Dear Friends of Gashora.
It is time again to send you a brief update on what is happening these days in Gashora. There are so many wonderful things I want to tell you about. But lets start with the biggest news.
Rwanda is presently reflecting on the 1994 genocide. Commemorations of Kwibuka 27 startet, like each year, on April 7th and will continue for the next 100 days. Kwibuka means to remember. And the motto is "remember-unite-renew”. As well as being an occasion for remembering the victims, every Kwibuka commemoration serves as a continued warning to humanity to ensure that the atrocities committed are not forgotten and never to be repeated.
With Covid restrictions still in place many celebrations where once again held online.
Our team in Gashora quietly reflected on the past and how to best move forward to a united Rwanda, but more pressingly on means and ways to support victims, observers and those involved to heal old pain and memories. The introduction of music ( musicians without Boarders) and art programs ( Icyrebe Gallery ) will soon play a bigger role in this healing process.
Being able to finally open the new Preschool, after the last lockdown was lifted, is certainly a wonderful way to look to a bright future.
Even though these lockdowns have put a strain on the JHA food bank, it is thanks to donations from local businesses and the loving support from the Friends of Gashora and other involved organizations, that JHA managed to continue its support for those who needed it the most.
The new Preschool opened its doors to 150 excited little students at the end of April. The 6 new caregivers are ready to get started. They have been selected from AIESEC International, a volunteer placement organization. 4 caregivers are from Ghana, 2 are from Rwanda.
We want to take this opportunity to say thank you to our selfless and loving caregivers Kevine and Salaama who have been awarded scholarships to Rwandan Universities. We wish you all the best in this next step. Without your hard work and support for the weavers and the children, your loving care as house mothers and your tireless participation in any team event, we could not have accomplished all we have during this past year. Salaama will commute between Kigali and Gashora and continue to work with the weavers to ensure that our orders are completed to our satisfaction and shipped on time. For this I am especially grateful!
Here are the new kitchen gardens on the school grounds. Thank you to all who have provided funds for the Peter Bell Memorial Garden. He continues to work miraculous in soil !
With delay after delay due to Covid, the new playground in its new fenced in area also has finally been opened and the children love to hang out there jump on and over the tires and have leap frog races. Thank you to the generous family that made this possible.
The "old" preschool is continuing to welcome 120 children every day. Feeding them porridge at breakfast as well as our home grown eggs. Now that Victoria has arrived there is also plenty of milk to go around. We hope that the children will quickly gain back the weight loss suffered during the pandemic.
The most Moooo - ving event of the month is the arrival of our cow. Please meet Victoria!
"Our vet doctor Mr Vedaste is the one who shared the lessons with the children"
"It is very important to note that milk in our country is cultural but also it is very nutritious, hence a BIG reason as to why I believe the life of our children is going to improve gradually"
"Sending love to All our friends of Gashora that have made our children smile much bigger and also for them to unlock their boundless potentials"
"Victoria blesses our children and now nutrition is becoming our top most priority. Because child cant study when they have not eaten well"
Victoria has been such a great success that JHA decided to invest in a second cow, Wisconsin. ( after our US partner team "The Friends of Journey House Africa ) Now there will be enough milk for all the children in both schools as well as for all the beneficiaries that live at the JHA house. As part of the job creation program, our plan is to teach a group of single moms how to make soft cheese on our next visit.
And some more exciting news! We just found out that Victoria is in heat. Hopefully we will soon have a sweet little calf.
A donation of $1000.00 has recently been transferred to JHA for the purchase of more chickens. Between the "chicks of Gashora" , Victoria and Wisconsin, plus all the wonderful veggies from the school gardens and the farm, our children are now receiving a balanced diet. During days of celebration, there is even some goat meat on the menu!
You may remember that I mentioned the creation of a sewing workshop. We have more exciting news. 10 treadle sewing machines have been delivered and are being assembled. Classes for 20 young women are to begin within the next two weeks.
The Friends of Gashora have grown considerably since I last wrote. JHA is always reaching out to other organizations and is in the process of forming a partnership with Partnerships HRDO https://hrdosite.wordpress.com/ . An organization based in Kigali that also focuses on early childhood education and nutritional needs of the young children.
We also sold the entire shipment that arrived at the beginning of April (380 baskets). Our "Oak Bay neighbourhood arts and craft sale and fundraiser" was a huge succest,thus adding many happy FRoGs. And though was our online Mother’s Day Floral Design class, which raised $600.00.
We also added a group of dedicated knitters from Germany to our team. "Stricken mit Liebe für Gashora" started with two friends just using up bits of wool to make hats for the babies in Gashora. The rainy season can be cold and uncomfortable there. Now their little group has grown to 12 and they have been knitting up a storm.To date 120 hats have been completed by our lovely ladies in Germany. Thank you for you love and care. Non knitting friends are also helping out with shipping costs and other generous donations, like light weight blankets, first aid materials and other useful items also seem to find their way into the boxes that now seem to be arriving every 2 months.
"Sewing for change" is a group of 12 grandmothers from the Comox area on Vancouver Island. They got together two and a half years ago after they heard that so many young women in countries like Rwanda miss 3—4 days of school a month, plus sports events and other social activities. These young women always play catch up with school work, which just adds one more hurdle to be overcome and far too often they give up on school all together.
"Sewing for change" contacted us and offered us some of these kits. I was blown away. They really wanted to know about the girls and understand their situation. It was lovely to meet such a wonderful group of like minded, caring women and we are so grateful for this connection. And now they have just donated 116 washable menstrual kits to us. Each kit consists of 8 washable pads, 2 underpants, a washcloth and a privacy bag. These incredible ladies worked in bubbles and from home and doubled their promise of 58 kits in record time. They also added 24 cute dresses for our little girls. I was near tears when I met them to receive this generous donation. They are committed to making life better for the young women of the world and they have a lot of fun in the process. Apparently the neighbours can hear them laughing and singing through the open windows as they cut and sew and iron and put together these packages of dignity!
All the material is donated. An entire set of curtains was just recently repurposed and transformed into cheerful kit bags. If you have newcotton flannel fabric for the pads, or fabric for the bags, or an in with a fabric shop, please contact us.
While JHA is awaiting this large shipment, they have already set up a safe wash and dry station, discretely hidden away for privacy.
Back in Rwanda, all these changes of course continue to create new jobs. Some single moms from the village now work at the schools and help with the cooking and cleaning. Security guards have been hired as well as young people to help with all the animals. A large group of volunteers continues to supports JHA in their many activities and programs.
Computer lab, english club, art classes, sports events, tending of kitchen gardens, animal care etc.
Vianney, our youngest child sponsored by FROG. We now have a total of 16 children sponsored. Please let people know about this program. A little curious creature checking out the new classroom.
Devine helping out with the little ones.
Rogers working in the community demonstration garden.
Mama Babu on the right, instructs the new volunteers on harvesting the "DODO"
Despite the lockdown and lack of in class schooling, our older beneficiaries managed to pass their spring exams with flying colours. Babu is the oldest of our beneficiaries. He is a bright, loving young man, with a wonderful sense of humour. He loves to play soccer, in fact he is a talented and much valued player. He accompanied me many afternoons on my outings and acted as my translator. Babu will move into his final year in Highschool this summer and is now starting the process of applying for scholarships for university. Here is an other shining example of how sponsorship transforms lives and opens a future to children that they could never have dreamt of. This young man selflessly helps the younger children and the team in which every way he can. As of late he helps with teaching an English class every afternoon.
One more story that I just have to share with you before I let you go.
Abdoul, our 14 year old visionary!
Abdoul has lived at JHA for the last two years. He was tossed out of his family at age 7, when his step dad announced that we was now old enough to look after himself. He lived on the streets of Kigali for 4 years, until he was taken in by a local organization and sent to school. He moved to JHA, when the team opened their home to beneficiaries, 2 years ago.
When I was in Gashora last year, Abdoul and I would sit and read his English homework assignments together. Helping him with pronunciation.( only recently did a friend point out to me that he would now speak english with a german accent! Oh dear ! )
We had a lot of fun and laughed a lot as he tried to twist his tongue around the th,and gh of the english words. We enjoyed spending time together! This kind, quiet young man ( mature beyond his years ) has a calm elegance about him that melted my heart. His soft spoken demeanour, his gentle way of being belies his difficult childhood.
During Covid, Abdoul was upset about the fact that the children and many families did not have enough food and depended on JHA to support their nutritional needs. The JHA team worked hard on their newly acquired farm to add fresh greens, beets and onions to the bags of rice and porridge they where handing out. Abdoul discovered that he loved working with the soil and enjoyed farming. So he had an idea. He asked Rogers to give him some of the land, that JHA had purchased. I am not talking about a little veggie patch. He wants to feed 500 !!!!! families. Together with friends he has already started clearing the land and has asked us if we would consider helping him accomplish his goal and make funds available to purchase a water pump, some basic tools and a variety of seeds. We asked him to write up a proposal for our consideration and fundraising plans.
Today, I would like to also to thank our newest team member on the west coast. Emily Williams , a brilliant young writer and editor, who has offered to take over the management of our soon to go live new Instagram page. For this I am personally grateful. Make sure to check it out, as well as out Live Facebook Page. Friends of Gashora. You will find weekly posts of the children and the many activities that JHA is involved in. We will also post photos of baskets and other art items and the stories of their creation, as well as our brand new sterling silver jewelry line of woven earrings and Ubuntu bracelets. Unbuntu means "humanity" and emphasizes the need for compassion.
Last but not least, I am giving you a heads up on our next event which will take place mid July. We are expecting an other large shipment of baskets and art items and will hold an ART Sale of these stunning woven baskets, (many on them in much larger sizes), wall designs, paintings, jewelry. All created by our wonderful people in Gashora! Some paintings have been made by our children whose newly discovered talents surprised us all. Watch out for more information!
So once again! THANK YOU ! For your continued support, love and interest. It is because of you that we are able to keep on going and supporting all the wonderful changes that are taking place in Gashora. It is because of you that our children are able to look forward to a better life. JHA is becoming a strong and respected organization that is trusted, respected and much loved in the community and deserves all the support we can give them.
Wishing you all a glorious spring, full of reunions and hugs with friends and loved ones. I know I have a lot of catching up to do in the hugging department, once we are allowed to do so ! So watch out !
Let me close with JHA’s mantram
One Dream, One Team
One Team, One Dream
Happy New Year to all our wonderful supporters. Even though our "Friends of Gashora Group" is small, we have made significant impact on the most vulnerable people in this remote Rwandan village and kick started many programs months, even years ahead of schedule. For that you all deserve a heartfelt thank you. We all know that when a group of people comes together with a common purpose, change will occur.
The old year ended on a high note with a wonderful Christmas celebration. The JHA team got a rather large Pine tree from their farm and decorated it with colourful lights. For many villagers this was the first Christmas tree they had ever seen! Each child was given a woven sisal star or a fabric star (made locally) to hang on the tree and make a wish. After the holidays the children picked their star off the tree to keep. For many this is their only possession. As a Christmas treat over 200 children enjoyed a delicious plate of spiced rice and a cup of juice.
Despite this extremely challenging year, JHA managed to support 1389 families in a variety of ways:
through the ongoing covid 19 food drive
over the growing season 300 people received wages at the new farm, which produced a massive onion harvest
more than 300 villagers where paid during the construction of the new Preschool ( funded through Global Giving.org )
As many of the workers where women, the women empowerment program was thus kick started.
The chickens continue to produce eggs ( total to date 4990 ), and are now providing an egg for each child every day ! The goats are happily multiplying to a total of 43 incl. the last donation of 7 goats. Each JHA beneficiary owns his own goat and is responsible to water it, groom it, take it to the fields to feed as well as all the chores that come with ownership.
Again, thanks to many generous donations, we are now eagerly awaiting the arrival of Victoria, the cow, as soon as the shelter is completed and all the cow paraphernalia has been delivered. As soon as this current lockdown is over, (hopefully by the end of this month) the local Vet will choose just the perfect creature.
Here on the Island, the basket sales continue to go extremely well and we are looking to supply more gifts shops on the Island and off the island. The proceeds from the baskets has allowed us to purchase and instal a rooftop water catchment system at the Jha Team House, which already helped to lessen the problems during this present semi dry season. ( we are considering adding a second tank in the future)
Planting is in full swing in all the kitchen gardens and at the JHA farm, in happy anticipation of the rainy season staring next months.
The delivery of the 5 metal bunk beds from the "Friends of Gashora" was received with great cheers. The Group House is part private sanctuary for the volunteers and part care home for presently 20 homeless children. A bed of their own for these children, that have slept on the streets, often for years, is a dream come true.
JHA reached out to the refugee camp in Gashora and invited some young refugees from Burundi and Ethiopia to a friendly soccer game. Great fun was had by all, and we are hoping to support the integration of these lost young people into the Rwandan community.
Last but not least, the Child Sponsorship program came to life just before Christmas as we had people asking to help out. Just in the month of December we were fortunate enough to have 4 families contact us with commitments to sponsoring 5 children between the ages of 4 and 7. These children will now be able to go to school (where they will receive a nutritious porridge in the morning), receive healthcare and monthly support for clothing and food at home for the coming year. To date the number of sponsored children is 11.
So what is planned for 2021? Well , first of all we are praying that the new covid mutations will not bring more tightened restrictions to the village again, and we hope that Rwanda will get fair treatment in the covid inoculation programs. The present extended lockdown is once again showing its effects, and the team is desperately working a preventing the children from sliding back again into malnutrition.
But on a forward looking note, we will focus on all the existing programs of course and will work at promoting the opportunity for sponsorship through the new Child Sponsorship Program. Our goal is to have 100 children sponsored by the end of the year. So spread the word !
We will continue to work at developing new weaving designs with new materials and train some of the single mothers in the art of basket weaving. We will increase the use of the amarebe in the new designs, an invasive water hyacinth species that is clogging the lakes.
Our hope is to partner with a variety of foundations in order to raise funds for the expansion of the weaving and sewing programs and sponsor more single mothers to learn the trade.
We are also happy to share with you that we have of ordered 4 stainless steel, energy efficient, wood cooking stoves from a local Rwandan NGO to try out and see if this is something we want to fundraise for. Firewood is scarce and very expensive. The illegal cutting of fire wood causes huge environmental problems, not to speak of the impact of fines and imprisonment. The risks associated with health problems through smoke inhalation and accidental burns are all to familiar to us.
The new preschool, ( the Norman and Marilyn Herrle Centre) is due to open in the near future, thanks to the Global Giving.org initiative, that many of you supported.
The completion of the playground, that was put on hold due to covid, will be bring much joy to these resilient little ones.
So despite the challenges that this year has brought with it, JHA has been successful in helping those who needed it the most. Loved them, nurtured them, encouraged them and created opportunities for celebration, fun and laughter. Often at great personal sacrifice.
They live by the motto that ( direct quote from an email I received from a volunteer):
"Humble people are always on the positive side of things. On achieving the targets they celebrate victory and on missing them they are happy for the lesson learnt. They give more and expect less. They live with satisfaction, complaining is something alien to them. They have no time to dwell on setbacks as they are always looking forward."
Let me close with these wise words and let us all take them to heart as we begin a new year, full of promise and opportunity, despite the perceived chaos.
Love and Light to you all and many blessings to you all.
Board Member of JHA