Thank you!

Dear Family and Friends,

            Thank you. I cannot express the amount of gratitude I feel towards you and the huge role you played in my ability to go to Africa. Fourteen days in Africa changed my life forever. The way I look at things has changed, the things that I want (or thought I wanted) has changed, my plans have change, I've changed, and I couldn't be more grateful. This trip has opened my eyes in more ways than one. I don't think I will ever fully be able to explain or put in to words what God did; it was that powerful, that big, that life changing. I don't think I can say thank you enough for the prayers and support you have blessed me with before, during, and now that my trip has come to an end. From December 27th-January 7th I visited five orphanages; Kimisagra, Noel, Imbabazi, Korah, and Kidane Mihret.
Kimisagra is home to 90 orphans built at the top of a cliff. 45 children sleep at the orphanage and 40 sleep at the homes of foster families, but return in the mornings for meals, as these families cannot afford to feed them. Even with just 40 children sleeping at the orphanage 3, sometimes 4, sleep horizontally on a twin size bed. A cavern serves as a cooking area, a small refectory doubles as an extra playroom and the toilets and showers were basic holes in the ground. There was a small play area about the size of an average living room where 90 kids plus the 15 of our team members squeezed into.
Noel orphanage is the oldest and largest orphanage in Rwanda. Noel is home to over 650 children, ranging from a day old to 25 years. The children live in the most appalling conditions. They are well cared for and loved by the volunteer mothers who come in from the local villages but they live in very cramped, smelly and extremely hot conditions. Many mattresses were permanently stained with urine and set out to dry in the sun when another accident occurred. I witnessed the special needs room. They were about 10 kids that filled a tiny room. Most were sitting by themselves not making any noises. Some of these kids were not born with their conditions but suffered trauma during the genocide. The other children in the orphanage did not seem to understand that these kids had special needs. They would call them “foolish” or “messed up in the head”. Because there are so many kids and so little nannies many of the kids are not given the attention and love they crave and need.
In the aftermath of the genocide, at the age of 82, Roz Carr founded an orphanage on her flower plantation in the foothills of the Virunga volcanoes. The orphanage is called Imbabazi, which means “a place where you will receive all the love and care a mother would give.” Since it opened its doors in December of 1994, Roz and her staff have cared for more than 400 lost or orphaned children. The Imbabazi is currently home to 110 children and remains a haven of love and safety and a symbol of hope for all. Imbabazi was one of the nicest, and most beautiful, orphanages we visited. The girls are learning to sew and the boys make woodcrafts which they sell to make money but they are all most interested in continuing their education and work very hard to do so.
             Korah is located in Ethiopia. All the children we interacted with were found at the local city landfill. They would play, sleep, and eat at the trash dump. At night they would have to bury themselves within the trash to avoid being eaten by coyotes, however, they had to make sure they didn’t bury themselves too far otherwise they would suffocate. These children had no hope, no future, but praise the Lord for Project 61. Project 61 is working on sponsoring the children and getting them of the dump and into school. Every child I interacted with had a sponsor. Right now they can’t take on any more children because of space limitations. It was wonderful to see 90 kids with sponsor but there are so many more wandering those trash dumps that deserve the same opportunities.
Kidane Mihret was the orphanage I felt had the most hope. This was the first orphanage were I actually got to meet children that were being adopted. The children were very polite and courteous but they were also a little distant. I didn’t make as many connections here as a result but still loved watching the children get their face painted and play soccer among other games. This orphanage also had a special needs room and babies rooms where it was very cramped. So despite the hope I felt at this orphanage, these children still needed attention.
No child should ever have to go through the things I saw or heard, or live in those conditions. Every single child deserves to have someone love and care for them. Despite the all the dreadful conditions of each orphanage and child, they were happy. They had so little yet were willing to give what little they did have as gifts to me. They knew the meaning of family and love and the expressed that with no selfish intentions or expectations, just unconditional love. I believe that is why I felt so close to God while in Africa. These children were living as Christ walked among us as sinners. They truly were an inspiration.
There were so many faces, so many smiles, so many tiny voices, so many hands reaching out hoping that you grab on. I walked away from each orphanage with so many things to say about the people I had the pleasure of interacting with. Some that will make you smile and laugh, others that would make you cry. I visited and loved on so many of God’s beautiful children but one place in particular that captured my heart was Noel.  
I was fortunate enough to be at Noel for two full days and then for a couple of minutes on the third day that followed. God broke my heart at Noel and then built it back together with ever touch, smile, face and voice that filled that orphanage.  It’s as simple as that. The second I stepped off the bus I was met with hand holding and hugs and questions. The second day I went and found Tara. Tara had gone on a previous VO trip and returned to Noel shortly after that for a year. Frank, my leader, helped me find her and that’s when I said it out loud for the first time. I want to return to Noel and live there for at least a year, exactly what Tara’s doing. She told me a little of her story and how she got started. We really only talked for 15 minutes, maybe not even that long, but I walked away from the conversation feeling peace. I can honestly say I had never felt such an overwhelming peace. Not only did I feel peace at Noel but I also felt whole. After two days Noel felt like home to me. The day that we had to leave I broke down. I tried to hold back the tears throughout the day but when we were loading the bus to leave I couldn’t help but let a few fall. Some words I will never forget, “I love you.” “I will miss you” “I will never forget you” and finally right before I got on the bus for the last time John D’Amour said to me, “You will come back, two weeks is not long enough.” As we pulled away I lost it. I knew there was no way I could leave these kids, this place. I knew I had to come back, just as John D’Amour said, “Two weeks was not long enough.”
All I can say over and over again is God is so good! After everything I have clarity and my life makes sense. Everything that has happened in the past happened for a reason and was leading me to the moment I stepped off that bus at Noel. One of my friends from my team described it as having all the pieces to the puzzle and finally being able to see the full picture; Gods picture., and let me tell you it feels amazing. God has called me to go to Noel. God has confirmed that is where He wants me to be. So for now I am anxiously awaiting until May, for when God allows me to return to where I left me heart. 
I still have a long road a head of me in returning to Africa so every prayer, thought or encouraging word that are sent my way mean the world to me. I am excited to return and begin meeting and interacting with new kids as well as continue to build relationships with the ones I have already been so blessed to meet. I am excited for God to push me out of my comfort zone because when that happens I have nothing else to do but lean on God and allow Him to work in wondrous way through and around me. Here it is said best, “To be right smack dab in the middle of God’s will is the best place to be. To trust him for everything is the wisest and safest place to be. It’s also the scariest place. It’s that place where we surrender all control and say yes to literally anything God wants to do in our lives. It means that what we thought our lives would look like and the plans we made for ourselves will be replaced by and hard all to glorify the name of Jesus.”
Thank you again for all the support you have blessed with me with and being apart of this incredible journey God is taking me on.

Elise Cooper

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

Post a Comment