Day 1 We all met in London from various parts of the US, Canada, and Great Britain. It was a long flite on Kenya Airways to Nairobi where we had to wait for the RwandAir flite to Kigali. After many hours of flying and waiting, we arrived in Kigali where we were met by several vans for the 2-hour trip to Butare. After several hours drive through pastoral countryside, we arrived in Butare. There was just one road through the town which continued on to Lake Kivu, but we turned left and were delivered to the Hotel Mont du Huye which would be our home for the next 2 weeks. Rooms were distributed, and we all retreated to our room with sometimes a new roommate to wait for dinner.
At the airport, we met approximately 30 young people that are being supported by Margaret, Beata’s sister. She and her church provide the “little things” that the kids can’t afford themselves.
At dinner, Brian Anderson, team leader, handled the briefing of what we would be doing for the next two weeks .. replacing doors, windows, putting on a new roof … and how we would go about it.
Day 2 – L’Ecole Primaire Catholic School de Butare. Our schedule was simple
7 AM – Breakfast in the “conference” room
8 AM – Start work
11:30 – Break for lunch in the conference room
1 PM – Back to work
4 PM – Finished for the day
7 PM – Dinner in the conference room
Breakfast was served in the “conference room” at Motel Mont du Huye which also had a restaurant and meeting facilities. At breakfast the first morning, one of other group, “Tall Jimmy”, wondered if anyone else had heard what he had heard about 4:30 AM .. a lot of feet pounding on dirt and concrete accompanied by a lot of local ululating. He thought of the genocide and thought we were under attack and laughed at himself for spending time trying to figure out how to get out of the Hotel Mont de Huye. He went outside, found no one else outside, and decided to wait before doing anything. Turned out it was the local army brigade out for their morning physical training, and they did make a LOT of noise with their ululating .. some of us walked to the top of the road the next morning to see for ourselves.
After breakfast of toast, eggs, and a variety of other things around a big square table, we walked the 1/2 mile to the school campus where we found the 6-classroom building had been somewhat prepared for us. The reeds/rush roof had been removed, back to what could be called “rafters” because “there were life things in there crawling around”, and Vincent Semuhungu, our local contact/contractor, was concerned that the muzungas (foreigners) might get bit by something. So, the roof was off, the doors locked, the windows broken & closed.
We piled all of the tools we had brought with us in a pile and started trying to communicate with Vincent and his supervisor when they spoke Kinyarwanda and French, and we spoke English (two French speakers among us). Fortunately, we had a couple of Rwandan ex-pats with us, Beata Umugwangwali and Margaret Uduhora, both born in Rwanda and now living in the US, and they spoke the local language. They were kept VERY busy translating for all of us during our 2-week stay.
Finally Bennie from Florida took the sledgehammer in his hands and knocked down the first door, and the work began. Brian Anderson, team leader, had broken the group into teams .. the roof team, the windows/doors team, and the rest of us who painted/cleaned before and after the other teams completed their work. Our first day of work took out the doors and windows scheduled to be replaced.
Day 3 – 5 … serious work starts on the roof and windows
The roof crew was headed up by Jimmy from Mississippi who had met some of the crew working around the holiday season trying to repair damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Jimmi was phenomenal with the work and with the children. The local crew was helping out too, and soon there was a race on between the local crew doing one side of the roof and the foreign crew doing the other side of the roof.
After the demolition was finished on Day 2, the door/window crew started installing the new doors and window frames that had been fabricated before our arrival by Vincent who owned a furniture company.
Inside the classrooms, the blackboards were being scraped down in order to be repainted, the floors were being slept, a new dropped ceiling was being installed by Vincent’s local crew.
Day 6-7 . Its the week end and some of us are heading to Ruhengeri to visit the Volcano National Park to see the gorillas. $500 for the permit plus the cost of the car & driver, the hotel room (too cheap to mention), and dinner the night before the gorilla visit.
Before we left Butare, we spent time at the stadium watching some local dancing, waiting for President Kagame to address the crowd. Victor, my personal photographer, was busy taking photos before we took off, missing the President.s speech.
Saturday morning we left the hotel about 7 AM and drove to the ranger station where we all registered; then got back into our car and drove up to the beginning of the trail up the mountain to see some of the last remaining silverback gorillas left alive. There were 7 of us from the build and a single lady who was also staying at the same hotel. There was an excellent guide plus armed guards at the beginning and the end of the group. They put me in front because I was the oldest (and overweight!), but it turned out that I was NOT the slowest in the group, thanks to the hours spent on the treadmill at higher and higher inclines. Of course, we weren.t nearly in the same class with some of the group who were much younger and in much better shape.
I was the only one of the group who hired a packer, and I was really happy I did. He carried my water and my camera gear and helped me over some of the rough spots. I could claim the shortest legs in the group so some .normal. steps up were more than I could handle without help, and the very nice young man did a very good job of helping me up and down the mountain.
Finally we stopped because our guide was on the radio with the .early. rangers who had spotted the family we were to visit. The early rangers were about 150 yards away, right up the mountain. I thought we would zig zag, but we went straight up the mountain. Then .. suddenly .. there they were. One very large male and his family. The male was about 50 yards away on a level with the group, but the family was suddenly all around us, and the smallest ran right through my legs . and we were supposed to stay 30 yards away!
Then Papa came our way, and the guide called me to the front of the group, and the big .rilla passed close enough for me to reach out & touch him . but I didn.t. We spent our allowed half hour and then started back down the hill.
On to Kigali where we were to meet the group going to Akagera National Park. The next day we visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali; then headed back to Butare and work.
Day 9-11 .. Finishing up
After the gorilla trek, followed by a day in Kigali before we returned to Butare, we spent a hard 3 days finishing up the work. Lots of painting, thinned with gasoline if you can believe it, and we were all looking forward to the dedication on Friday before we left on Saturday for our return.
The Dedication .
We decorated the outside of the school with balloons, and the students had some entertainment for us. We .finished. the project by cutting the line that held the balloons and having the school personnel enter the classroom on the end. There were refreshments, there were gifts given and received, and there was even some dancing.