A Little Piece of Rwanda April 18 2011, 1 Comment

One of our volunteers recently came back from Rwanda, gracing us with armloads of gorgeous African fabric. She's a woman who quietly lives out her heart's desire to be the change for orphans and refugees, and we are blessed by her example. Here she tells us about her trip to Rwanda:

"I couldn’t wait to get to Re:new this week to show everyone the fabric I brought back from my trip to Rwanda. The bold, geometric and floral designs in brilliant yellow, teal, orange, red, cobalt blue and lime green make me smile every time I look at them. Their breathtaking hues and patterns remind me of the rolling, lush hills of Rwanda and its beautiful yet soft spoken people. Most of all, those bundles of richly-colored fabric remind me of the great fun I had during my week in Rwanda with my daughter, a college freshman.

"Our days in the capital city of Kigali were spent volunteering at the Gisimba orphanage and its kindergarten school for over 150 very energetic children ages 3-6 from the orphanage and surrounding city neighborhood. In their white shirts and blue skirts and shorts, the children clustered around us every morning with bright smiles and generous hugs, eager to learn, but constantly moving. They love to sing and dance, and although they know only a little English, the children loved to sing “Old McDonald” and “Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes” – although not always pointing to the correct body part.

"We also spent extra time with one little girl, who had recently traveled to the U.S. for heart surgery. We took her to the Rwandan heart doctor for a follow up visit (and a re-affirmation of the surgery’s success) and then to lunch with friends who helped her during her stay in the U.S. and then shopping, of course. Our American friend Brad and our Rwandan driver Jimmy agreed to take us to the best fabric market in the city – and to help us bargain. Expecting an open-air flea market, I was surprised when they led us through the crowded city streets, into a small storefront and down a narrow hallway past small rooms brimming with brightly colored stacks of cloth. In one room, the fabric was stacked almost six feet high, leaving a walkway only a shoulder’s width apart. In another, larger room, fabric was hung on the walls and draped across ropes strung overhead. This is where I bought one of my favorites: a floral design on a brown background with lime green flowers and bright, cobalt blue leaves.

"I’m not sure how successful my friend’s bargaining attempts were, but the Rwandan ladies chuckled softly and seemed to stick to their prices! At the conclusion of the day, our seller tightly folded and rolled yards and yards of fabric into a small brown paper bag – the same fabric that filled my suitcase. I wish he was around when I packed!

"I finished my shopping a few days later, on my final day in Kigali. After buying school supplies, soap and lotion for the children, I asked my Rwandan escort if he knew of a good place to buy fabric. He told me that he had recently bought fabric for his future mother-in-law for the first of the three-part traditional Rwandan wedding ceremony. In this “introduction,” the groom’s family brings gifts in woven Rwandan baskets to the bride’s family in an elaborate ceremony where the groom asks for the bride’s hand in marriage. Wanting to impress his future mother-in-law, he went to the shop in Kigali that had the best fabric. Much less crowded than the first shops I visited, this shop hung many brilliantly colored fabrics on display. This is where I found the bright yellow circular print fabric and the geometric pattern with bright teal and orange – my new favorites.  I also did my part to help “train” my Rwandan escort in a few of the skills necessary to be a good husband: patiently waiting for me to make my selections and carrying the heavy bag of fabric for me!

"At its new home at Re:new, this fabric will continue to create smiles: for refugee women, reminded of their far away homes, who sew them into pillows, bags, placemats, bags and children’s garments; for the volunteers who lovingly teach them; and for the new owners of a little piece of Rwanda."