I first came to Rwanda in 2001 for 5 days of gorilla trekking. I saw that there was far more to Rwanda than gorillas. I returned 6 months later for 2 weeks and really looked around. Then the following year I came to Rwanda and Kenya for 10 weeks. At that time I met Roz Carr, the American woman who had Imbabazi orphanage, located in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Roz offered me a job and I jumped at the chance. I went back to Maple Ridge and sold or gave away everything and returned to Rwanda, to stay, in September of 2003. I lived at Imbabazi orphanage until June of 2004 (Roz decided that at 93 years of age she was not ready to retire), then I moved to Ruhengeri. I had fallen in love with Ruhengeri the first time I came here and really wanted to settle here. I opened up Karibu Gift Shop and started selling crafts and art made by the local people. Chairman Boniface Rucagu (who was then Prefect) called me into his office one afternoon. He asked me what I was doing, and how I was enjoying Rwanda. I told him I wanted to be a good citizen and give to my community but needed guidance on how to do this correctly. Over the next few weeks we came up with the Goat project. Chairman Boniface allowed me the use of 1 hectare of government land on which to build a goat barn and plant grasses. He also gave me a list of 60 families that were in dire need….my project was to get a goat into each family. We accomplished this in a short time and included other families that were in need. In 2 years time we had distributed over 200 goats to families in the Kinigi area. During this time I met families that touched my heart and I helped some with food and supplies and others with water storage tanks. I also met the children from Rwaza orphanage at this time and began taking food and supplies on a biweekly basis.
In late 2005 we started to rebuild homes for families while still distributing goats. We had friends visit us and spend their time repairing a home or buying and distributing goats. I met with the 12 executives of our district (there are 12 sectors) to see what was most needed in their areas. How I can assist best. We purchased the property with a trade school in mind but it is a huge project which will need a lot of funding and a lot of knowledge, so we started with what was most needed….some one to help with the preschoolers, get them off the street and ready for school. Chairman Boniface once told me” teach the children reconciliation”, I replied “Sir, I am Canadian, we don’t fight with anyone, what do I know of reconciliation?” He said “You know gentle, teach them that”. We just kind of opened the gates and waited to see what would happen. We were overwhelmed with children and parents wanting to learn and progress. We put up 2 tarped classrooms, built a big barn, hired teachers and brought 100 children to school each day. There is something about Rwanda and Rwandans that touches your heart very quickly. As of today PREFER has distributed 3200 goats into vulnerable families. When we bought the property in Jan 2007 we had the plan to clear and fence the property while getting building permits and such, but by May the school was in full swing and fence money went to teachers and supplies for school, so we were behind on completing the fence but we graduated 49 students in the first year and had 125 attending the 2008 school year. The 2009 school year we had 147 children attending classes. The babies (under 3 years) sit around a plywood table (its legs are short so the babies sit on the grass with their legs under the plywood) and it works as a desk top. The older ones have tarped classrooms. We now have 5 teachers with 4 classes. We have English, French, Kinya-rwanda, science, math, geography, art and sport classes. 2010, we completed a beautiful new 4 classroom school building as well as our 11 meter bungalow that is used as our gymnasium and nutrition break area. We purchased bread for the children each day and decided to form a women’s’ bread making association that will bake bread for us as part of their business. We had 159 students attending classes with us. 2010/2011 saw the completion of our office/kitchen building, we now bake our own bread on site! The children come at 8 am and leave at 12 each weekday. We purchased 3 sewing machines and have one full time seamstress who gives an 8th month course to the teens and Mommas who are interested in learning. If you can sew and have a machine you can feed your family, it’s a good living. PREFER Women’s Soap Association was formed in 2009. We hired a teacher and 27 local women took a 4 month course on soap making. They are now selling their soap in various shops and have just recently rented a small shop they will open and run selling their soap along with purses and clothing made by the sewing women. A very important aspect of each project is volunteers. We began a volunteer program in 2007. We have had wonderful people from all over the world join us for a period of 2 weeks to 3 months and share their skills with the children and community. We sponsor 25 secondary students that attend various schools throughout the country and 3 university students. We began a street children’s program at the end of 2009. We had 127 street children attend classes each weekday. We enrolled 50 of these children into various primary schools throughout the district and 35 are attending Catch-up school, a gov’t offered school for students that had to drop out of school for financial reasons. We continue to meet with these children each Saturday, supplying them with breakfast and soap for the week, medical insurance and school supplies. The local government has been instrumental in guiding me to ensure I am helping the neediest and those deserving a hand up. We are blessed with good governance. President Paul Kagame leads this country with honesty and transparency; education is first and foremost of importance. New schools are being built in every community, teachers are being trained and supplies being purchased. August 2008 the government announced that by 2010 English would be the main language taught in all schools. PREFER hired university graduates, fluent in English to spend 2 months with 154 primary teachers, teaching them how to speak, hear and teach English. This was such a success that the government took over the idea and spread it country wide…..with our original teacher as head of the project! I live in Ruhengeri. Musanze is the name of the district with a population of 400,000. In our district 65% of our population is under 18 years of age, 35% are in primary school. School is everything right now. The volunteer program is really important. To bring skills here, use them and teach them.
2019 was our first year to hold primary classes grades 1 and 2, in 2020 we will hold grades 1,2 &3. We are in the process of building another 4 classrooms so that by 2021 we will have classrooms for grades 1 to 6.