It was late on Thursday after the ETC meeting and Innocent, Mulume, Faustin and our driver Mugishu still had one more meeting scheduled with Laissez d’Afrique Vivre. Enduring our minor fatigue, we drove to their head office by the Congo-Rwanda border, through Bukavu’s quickly darkening streets.
Laissez ‘dAfrique Vivre, in English, Let Africa Live, is an international non-profit organization. At its Bukavu office, it operates as a safe house for vulnerable youth affected by the region’s persistent violence and women that have been victims of rape (often bringing their young children). Our meeting was with the Bukavu branch's general manager who was at the office late that night setting up for a celebration they were hosting the following day. It was the graduation for some of their vocational school students and an acceptance ceremony for a new group of vulnerable youth arriving in need of a place to live and rehabilitate. The latter of these, the result of a new partnership with the regional-based organization, Economic Community of the Great Lakes Region.
The meeting began quickly as soon as we all sat down in the room with her. We introduced our cause along with our desire to gain advice. We learned about their history in Bukavu and the names of some other organizations they have worked with. Eventually the conversation arrived at the opportunities they afford the young men and women they bring in. LAV has eight vocational training programs in Bukavu where the vulnerable people they house can develop their skills to safely and successfully re-enter society.
From here, the conversation worked its way to a comparison between the value of a university degree, something our Foundation offers, versus vocational training in trade professions, as LAV does. Based on the interviews previously conducted with our university students, I voiced my concern at the lack of apparent opportunities for undergraduates coming out of Bukavu.
In return, she told me some of the success stories she has produced where after making enough money through their trade students actually paid to further their education themselves. I took this as an opportunity and asked if we could work something out whereby our graduates attend their vocational schools for a low, affordable tuition.
Her answer was a resounding yes!
We exchanged contact information and at that point were invited by them to attend the next day’s festivities. It was decided that Mugishu and Faustin would represent the Foundation there. Their instructions were to network with some of the representatives of other organizations, capture the event, and deliver our gift of some skipping ropes for their facilities. Below are some shots they took.
All in all, that second Thursday was probably the most feel-good day of the trip. Between the tangible progress with the ETC and the new potential partner in LAV, two very encouraging things were accomplished. The next big event to come was the Foundation presentation and student gathering on Saturday. It would be my last day before departing for a week off in Rwanda.
Saturday March 14th was a chance at redemption for me after our previous student presentation.
In 2013, we had organized a day where we invited all of our supported students, the schools’ teachers and their administration to attend the parish. The purpose was to introduce ourselves, field any questions and deliver gifts from Canada. Unfortunately, the night before I had contracted food poisoning and spent most of day in the hospital. This time I knew it would be different. I was happy to have a chance at a better introduction where I could deliver an entire speech and an opportunity to improve the ceremony’s logistics. You see, it isn’t always a fun or easy task when kids are hungry and see toys.
Saturday began with a group briefing to go over the basic dynamics of the day’s ceremony. It would start with Emmanuel’s prayer, then I would give my speech, and lastly we would distribute the skipping ropes (for girls), hackey sacks (for boys), and sweet buns as a goodbye snack.
At 14:00, the room donated to us by the Parish began filling up with our students after first being checked off an attendance list at the door. By 14:45 we had over 220 boys and girls present and, following a short prayer by Emmanuel, Nyantende’s priest and Foundation director, it was my time to speak. With the help of Innocent translating to Swahili, I delivered my speech and, in the end, was given a nice applause by the everyone in attendance. It was probably the most meaningful thing I’ve ever written, and I look forward to giving it its own blog post soon.
Next we called up some volunteers to demonstrate the simple game of hackey sack and show off the nice skipping ropes. Here’s some footage.
After that the energy in the room was at an all time high. We brought the students up by their school to give them both toy and snack. Everyone was chatting, waiting excitedly for their name to be called.
By the end, hackey sacks were flying around the room and we did not want to keep them any later. We moved everything outside and I played hackey sack with the kids for a while. It was a truly heartwarming way to end two very heavy weeks of work for the Foundation.