A YEAR can be an awfully long time in the life of an orphanage.
And no one knows that better than the team behind the Rwandan Orphans Project (ROP), which cares for and educates 103 former street boys, aging from five up to 18.
Little under a year ago, the orphanage was based in a rundown, cramped, dirty building in Nyabugogo.
The boys lived in small, dank dormitories with no natural light or ventilation, where they slept four-to-a-bunk bed.
The building was only half-constructed, with one side left completely open to the elements, and during the rainy season rain and dust would pour into the Centre building.
On top of the poor physical condition of the building that they called home, the boys were also subjected to physical and emotional abuse by some staff members, who would steal money from them and the charity, and sell donations from generous benefactors for their own gain.
This behaviour meant that the orphanage had a poor reputation amongst its donors, neighbours and government officials.
Fast forwarding to just nine months later, the lives of the boys that the ROP cares for could not be more different. The Centre is now based in a large new compound, past the Kigali International Airport in Kanombe, where visitors are greeted by polite, smiling, happy boys who are settled in their new home.
And they are right to be pleased because the ROP’s new centre boasts a football pitch, volleyball court, a large area for growing vegetables and, perhaps most important of all, bright, airy bedrooms where bunk beds are a thing of the past and each boy has space for his belongings.
Finally local businesses, international donors and government officials are sitting up and taking notice of the new ROP Centre, the unrivalled work it does in looking after former street boys and the love and care it takes in doing so.
This transformation was made possible by the diligent team who now run the ROP: Sean Jones, a 31-year-old former Computer Analyst from New Mexico, USA; Celestin Mitabu, Director of the Centre; Tom Muzigura, Accountant; and John de Dieu Bimenyimana, a former resident at the centre who has recently been promoted to the position of Supervisor.
This newly-formed team has worked hard to overhaul the old, tarnished image of the ROP and to make it a place that is now both attractive to donors and a welcoming place where troubled kids can find a new home.
The orphanage was founded in 2005 but was previously run by another organisation. The ROP began providing financial support in 2008 but took over the running and funding of the Centre in early 2010. It is a secular non-profit organisation which is almost entirely funded by private donations from the US.
The Board of Directors, who are based in California, USA, were unaware of the dire conditions at the Centre until Mr. Jones moved to Rwanda to begin working there.
“When I first arrived to work at the Centre in January this year the conditions I found were appalling. After realising how bad the situation had got, the sponsors in USA and I decided to focus all our energies on making changes and doing whatever was necessary to improve the lives of the children and the staff remaining at the Centre.
“Since that time we feel we have achieved this goal but we realise there is still much work to be done and more achievements to be made in the future.”
Despite the hard work behind them, the ROP team still has grand plans for their Centre. First on the list is to arrange a Christmas and New Year celebration to top off this tumultuous but ultimately transformative year. Many of the Centre’s boys are orphans, but all have lived tough lives on the streets – some for as long as eight years – and the team wants to give them the best Christmas of their lives.
The staff are currently searching for businesses or individuals who are able to donate money to help pay for food and drink to celebrate Christmas, and also to be able to buy the boys small gifts.
However, there are also longer-term plans for the ROP Centre. Since it was founded, it has only been open to street boys. In the coming New Year, they hope to bring young street girls into the Centre. They would like to set up a number of programmes, some vocational and some fun, including music, carpentry and computer training.
There are also plans to open up the in-house catch-up school, run by the ROP to less privileged local children, who would not otherwise be able to afford to go to school.
After a difficult few years, the ROP Centre is now facing a promising future. Although a lot of this is down to the hardworking and dedicated staff, the boys too have played an important role in the Centre’s transformation.
“I feel very strongly that the future of the ROP is going to be bright. The boys struggled through life while on the streets and then faced more difficulties when the centre was mismanaged, but I find them to be an inspiration despite all of the challenges that life has laid in front of them.
“Witnessing their strength, determination and fortitude has carried me through my own struggles during this difficult year.
“I am so very proud of these boys, for despite where they have come from they have chosen a life of education, self-respect, honesty and friendship. And I couldn’t be more excited to see how each one of their lives blossoms in the future.”