the beautiful words and amazing colors.