Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Dinner with Aline

This post was written by Leigh, who usually pens CHG's Veggie Might column.

Greetings darling CHG readers! I've missed you ever so. The most exciting thing happened since I was here last. I went to Rwanda to teach crochet to the girls of the Ubushobozi Project, and I'm bursting with joy to share with you a first-hand account of your generosity in action.

You may recall that Ubushobozi is a vocational training center that teaches at-risk teenage girls sewing and life skills that set them on a path of empowerment and self-sufficiency. Students are provided lessons, materials, a sewing machine, a salary and a daily meal, health care for themselves and members of their households, and so much more. They learn to be independent, how to run a business by selling the tote bags and clothes they make, and that people are invested in them and their success.

And they dance…do they ever dance!

Back in the spring, Kristen and I introduced you to Aline, who was in particular need of a kitchen. Aline studies and works at Ubushobozi to support her two sisters and ensure the youngest, Diana, gets the formal education not afforded to Aline and Olive, the older sister.

The sisters' house was in disrepair. The roof leaked, the windows had no shutters, the door had no locks, and of special interest to the CHG community, the house had no kitchen. The girls cooked on a charcoal stove outside in the elements rain or shine, and when the rain was too much to light a fire, they took their cook pot to a neighbor or, as often, went without supper. You rallied to Aline's aid and quickly raised $200 so Aline and her sisters could build a new kitchen.

Immediately, after the fundraiser in March, a terrible rainstorm took off Aline's leaky roof and damaged the walls of her house. With our blessing, the Ubushobozi directors allowed Aline to use the kitchen money to make emergency repairs to her roof and walls, and as soon as the rains passed, replenished the kitchen money from the general fund.

Cut to August: Aline has one of the swankiest houses in her village, with doors that lock and everything.

On my visit, our crew, that included me, directors Betsy and Dolinda, and founder Jeanne, rode on motorcycle taxis (oh dear Maude, I thought I was going to die) to the girls' village to check out their digs. Our first stop was Aline's house. The village was immediately abuzz with the news that "mzungus" (non-Africans) had arrived.

Escorted by a number of small children from the village, Betsy and I almost burst into tears when we saw Aline's house. The crumbling mud bricks we'd seen in photos were smoothed over with an adobe-like clay. A new tin roof gleamed in the sun. Doors and shutters were obviously new, with shiny locks to protect the girls at night. Diana took us around back.

There it was: Aline's kitchen, a brand-new mud-brick structure standing fresh and bright among the banana trees and bean poles. It had ventilation windows near the roof and a stone floor. Since it was the dry season, the stove was still outside, but the kitchen stood ready to withstand the rains to come—the rains that are pounding them now.

Aline poked her head from inside the house, just emerging from a bath.

"One minute," she said smiling, and popped back inside. A few minute later, she joined us outside, draped in vibrant fabric, showing off her kitchen and posing for pictures. She disappeared again and Diana led us to the living room.

Their tiny house was neat and tidy. The only light came through the high windows. We sat in wicker chairs around a wooden coffee table and chatted and laughed with Diana and Faustin, Ubushobozi's gardener, who also lives in the village. We marveled at all the work that had been done. After about 30 minutes, Aline finally joined us, fully dressed in a polo shirt and long skirt, proffering heaping plates of food.

"I cooked," she exclaimed, proudly serving her guests.

The meal was a delicious stew of potatoes, chayote, onions, and spices. I was only able to identify the chayote after I asked what we were eating. Aline jumped to her feet, disappeared for a moment, and returned to plop a chayote on the coffee table in front of me. She called it something else, but I can't recall the Kinyarwanda name.

After our fabulous, filling meal of squash and potatoes, we took 100 or so more pictures with Aline and Diana and made motions to leave. But it was not goodbye. Our group grew in number with every home visit, and this was merely our first stop—and first meal.

If you're still not sure of your impact on these sisters, Dear Readers, know this: these girls' lives have been changed. Because of your generosity, they are now protected from the rain and from robbers, they can eat a full meal despite the weather, and they have a pride in their home that is visible on their faces. And this pride extends to others in their community. They are an inspiration to those around them, and the more their lives improve, the more they can do to help their friends and neighbors.

Okay, I'm going to cry again. Thank you, CHG readers, for your constant support of us, Aline, Ubushobozi, and the good you do wherever you go.