KIGARAMA, Rwanda - In a place known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, one hill at the edge of Lake Kivu belongs to children.
"Many of them with very strong emotional pain, and I can say emotional, psychological damage," said Victor Monroy.
He's director of the Children's Village Kigarama, also referred to locally as the L'Esperance orphanage.
The orphanage was founded after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when up to a million people were slaughtered in just a few months. The older kids at the orphanage lost their families to the violence. The younger kids here are the next generation of victims. Though their families survived the genocide, they were still scarred by the tragedy that devastated their country. Their parents were simply too poor or emotionally unfit to keep them.
Fourteen years after the genocide, Rwanda still has one of the highest percentages of orphans in the world. There are many orphanages in Rwanda, and yet not enough to take in all the children who need a home. The Children's Village is operating at capacity and is forced to turn away children. Monroy is working to grow and improve the orphanage. He also wants to ensure it will be a good home for the children for many years to come.
"You can spend your entire life in a place like this, feeding children, providing them clothes, shoes. But one of these days you will leave, and then what happens?" asked Monroy.
For him, the answer is to make the orphanage entirely self-sustaining. He's working to make it a model for orphanages around the world, and for that, he's getting help from people thousands of miles away in Colorado.
On the campus of the University of Colorado at Boulder, graduate engineering student Evan Thomas points out pressure feeds and gravity feeds on a rough model of a water treatment system. Thomas is a member of the group: Engineers Without Borders (EWB). The chapter at CU Boulder has designed a water tank and other technologies to improve lives in Rwanda. One of their water treatment tanks is now at the orphanage. The kids there climb stairs to the top of the tank to pour in lake water. At the bottom, they fill their jugs with clean water now safe for drinking.
"It's so successful that the kids there refuse to drink any water that doesn't come from our water treatment system, which is very cool," said Thomas.
The EWB volunteers also tackled another public health problem in Rwanda where firewood cooking leads to respiratory problems. Many people cook inside their homes even though the firewood emits a thick, black smoke. EWB installed specially-designed stoves at the orphanage made of pumice, a local lava stone.
"Overnight they reduce the wood usage by up to 70 percent and completely eliminate the black smoke," said Thomas.
EWB is also working to provide the orphanage with solar-powered fruit dryers. Under Monroy's leadership, the kids and staff have turned their hill into a large orchard. They've planted thousands of plants including papaya, mango, guava, banana, and pineapple. Some they will eat, but most will be dried and sold as an organic product in the U.S. and Europe.
"We will produce money. This will be a business, and the money will be used to cover all the daily expenses of the orphanage," explained Monroy.
Just this summer, Thomas traveled with EWB's Johnson Space Center chapter to install a proto-type of the solar dryers they're designing for the orphanage.
"It will take us a few years to perfect that technology just like it did with the stoves or the water treatment system, but eventually it will get to the point where it's on production scale for the orphanage," said Thomas.
In addition to the money from fruit production, the orphanage also will be able to one day generate money from tourists. It's a major project being led by another Colorado engineer.
Mark Reiner traveled to the orphanage in 2006 when he was an EWB projects director. After meeting Monroy, he returned and founded a non-profit organization called Birambye International, which is working to build an eco-lodge not far from the orphanage on land near beautiful Lake Kivu.
Birambye means "sustainability" in the Rwandan language. The organization now has the partners and plans in place to construct and manage the lodge. Reiner says they are ready to start construction just as soon as they raise the $130,000 needed to build.
Monroy's dream for the orphanage in Kigarama, and eventually for orphanages around the world, is getting closer every day thanks to the Coloradans who decided to dream with him.
"The difference will be, when we leave this place, they will be able to run it by themselves. And they will not be dependent upon anyone. They will reach self-sufficiency and economic independence," said Monroy.
For more on the Kigarama Children's Village (L'Esperance orphanage), visit www.lesperancerwanda.org.
Source: : Bazi Kanani, http://www.9news.com
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