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Darkness and Light in Rwanda

A story of tragedy overcome.

"Land of a Thousand Hills" – tea farmers by the roadside.
"Land of a Thousand Hills" – tea farmers by the roadside.

I was the only one in the vehicle awake, excluding the driver.

There were four of us. Two were snoring loudly, and I was trying to read my book and failing. Perhaps because of the soundtrack of our SUV, or perhaps it was a feeling of being "shadowed" that had been with us that whole trip.

I felt the vehicle swerve. The tires gripped the blacktop in a vain attempt to elude the fate that they carried. Then I saw him. He was smaller than my daughter. He was smiling, and he was in our path.

I could not believe the violence of the impact. It sounded like a car crash, except it was the sound of flesh on metal.

In that moment our entire world condensed. My life changed. I knew a life had just ended.

We did what most do not do in Africa under similar circumstances: we stopped. There was no thought of any bad consequences. We simply saw this boy as parents do, and we had to get him out of the road.

I feverishly unloaded our suitcases, digging for my medical bag, knowing in my heart that it was useless. Our trip leader, the wonderful Larry McBride, had woken at the sound of the impact but he didn’t see anything.

He asked thickly, “What was that?"

As I got out of the vehicle and gestured towards the way we had come I said, "We just killed a child."

Large trucks were coming down the road and swerving around the boy.

Larry sprinted towards him as I dug for my bag. When I finally had it I began to run. I saw Larry lift the little boy out of the road. He had come to a stop face-down. I had the sense to look for oncoming traffic, but in hindsight I think I was just hoping for an excuse to delay me. When I looked again at Larry, he had the boy in the median and was checking for a pulse.

I stood there with a feeling of absolute uselessness as I looked at the horrific wounds, knowing my meager skills would make no more than a nice gesture.

The child looked like he had been transported back in time to the genocide and had had a machete taken to him. But we had hope; his arms flailed. He was alive.

We got the vehicles turned around, and by some miracle there was a medical clinic two miles away. We rushed him there. There is no 911 in Rwanda. When I got to the emergency room I first saw Larry. He had blood from his neck to his shoes and there was a stranger in the room. I was then introduced to him. It was the boy’s father.

We did everything possible, and left that village content that we had saved his life.

We were wrong. When we finally got back to California we got the call. His name was Emanuel, he was five years old and he had died.

These kids will no longer have to spend their day fetching water – freeing them to attend class.

We were all devastated. But still, we had been on a two-week trip to help with clean water. Our work was saving lives and promoting peace in a country that craved it. One tragedy did not erase all the good things we had done. I remembered how the old ladies at the church in Kigali had hugged me tight, as if they never wanted to let go.

Video:

Rwanda volunteer travel: story of Delfino

“Alex,“ Larry explained, “the last time that lady got a hug was probably when her husband was alive, before the genocide.“

I couldn't say anything. I just remembered Defimo (left), and knew that If I could go back in time, knowing that what had happened would happen again, I would do it.

I had no no real choice anymore. Once you see those people, there is a feeling of responsibility.

For more info on rain harvesting with NoThirstyChild.org, here's the author's blog.

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"Land of a Thousand Hills" – tea farmers by the roadside.
"Land of a Thousand Hills" – tea farmers by the roadside.

I was the only one in the vehicle awake, excluding the driver.

There were four of us. Two were snoring loudly, and I was trying to read my book and failing. Perhaps because of the soundtrack of our SUV, or perhaps it was a feeling of being "shadowed" that had been with us that whole trip.

I felt the vehicle swerve. The tires gripped the blacktop in a vain attempt to elude the fate that they carried. Then I saw him. He was smaller than my daughter. He was smiling, and he was in our path.

I could not believe the violence of the impact. It sounded like a car crash, except it was the sound of flesh on metal.

In that moment our entire world condensed. My life changed. I knew a life had just ended.

We did what most do not do in Africa under similar circumstances: we stopped. There was no thought of any bad consequences. We simply saw this boy as parents do, and we had to get him out of the road.

I feverishly unloaded our suitcases, digging for my medical bag, knowing in my heart that it was useless. Our trip leader, the wonderful Larry McBride, had woken at the sound of the impact but he didn’t see anything.

He asked thickly, “What was that?"

As I got out of the vehicle and gestured towards the way we had come I said, "We just killed a child."

Large trucks were coming down the road and swerving around the boy.

Larry sprinted towards him as I dug for my bag. When I finally had it I began to run. I saw Larry lift the little boy out of the road. He had come to a stop face-down. I had the sense to look for oncoming traffic, but in hindsight I think I was just hoping for an excuse to delay me. When I looked again at Larry, he had the boy in the median and was checking for a pulse.

I stood there with a feeling of absolute uselessness as I looked at the horrific wounds, knowing my meager skills would make no more than a nice gesture.

The child looked like he had been transported back in time to the genocide and had had a machete taken to him. But we had hope; his arms flailed. He was alive.

We got the vehicles turned around, and by some miracle there was a medical clinic two miles away. We rushed him there. There is no 911 in Rwanda. When I got to the emergency room I first saw Larry. He had blood from his neck to his shoes and there was a stranger in the room. I was then introduced to him. It was the boy’s father.

We did everything possible, and left that village content that we had saved his life.

We were wrong. When we finally got back to California we got the call. His name was Emanuel, he was five years old and he had died.

These kids will no longer have to spend their day fetching water – freeing them to attend class.

We were all devastated. But still, we had been on a two-week trip to help with clean water. Our work was saving lives and promoting peace in a country that craved it. One tragedy did not erase all the good things we had done. I remembered how the old ladies at the church in Kigali had hugged me tight, as if they never wanted to let go.

Video:

Rwanda volunteer travel: story of Delfino

“Alex,“ Larry explained, “the last time that lady got a hug was probably when her husband was alive, before the genocide.“

I couldn't say anything. I just remembered Defimo (left), and knew that If I could go back in time, knowing that what had happened would happen again, I would do it.

I had no no real choice anymore. Once you see those people, there is a feeling of responsibility.

For more info on rain harvesting with NoThirstyChild.org, here's the author's blog.

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Interesting stuff

April 14, 2013

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