Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Tom Allen, B2R Country Director, once said, "The village is as poor as it is beautiful." It's difficult to understand this statement without seeing the village with your own eyes. Until you have the chance to visit Rwanda, let me try to paint a mental picture for you:

To get to the village, you leave Musanze and drive about 20 minutes. You turn right onto a dirt road. You follow the dirt road for about 15 minutes as children run behind your car screaming, "Mzungu, mzungu!"

Our part of the village is at the very top of the road, near Mwiko Primary School. As soon as you reach a certain part of the road you don't hear "Mzungu, mzungu" anymore you hear, "Betsy! Betsy!" That's when you know you have reached the village. You are not some foreigner in this remote area in the middle of Africa. You are a friend, a loved one, a family member.

The view in the village is breathtaking. I can't put words to it and pictures really do not do it the justice it deserves. Imagine the most beautiful mountain top you have been on. Look down the mountain and you will see women in their brightly colored kangas working in their crops of beans, bananas, or potatoes. The land is blanketed with patches of various shades of green. During the rainy season, it is like a patchwork quilt God has placed to cover His land.

The next thing that catches your eye is Lake Burera. The lake is large and hosts three islands, one of which I have visited. The view is remarkable. You look straight ahead and see mountains continuing as far as you can see.

The houses are made of clay, wood and dirt. The water in the village is not clean. The village just got electricity about a year ago but that doesn't mean they all use it. Our friends who live in the village will eat meat maybe once a year. They will walk everywhere they need to go.

The beauty doesn't just lie in the landscape. The first smiling face you see catches your heart and doesn't let go. The child is most likely wearing his or her school uniform. It might be only one of two outfits they own. Their shoes will will be old and worn out from all the walking they do.

Everything about the kids might seem dirty on the outside, but on the inside these children are white as snow. Their hearts are kind and pure. They lead a simple life and dream of doing great things. Education is their top priority. They put their faith in God and read their Bible every day.

As word spreads that you are visiting, more familiar, smiling faces begin to arrive. The first face I look for is Didier. He is 7 years old and goes to Sonrise Primary School. He is sponsored by my family and was in my P1 class last year. When he sees me, his face lights up almost as much as mine does.

Two weeks ago was my last visit to Musanze and the village (for a while...I'll be back!!!) I pulled Didier to the side and told him how proud I am of him. He showed me his report card from school-he had great marks!

I explained that I am about to move back to America to go back to school. I gave him a small gold coin with an angel on it and told him that even though I won't be in Rwanda, I will be his angel and always pray for him.

I told him to continue to do very good in school and to pray every day. I gave him a big hug and I felt tear drops on my arm. Sweet Didier was crying. His older brother told me that "he has produced tears because you are leaving." My heart was hurting.

I gave one last hug to Didier and the rest of the kids before I had to leave. With a heavy heart, I drove down the mountain and away from beauty that is much more important on the inside than it is on the outside. I glanced back once more and I thought to myself, "This isn't goodbye. I'll be back."

"There are no goodbyes, wherever you'll be, you'll be in my heart." -Ghandi

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Home of Hope

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. -Mother Teresa

I was recently asked the question: if I could have dinner with any three people, who would they be? The first woman who came to mind was Mother Teresa. It was obvious. She has always been such a fascinating person to me. That response holds much more meaning after my morning at Mother Teresa's Home of Hope Orphanage in Kigali.

I first heard about Home of Hope when I met Gloria, a five year old girl in my P1 class at Sonrise. Gloria spent the first four years of her life in Home of Hope being cared for by nuns-the only family she knew. Shortly after her birth, she lost her parents to HIV. Gloria is also infected. Two years ago, she was taken in by her brother, a friend of ours, who had just found out about his little sister. God has brought this little girl the family she never expected.

My amazing friends, Brett and Keli Shreck, adopted their two boys from Home of Hope. The boys are Nicholas and Benjamin and I have to say, I just adore these kids! When they were adopted, Nicholas was 5 months and Benjamin was 17 months. Now, Nicholas is 4 years old and Benjamin is 5 years old. Today, Keli and I were wondering if Gloria and Benjamin may have been there at the same time as babies. Check out their blog:

Keli and Jamie, my roommate, go every Wednesday morning to love on the sweet little angels at Home of Hope. They usually work with the children in the special needs area. I have heard so many beautiful stories from Jamie about these precious kiddos. I was so excited to meet them for myself!

As I walked in the orphanage I noticed that a few of the "aunties" were outside cleaning about two dozen baby cribs. A few kids were helping out with the cleaning while enjoying the sunshine. We went into the special needs room and my heart was immediately filled with passion and love. There were about a dozen children under the age of 8 and soon more, older kids joined us outside. I met a sweet new friend who could not talk or walk: his feet and hands were clubbed. I picked him up and held his hands as he walked around the room. He was beaming with joy and pride! We took the kids outside and played with some bouncy balls and on a merry-go-round piece of equipment. They had a blast while we pushed them around and around for about 30 minutes. We clapped and sang a lot songs: If You're Happy and You Know It, Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, and Imana Nziza. One boy who was about 12 years old kept singing Jesus Loves Me and I couldn't help but smile at the words coming out of his sweet mouth. Right before we left, I took a little boy who was sitting in the wheelchair outside and wheeled him around. His name was Dameon and he was smiling and so happy as we walked along the sidewalk. I fed him a few bites of a biscuit before it was time to leave. As we were leaving, I was talking to one of the nuns. I asked her if there is a special needs school in Rwanda. There is a school for the deaf and a school for the blind but not one specifically for special needs. She said some brothers who come and work the children three times a week have been thinking about starting a school for special needs in Rwanda. It is needed.

This afternoon I have been thinking a lot about those kids. My mind kept going back to high school when I was involved in Partners Club, an organization that worked with special needs kids in the Fort Smith area. Dianne Baer, former special ed teacher, was there in the beginning when God planted the seed to help children. I have learned so much about loving individuals as they are and that every child, young or old, deserves to be loved.

Each one of them is Jesus in disguise. -Mother Teresa

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Kids, Caves, Dancers and.....GORILLAS!

It's been a few weeks since I have updated, sorry! Here are some shots of some sweet kids at Gisimba Orphanage, my school, our girls weekend in Musanze and THE GORILLAS!!!!

Milk carton car with bottle cap clever.
Hopscotch in the dirt at Gisimba Orphanage and Nursery School.
My new best friend learning to drive my car. Love this kid!

My kids made me this one day when I wasn't at school. I'm going to miss my First Impressions little ones so much!
New student, Mark! He did great reading to the kids and walking in a line.

Rwandan dancers at Virunga Lodge
Anna, Hadley, Emily, Frances and I went through the Musanze caves. Totally dark and lots of bat poo!
One of my favs-Lake Ruhondo


Emily and I went together to see the gorillas on Sunday October 16. We got to the park office at 7:00 am and were appointed to a group with a guide named Felecia. Then we had to drive 30 more minutes to the base of Mt. Bisoke. We parked in a village area and hired porters to carry our backpacks for 5,000 francs (about ten dollars). Our guide handed out our walking sticks and we started climbing up the mountain. We followed a path to get us to the park entrance then our guide told us that the trackers said that the gorillas we were trekking were coming down to meet us! About ten minutes before we got to the gorillas, we left our backpacks, water and everything with the porters and started the hike to see the gorillas. We spotted the Silverback first climbing on the park wall. We followed him over the wall and found the rest of the group. Our guide taught us how to welcome them in gorilla talk so of course Emily and I are now experts at communicating with gorillas! The guide and trackers tell you that you have to be 7 meters away from the gorillas but at one point I was about 3 feet away. The gorillas had just eaten their breakfast and were taking a mid morning rest. We got to spend exactly one hour with them before we headed back down the mountain.
Seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat was so breathtaking. It's certainly an experience I will never forget!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Make your own colored pasta!

And that's exactly what we did today! I found this idea on Pinterest and it was a perfect way to transition into our new sensory tub. Every child got one zip lock bag and I added some dry pasta, a few squirts of hand sanitizer with alcohol and the food coloring of their choice. Then we shook it all up and squished it all around! Once the noodles were colored, we let them dry in the sun. We added them to our sensory tub and each child got to take some of their colored pasta home.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Magic Wands

I have a class full of little girls who love to pretend they are princesses! I read Cinderella every day for a week and I think I can recite the entire book by memory now. I got the idea to make magic wands one day when we were outside reading Cinderella. When I read about the Fairy Godmother, I picked up a stick to use as the magic wand. The girls went crazy! They loved it. Last week we made our very own magic wands. Even the two boys in the class loved it (but they quickly turned theirs into swords)! We went outside and picked up sticks off the ground, painted them, added glitter and wrapped pipe cleaner around them. It was a hit!

Our new school sign!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Week 2 of the new year

First day of Interactive Writing.

Behavior apples and worms.


Keza at the block center.
Sensory tub. Using clothespins to pick up puffy balls and organize them by color.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to school!

Welcome to First Impressions!

Awesome tree made from fabric and little birds Jamie left in Rwanda.
Zebra painting made from elephant poop.

Parents board.
Reading tent in the 3 year old class.

Fabric scraps!

The book nook!

Yesterday was the first day of school. Onawa and I spent hours upon hours over the weekend fixing up the school. We organized, decorated and crafted like crazy! We are so proud of our work and parents and kids certainly noticed today. It's amazing what you can do with African fabric, a hammer and nails, glue and cardboard boxes! We are so excited for this new year and we have tons of sweet new students starting at the Preschool.