Wednesday I made the journey from Kigali (the capital) to Gisenyi, where I will actually be staying. It was also my first visit to the Noel Orphanage. It is an incredible place that seems to run on a system of organized chaos.
Nearly 600 kids live at the orphanage– and the number rises daily as children are literally left at the gates. They range in ages from very, very newborn to adults who are mentally handicapped and have nowhere else to go. The majority are between 6 and 10. They are supervised by a handful of “mamas” who somehow manage to feed, clothe, bathe and entertain these swarms of children with very limited resources. They’re divided by age, with the newborns in one room, then the crawlers, then the toddlers, and on up. As volunteers we basically cycle through the different groups, helping wherever we can.
The kids are remarkably well behaved. Seeing a group of 25 3-year-olds take off their shoes, line up to get their hands washed, patiently sit in neat rows to wait for their lunch, eat their lunch, then turn in their bowls and retrieve their shoes, all in a matter of 20 minutes with very little direction is quite a sight to see.
In the afternoons we’ve been doing crafts with the older kids while helping them practice their English. (Rwanda changed from French to English as their second language a few years ago– which was a lot of fun for the teachers, who didn’t know English themselves) Here a little of the mischievousness comes out as we have to check pockets, socks and even mouths for extra beads and string before they get snuck out the door.
Overall though the kids are pretty incredible– despite having basically nothing, and very nearly having to raise themselves, they seem amazingly well-adjusted and happy. Even on my third visit, Africa continues to be a reminder to me of how little all the silly things we stress about really matter.