Hello! We are the Klassen family. We are a relatively normal Canadian family. Jake is a plumber, Lacey a Financial Advisor and there are 3 kiddos - Eleah is in Grade 5, Brianca Grade 3 and Blaze in Grade 1. There is nothing really different about us, other than perhaps our pale skin and some red hair. But we are a bit quirky. Maybe it is because we homeschooled for a few years and approach learning differently than we used to. Maybe it is my (Lacey’s) entrepreneurial upbringing, or Jake’s first 5 years of living in Mexico. Maybe it is because we run our own businesses or because Jake has a super adventurous side. No matter the origins of our quirkiness, we wanted to take a field trip that was not typical of Canadian families.
If you want to understand our motivations, it is important to know that it starts with God. We don’t just follow Him - He is the centre of our motivations. He loved me when I was pretty unlovable. He is patient with me and has blessed me beyond imagination. I’m not sure why I’ve benefited so greatly. Sure, we’ve worked hard and sacrificed a lot – but it would all be moot if not for God’s blessing on it.
Because He has blessed us with so much, we wanted to show our children that they not only have an enchanted life, but because we’ve been blessed with so much, we are responsible to care for others with what we’ve been blessed with. We currently live in a city that has been cited as having the highest rate of child poverty in CANADA. So we understand that we don’t have to look far to find those to help. Jake and I volunteer with a local youth organization and our church community was the local street mission until a very recent call from God to be even closer to our youth. But our children grew up in this environment, and perspective is important. And sometimes perspective can be easier to find away from home.
I travelled to Rwanda 6 years ago and fell in love with the people of the country. While the people did not have much, they were so joyful and grateful for what they had. It seemed a logical place to take the kids to learn about how people and children live in a completely different part of the world. We were honored to have our time there planned by Home of Hope, a child-focused, church-based, non-profit organization. We had the privilege of visiting their programs, meeting the children and families that they serve, and meeting the pastors and volunteers that do the hard work day-to-day.
We had an enjoyable and speedy journey from our home in Southern Alberta to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It was a fun challenge to take 10 large suitcases plus our backpacks, as we could leave a fair amount of goods for the Home of Hope projects in Rwanda and Kenya. We landed after dinner time, and we got to meet our interpreters and guides – Aline and Jean-Marie. They welcomed us warmly, got us to our hotel and we were grateful to sleep like logs.
To make the most of only one week in Rwanda, we hit the ground running on the first day. We got to visit a preschool/kindergarten in Gisozi. The children there had prepared songs and dancing which was a delight. Our son Blaze enjoys playing soccer and he got his first chance to play with the kids there. They were an absolute delight to run, dance and play with. After playing with the children we were invited to the local pastor’s home. He had three children that were close in age to ours. Meeting their children and learning about each other was what our children cited as one of their favorite things to do in Rwanda.
In the afternoon Jake made his way through the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. We had thought that perhaps our oldest would go with him, but they have a minimum age limit of 12, and as there is graphic material in the Memorial. For anyone visiting the country, it is strongly recommended that they go through and learn about the genocide as it is important for understanding the Rwandan people today. The country focuses on reconciliation and moving forward together. Before travelling to Rwanda we had a few discussions with our children about what genocide is and how it affected Rwanda. We wanted our children to understand how the country was impacted, but that the people are so much more than just a place where a genocide occurred.
We ended our lovely first day with dinner at our hotel – the Step Town Hotel. We were taken care of so well at this hotel that I must insert wherever I can how hospitable the staff was. They fed us, cleaned up after us and watched out for us and our children. They provided a safe and restful place to relax as our days were filled with new learning experiences.
This was likely the most memorable day of our travels in Rwanda. We travelled to Jabana, where our interpreter Jean-Marie was from. The children in the village greeted us and played happily with our kids. After awhile we brought out a soccer ball and walked down the road to the local soccer field. After about a half an hour of play with 30-40 children the local schools let out for lunch. One moment we were standing in a pretty wide open field, and the next moment we were surrounded by hundreds of children. None of them had ever seen white children before and they were enamored. They surrounded us and touched our skin and hair to see how it felt. We were never in any real danger, but the sheer amount children was overwhelming. Thankfully God blessed us with a surprize Albertan named Lee. Lee had been to Rwanda quite a few times already and she took charge. She scooped up our most introverted and overwhelmed child and led us back to the Home of Hope centre. We enjoyed a quick lunch and had the privilege of meeting the sponsor child of our friend. After lunch we got to tour the village and meet a few families in their homes. The most impactful was the clay home of 6 children who had accompanied ours since the moment we had exited the van that morning. It was a small 4 room house. A living room, a room for the single mom and baby, a kitchen space (a bare room with a cooking fire and pot) and a very small room for the other 5 children to sleep. They had burlap sacks on the ground as the bed for all 5 children. Eleah may die a small, premature preteen death of humiliation for me sharing this, but my favorite part of that afternoon was seeing how free they are to breastfeed. I remember feeling overwhelmed to try and feed my babies under a hot covering when I myself didn’t have a grasp on breastfeeding. And while I tried to teach my 3 children that there is nothing shameful about it, none of my children remember me doing it because they are all so close in age. My oldest was barely 4 when I weaned the youngest at 15 months. Because of my own experience, I was grateful to see how normalized it is there. When the baby got fussy, the mom fed the baby. End of story, except with a slightly panicky preteen who was greatly attempting to avert her eyes anywhere else.
Due to the overwhelming second day in Rwanda I stayed back at the hotel with the girls for the day. We read, played some games, and facetimed some friends and family back home. Jake and Blaze were still ready for adventure so they travelled to Cyuru and Nyaruturama. They waited a fair amount of time in a construction zone, but got the privilege of seeing the bettering of Rwanda’s infrastructure first-hand. The children in Cyuru were delighted to share their English with the Canadians, reciting the numbers 1-20 and the days of the week. Blaze also got more time playing soccer and Jake remained surrounded by children who were enamored with petting his arm hair. (Rwandan men generally do not have arm hair, so meeting a human that has arms like an orangutan was quite the novelty). We ended the evening by enjoying a dinner with Lee, Aline and Jean-Marie at Hotel des Mille Collines (the famous Hotel Rwanda).
We got to travel to two feeding programs on this day. There was a mix up of directions to start, so after an hour we had to make a pit stop where our kids got to perform their skills using a squatty potty bathroom. We arrived at our first stop was Buhoro just after lunch. I remembered this location from my visit 6 years ago, but there was certainly improvements made since I was there last. There were sidewalks and shrubs instead of just the dirt pathways that I remembered. We got to help dish up for the feeding program and then have a dance off. They taught us how to dance Rwandan style, and we taught them how to do the floss. It probably wasn’t our most shining moment, but we did it.
The second location we got to visit was Mugomero. I remembered Pastor Ernest from my first time in Rwanda, and he had planned some great fun and entertainment for us. The children sang for us and then we got to assist with the feeding program. Afterwards we played a few games with a parachute, and then they had some really fun games for us to watch. They had lots planned, but unfortunately, it was late in the day so we didn’t get to see them all, but Mugomero was certainly the place with the most fun! The road leading out of Mugomero was bumpy and downhill. Many of the children ran with the van as we made our way slowly towards the highway.
On Lee’s recommendation, we made it to Mesa Fresh for dinner around twilight. While everything we had eaten in Rwanda was delicious, our family solidly approved of the Mexican/Rwandan cuisine.
Because it was Sunday, we got to go to church in Kigaga. As there were reports that this was one of the poorer areas that Home of Hope served, money had been raised for shoes and healthcare cards for children of this community. We got to do a quick demonstration about God’s love and forgiveness for us, and then we played with balloons that Lee had graciously brought and a parachute.
When church, our children set to work lacing some of the 40 pairs of new shoes to be given out. Read more of the Shoe Project here
After concluding our time in Kigaga we got to cross a lake and enjoy lunch at a Rwandan resort. Our children, the local pastor’s children and Aline enjoyed an afternoon in the water.
Safari Day! We woke up early and left for Akagera National Park. We were privileged to see many different types of antelopes, cranes, giraffes, zebras and elephants. We counted 24 different species in total, which had us nicknaming the day “African animal school”. Our driver was phenomenal and we enjoyed great discussions with him.
On our final day in Rwanda, we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at our hotel, and pack the few bags we were returning with. We visited the “blue market” – an area of local entrepreneurs – to gather some souvenirs. One quick stop back at the Genocide Memorial was made so that I could purchase coffee made by a co-op of Rwandan women.
Overall, our time in Rwanda will always be treasured memories. It is a place we will travel to again, God willing. It was safe, the people friendly, and was a great experience to help give us perspective. We are truly blessed to have had the opportunity to meet the amazing people we did. Thank you God.
Written by: Lacey Klassen (AB Canada)