Today, to be frank, was bittersweet in every sense of the word.
We visited the Urukundo Foundation/Hope Made Real. Arlene Brown, 77, (photo, right) runs the home for approximately 50 boys and girls whose parents were either killed in the genocide, died of HIV/AIDS or were unable to care for their children for some other reason.
Brown is charismatic, vivacious and full of boundless, unyielding love for the children under her care. Despite setbacks along the way – escaping to Goma, in the Congo, due to an erupting volcano, being scammed out of $100,000, having a contract on her life by a crooked pastor – Brown has created a very special place for children who have nowhere else to go.
At Urukundo, we spent the day with the children, as well as helping with the construction of a new worship center for both Urukundo and the surrounding community (photo, left). Even our guides joined in to help us with the building! We were also lucky enough to have lunch with the children and watch them sing and play and go about their normal lives.
For lunch, we each partnered with a child. My partner was 13-year-old Florentine (photo, right). When we first arrived at Urukundo, before I even met Florentine, Brown told us her story. Florentine arrived at the home four years ago and was extremely depressed. At the time, she spoke very little English, but upon talking to her through a translator, Brown discovered that Florentine had a baby sister who had been left behind.
When Florentine’s caretaker died, Florentine had promised that she would watch after her sister. Unfortunately, someone brought Florentine to Urukundo without considering the possibility that another small child was depending upon her.
Still determined, Brown searched for Florentine’s sister, who was 4 years old at the time.
One day, Brown introduced a new little girl to group. Upon her entering the room, Florentine jumped to her feet, yelled “Bellissee! Bellisee!” and ran and hugged her sister. Bellissee is now 7 years old (photo, left).
Florentine was fairly quiet, but during our day together, we talked about school, what she wants to be when she grows up, and what she likes to do in her spare time. Florentine is a talented singer and she sang for us before we ate our lunch with the children.
One of the day’s many bittersweet moments occurred during my time with Florentine.
After we were through eating, she looked at me and asked, “Do you have a mother?” I told her I do. She then asked “Do you have a father?” I said yes. Her face fell.
Internally, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. What are you supposed to say to that? Obviously, “I’m sorry” is a petty and vapid response, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be insensitive to this very, very sweet and very, very smart little girl.
So, I told her, “My parents would love to meet you.”
Then she asked, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
I said “no.”
She smiled and the mood suddenly changed. Then she said, “OK, then I will come visit you.”
Unfortunately, our day at Urukundo did have to come to an end. It was a tearful departure for almost every one, as we had all become enamored with the children, Mama Arlene and the natural beauty of the home.