Gisimba Orphanage - Jenny Namur Karp

Jenny Namur Karp at Gisimba

How Fortified Peanut Butter Brings Two People Together.
A nutty story (literally) of how Jenny and I met

Here's a wonderful serendipitous story that has come full circle. A year ago, I met Jenny Namur Karp on my flight to Nairobi. After some friendly bantor on the plane, I mentioned to her that due to extreme overweight baggage fees, I would be unable to carry on the 5 heavy boxes of Plumpy Nut Peanut Butter that were destined for Gisimba Orphanage. She graciously unloaded all the Plumpy Nut (story here) off my hands at Jomo Kenyatta airport and made sure they were rightfully distributed while she was working in Kenya.

Happily, we've stayed in touch since. A month and a half ago, we were having dinner together and she mentioned she was heading back to Africa and wanted to spend a week volunteering in Rwanda. I was able to connect her with Ildephonse, Director of Gisimba Orphanage, to work out a volunteer schedule.

It brings a smile to my face to know that the stranger (now friend) I met on the plane who helped me distribute the diverted fortified peanut butter, later went back to the orphanage I volunteered at to help out. Pretty awesome!

Here is an personal account of Jenny's first day of teaching English at Gisimba Orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda.

July 14, 2009

Hotel Garni du Centre

I arrived in Kigali Friday, July 10th – with one name and one phone number.

“Call me when you arrive – I’ll tell the taxi driver where to go.”

I have wanted to come to Rwanda for some time. This month, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa for work and am now taking 2+ weeks to volunteer here in Rwanda and then vacation in Tanzania with Steve. 3 countries in 3 weeks is my kind of travel.

Landing in Kigali, I was high on hills. Land of a thousand hills – “milles collines” – the rolling countryside was gorgeous. The lush greens reminded me of Vietnam – one of my favorite places. I got off my puddle jumper (sorry dad – I couldn’t even figure out what it was – something similar to the saab), and followed the crowd. The terminal is not exactly enormous. Inside I grabbed my bags, changed some money, and found myself a taxi – en francais. (One of the many reasons I had looked forward to the trip was the opportunity to practice my French – which is poor at best. Conveniently, I’m teaching English to 5-6 year olds at Gisimba orphange. My French is about the same as their English – so we’re getting along great!)

I had planned to spend my week in Kigali with a host family, but when I arrived that seems to have fallen through. I spent my first night and the subsequent three at SKY HOTEL. Mon dieu. SKY is conveniently located next to nothing – other than Kigali’s seediest dance club (which, in case you’re wondering, plays everything from MJ, Madonna, and Dolly Parton, to various Africa artists from 6pm to 3am). I’m flexible and can go with the flow especially when traveling internationally, but by this morning I’d had enough. I’m now sitting on the deck of a wonderful little room at Hotel Garni du Centre overlooking the pool and drinking a Mutzig – a lovely Rwandan beer. It’s across the street from Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda).

This relaxation a pleasant change from the weekend – which, to put it mildly was an emotional one. I spent my Saturday and Sunday at various genocide memorials. Pictures were not allowed but I promise you the image of 5000 skulls is not an image I’ll ever forget. Nor is the school, that’s been memorialized in Nyamata. It’s not pristine or orderly as with the other memorials, it’s exactly the same as it was in 1994. Machetes and clubs, clothes, and shoes are strewn amongst the remains of those left for dead.

But the point of this already longwinded email is to tell you about my perfect day. They don’t happen often and they are quickly forgotten, but today is one of those days worth documenting. After moving to my amazing new hotel, I prepared my English lesson for today (sitting on my deck, taking in the sun, admiring the animals in the clouds). The kids at the orphanage range in age from 2-23, and their English language skills range about the same span. It was a bit of a challenge but, I pulled it together and hopped in my taxi with my favorite driver – who completely overcharges me but tells me stories, gives me tours, and is generally sweet as pie.

I get to the classroom – not knowing how many kids, what age, what their english language skills are, etc.. and there are 50+ kids ranging from 6-20. And they are full of life and smiles and ready to learn. They have their notebooks and “bics” and write down everything I put on the chalk board. I start by telling them I’ll answer any question they can ask in English. First questions – HOW OLD ARE YOU? ARE YOU MARRIED? HOW MANY CHILDREN DO YOU HAVE? WHY DON’T YOU HAVE ANY KIDS? (Let’s not get personal!) Needless to say, I immediately fell in love when they told me they thought I was anywhere from 19-25. J Not to mention their unbelievable ability to open their hearts and minds, to share, care, and love. These kids have suffered immensely (orphaned either by the genocide or HIV/AIDS) and within an hour of meeting me they’re braiding my hair, drawing me pictures, clinging to my legs, and telling me they love me. In the course of a day they were able to give me more than I hope to give them in a week. And I’m reminded in no small way of all the luxuries and love in my life.

The day culminated with a motorcycle taxi home. I’d never ridden on a motorcycle til yesterday… and being a good public health-er, I never fail to mention that 40% of all fatal motor vehicle accidents affect motorcyclists … but in addition to falling in love with Gisimba and Rwanda, I may have fallen in love with motorcycles too. It’s so… FREE!

It was a perfect day… simple and full of hope.

I hope yours is filled with sun and smiles. Above all, please know you are loved.



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