This post was written by Justin Vollmer, Director of Sales & Marketing.
Among the many reasons for making taking this trip to Rwanda, one reason stands out above the rest – the opportunity to meet our sponsored children. Sponsoring children through Africa New Life is an incredible opportunity to ensure a proper education for children in Africa. Many of these children would not have the chance to attend school because of the costs associated with an education. Today, after almost 4 years of sponsoring, I had the opportunity to meet Nyowita Valentine of Kageyo, Rwanda along with 4 other sponsored children from my colleagues, Clare Connally, Chilee Navarro, Sarah Weiner, and James Wilson.
After a great breakfast at the Iris Guest House, we began our journey from Kigali, Rwanda. We left by bus and headed out to Kageyo, first stopping at Kayonza. In Kayonza, we were able to tour the original Africa New Life facility and see the boy’s dormitory that was funded by Aspen Heights. The campus was beautiful and we later learned that because of testing scores from the students, the Africa New Life school now has the reputation as one of the best primary and secondary schools in the nation. We were all quite proud to know that several of our sponsored children were able to attend this school because of the donations and sacrifice we were making.
We then loaded up food supplies and picked up two sponsored children, sponsored by Chillee Navarro and Sarah Weiner respectively. They were adorable children, dressed to the max and holding smiles that seemed to never end. The smiles were overpowering from their shyness and cautious approach to meeting their sponsors for the first time. With the children on the bus, we headed to their homes in the surrounding villages. We then met each child’s family at their home and had to opportunity to introduce ourselves, ask questions and pray together. The home visits are emotionally powerful and joyful. The appreciation for our efforts is made astounding clear from the students and their families, not by their verbal thanks, but by their smiles and prayers.
After Kayonza, we headed another hour west to Kageyo to meet my sponsored child, Valentine, and two other sponsored children. The journey was long, mostly on dirt roads through small villages. As our bus travelled through the villages, the children would run to the road, shouting, “Muzungu, Muzungu, Muzungu” (loosely translated as “foreigner”). Many times, the kids were so excited that they would chase the bus and give us “high fives” through the windows. After about an hour and half travels, we arrived at The Africa New Life facility and the staff spent extra time with us here, giving us tours and information on the Africa New Life program. They made it clear how much time, effort and scrutiny goes into their program to ensure effectiveness of their program on every level. As a sponsor, this makes you feel extra good, knowing how much impact your sponsorship can have. Just as in Kayonza, we loaded up food and picked up our sponsored children.
For me, I finally got to meet Nyowita Valentine. She was standing along by the church and I immediately recognized her from the pictures through correspondence over the last 4 years. She had a very pretty dress on and a shy smile, just revealing her teeth. The other two sponsored children were sponsored by Clare Connally and James Wilson. Both Clare and James were visiting their children for the second and third times. We loaded up and visited each sponsored child’s home and family.
It was truly an emotional time for me to visit Nyowita’s home and family. She had 4 siblings, a mother and father. They expressed their gratitude and talked about how proud they were of Nyowita in school. Since Nyowita’s birthday was just one week before my visit, I brought many birthday presents, purchased and prepared by my own family back home. She was quite happy for all of the toys, clothes and other presents.
Wrapping up the house visits and delivering the food, we loaded back up on the bus for the 2 ½ hour ride back to Kigali. During the bus ride home, we all reflected on the highlights of the day, from Jack Lawlor’s fall in the mud while playing “street soccer” with the kids in Kayonza to Desmond Shotwell giving out food and drinks like Santa Claus, we had an amazing, unforgettable day.
The most interesting part of the trip is that, before it was even over, the entire crew has been talking about “the next time” they visit and how they can do more. As cliché as it sounds, life changing is truly what this day and this visit has done to nearly all of us.
Signing off – Justin Vollmer
Check out Aspen Heights Awake to learn more about our humanitarian & non-profit initiatives.