After breakfast (let’s call that meal no.1) 8am saw us heading for Kabahire, a relatively new Parish where MPUK supported solar panels, and built a nursery school currently offering a safe place for around 180 local children who, alongside their lessons, receive porridge for breakfast and rice and beans for lunch. The food, together with the salary of one teacher and other school needs is funded through the Champion a Child project, set up by MPUK and recently handed over to CHI. The children pay no fees here which enables everyone to go, however the available funds are now obviously very stretched.
As we bumped over the murram road we passed three tiny children who were heading to the nursery school, Pastor Bearth recognised them, and we stopped to give them a lift. These children had probably never been in a car before, but Bearth reassured them and they squashed in next to the muzungu. They very soon found we were not going to harm them and happily held our hands as we walked the final stretch to the school.
We spent time walking around the parish and visited the homes of a number of recipients of small solar panels, we heard how the children were able to complete their homework in the evenings, and how the challenge of all the neighbourhood children gathering in these homes to work delayed evening meals, there is never enough food to invite others to share.
We also heard amazing testimonies of how this small gift has bought people to faith, shining not just a light into their homes but the love of God into their hearts. One couple who have had a ‘traditional’ marriage’ for 30 years are now planning to be married in the church.
Next stop was the nursery school. Despite the food provided here many of the children show obvious signs of malnutrition. Headteacher David was obviously proud of the school and the children who sang to welcome us. A certain amount of C.H.I. / (Causing Havoc Intentionally!) ensued when the disruptive team threw tennis balls into the very orderly circle, and then it was back to the classrooms where we had the privilege of serving porridge to the children. It is amazing how fast a cup of porridge can disappear in the hands of a hungry child.
Only two classes were served initially, the kitchen is not large enough to cook porridge for everyone in one go, but more was to follow, and they sat and waited very patiently.
Heartbreakingly, there are still so many children watching on, too old for nursery, who can only dream of going to school and receiving porridge a luxury they simply cannot afford.
A stop at Pastor Vincent’s home for meal no.2 and then to the church where the choir sung a welcome song about serving and symbolically washed our feet, slightly strange for Nick as he was wearing trainers!!!
Then it was on the road again. Next stop Gashonga Parish where Beartha’s husband is the pastor. We saw the church and the new school only opened this term. Then we went to her home for meal no. 3, it was delicious and we all ate well as honoured guests but still feeling guilty thinking of the hungry children.
Next stop was Bugarama, a not so salubrious area on the border of Burundi and the DRC we could hear the church choir singing before we had even left the car, what an amazing welcome. There are many street children and unmarried teenage mums, providing training in tailoring is equipping some of these mothers. The space is very cramped, and many are unable to make best use of their skills as they can’t afford the materials to get started.
Of course, the pastor could not let us leave without meal no.4, another treat of eggs, bananas and bread. Our hosts love to feed us and it would be insulting to refuse.
From there we visited another very new parish with a very young pastor, who lives in a room at the back of his church with his very new wife, as there is no pastors house yet. Again a humble feast awaited us as he showed us his living quarters – meal no. 5!! Of course, we were respectful and tucked in, mindful of the sacrifices made.
Running late, thunder, lightning and rain accompanied us as we rushed back along murram roads, the unnerving rattle from the rear of our vehicle was only surpassed by the loss of our headlights about 15 minutes from home , and can you guess what we were late for? Surely not a farewell meal with Bishop Francis, his wife Eva, Boaz, Beartha and others we had met during our trip (meal no.6)!!
We arrived fashionably late, Beartha had rung ahead, and so we did not keep the bishop and his entourage waiting too long. Lots of discussion, ideas, and words of wisdom were exchanged, and then our farewells were made.
We will be sad to leave this diocese, with its fabulous lake, views and organisational skills, but we have no doubt we will be back to work with them.
Our visions align as do our hearts for God.
God bless you Cyangugu Diocese, we have loved being your guests.