❤️ Impore Rwanda; 26 Years Later, We Still Remember! ❤️

♥ If tears could build a stairway,
and memories a lane.
I would walk right up to Heaven
and bring you back again ♥ 

A memorial wreath laid on one of the graves at Kigali Genocide Memorial, Gisozi, Rwanda. Feb 2019

This specific Wednesday night, my parents and 4 of my siblings, we all went to bed, completely unsure of what even the next day would look like; you see, earlier that evening around dinner time, we suddenly heard loud explosions nearby, and saw flames in the sky. We then rushed to listen to our home radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the president of Rwanda had just been shot down as it landed at Kigali International Airport; the announcement added that the president died, along the president of Burundi and everyone onboard.

That night, all of us kids slept together in the same bedroom with our parents; we were too terrified to sleep anywhere else. 

Reflecting on Memories of my Family and Childhood in what used to be our home. Feb 2019

The next day brought a usual warm and sunny morning, that’d have otherwise been a great opportunity to be outdoors. Unfortunately, nothing could ever have prepared my family for what was about to unfold before our eyes. My little sister Marie Claudine (I had 5 siblings) had been visiting her godmother, Theresa, who lived about 15 minutes away, for Spring/Easter Break. All of the sudden, Theresa, showed up at our house unannounced. She wasn’t alone, but not with my sister either; instead, behind her were men carrying a dead body –my little sister’s! That very morning, Theresa, a Tutsi, told us that the Hutu militiamen attacked her home, killed her 2 kids and my sister. Theresa had been in hiding at the time of the attack.

With our world crumbling down piece by piece, it was as if a double edged sword has cut deep, deep, through our hearts. Unbeknownst to us then, this very Thursday morning, April 7th, 1994 would mark the beginning of the genocide, an ethnic cleansing in Rwanda. Theresa’s kids and my little sister were the first victims in our area. The next 100 days would cost 1 million lives of men, women, children, young, old, strong, beautiful. Their crime? The way they were born, something they did not get an opportunity to bargain with their Creator during their births!

That staggering number would include my parents, and 2 of my siblings, relatives, neighbors, classmates, friends, amazing people who had an entire future ahead of them!

Beautiful Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda. Feb 2019

Fast forward to 26 years later, today, our whole planet is reeling under a devastating COVID-19 outbreak, a global pandemic that had brought our normal daily routines to a near standstill, my beautiful home country Rwanda included. Countries imposed lockdown to stop imminent spread of the virus. Families are huddled in their homes, some with the possibility of dying of hunger especially people whose income was based on jobs that cannot be done remotely. The losses of lives are astonishing, and no country is immune to the impact.

Somehow, unfortunately, this danger and fear feels all too familiar to me, although not to the same extent. My eyes have seen things that no young child should ever have to endure. The people of Rwanda have been through so much already, and my heart is heavy for them, especially around this time of the year, during this unprecedented time.

So, will you allow me this opportunity to pour my heart out for my people in the Land of a Thousand Hills? Will you indulge me for a moment, while I weep, grieve, remember, honor and commemorate innocent lives that we lost, the shameful death our loved ones died in 1994? Spare me a moment of silence, to reflect, to pray, to cherish memories of the people who meant the world to me, whose lives were cut short!

Allow me to ponder on the dates that are forever a reminder of the horror that descended on Rwanda, scars that no lifetime can ever heal: Thursday April 7th, my little sister Marie Claudine (11) was killed. Sunday April 17th, my Dad (43) was killed. On Sunday April 24th, my older brother Jean Felix (15) and my Mom (40) were killed together.

Here is tribute I wrote for them on the 20th Anniversary of their death: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder!

The Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place for 250,000+ victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Feb 2019

Today Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

  • We remember, commemorate & honor all those Tutsi who died in shame! They didn’t choose to be born the way they were born. May they rest in Eternal Peace with you Jesus, until we will see them again, in a life that knows no sorrow or pain! 
  • God, we pray for Your comfort and love wrapped around every Rwandan genocide survivor. Please Lord, give each and every one hope, endurance, strength, prosperity, courage, a voice, healing, ability to forgive. You alone can heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
  • We remember & pray for those left vulnerable—widows, orphans, women who were raped and left with pregnancies and diseases, and those inflicted with physical scars that bring emotional trauma and recurring nightmares.
  • We remember those who were not a target but chose to hide Tutsi, risking their lives. They are heroes of our survival stories!
  • We pray for the leaders of Rwanda, the president, and everyone around him: for wisdom to lead the country with justice and fairness, and continue to move Rwanda forward.
  • We pray for peace over Rwanda; and for genocide perpetrators that themselves will receive forgiveness, come to know the Lord, and repent. That we will leave vengeance to God, as it is written that vengeance belongs to Him, He will repay.
  • We thank you Jesus for the unity, renewal, and healing, progress, prosperity, that has been bestowed upon Rwanda and her people. Amen!

My favorite song, for you Rwanda 🇷🇼: Muririmbire Uwiteka (Sing to the Lord)

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelations 21:4 (NKJV)

“If My People who are Called by My Name” ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14

If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV)

Like the rest of the world, everyone is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, known as the COVID-19 that originated in Wuhan, China and was first reported in December 2019. The United States declared a National Emergency on March 1, 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020. As I type, which is changing quickly, over 350k cases have been confirmed globally and more than 15k people have lost their lives worldwide. Many countries have implemented some type of partial or full lockdown in efforts to curb the spread of this virus. The world is in distress!

World Map

The puzzling piece about this coronavirus, according to health officials and epidemic experts, is that no one is immune to this disease. The rich, poor, strong, weak, young, old, powerful or struggling, anyone can get infected by this virus. This is not a disease for just developing countries as we are often used to; world’s economy is projected to be severely impacted. Our daily lives’ routines as we know it have been disrupted or brought to a screeching halt, indefinitely. In this trying time, where many people are panicking, grocery store shelves are out of basic items like toilet paper that many wonder how this relates to the outbreak, I wanted to share this message with my readers.

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY HOPE!

There is hope that is NOT based on the findings of the scientists or medical communities around the world working around the clock to find the vaccine/cure for this virus; the hope that is NOT anchored in powerful leaders or nations that have always been regarded as having all solutions to the world’s economical and social problems. The hope I share is NOT endorsed by billionaires who have made some to believe that money can do about anything.

Our hope is in GOD alone. He is the same as He was yesterday, today and always!

Before I go farther, I want to first address a misconception that I have heard regarding trials and tribulations of various kinds that people go through. Couple years back, I had an interesting conversation with someone who told me that he stopped believing in God after his mother died of cancer! When things don’t pan out the way we prayed or wanted, we sometime resort to bitterness or denying God’s Power. We blame God by saying that if He was a loving God, that wars, genocides and tragedies would not happen.

My question is, how often do we ever pause to wonder if God might see things differently? And where do we read that God’s answer will be predictable. Of course from Jeremiah, we know that God’s plans are for prosperity, not to harm us. But if we trust that the Lord knows what’s best for us, does it ever occur to us to ask Him what He thinks about our needs/requests? Do we ever pray that His will, not ours, be done? Jesus prayed this way!

Different times call for different measures. Here is what I wanted to share with you today: 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NKJV). But let me take a step back a little bit. You may remember the Bible story about the king Solomon, the son of King David; he was chosen by God to build God’s Temple. Solomon has been described by the Bible and scholars as one of the wisest and richest king of his generation. And he was truly generous with labor, material and everything that went into building & polishing God’s Temple; all the construction & furnishing work took about 7.5 years to complete (Read 2 Chronicles 2 through chapter 7).

After completion, and the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord has been brought into the Temple, Solomon gave a speech, a prayer of dedication, blessed the assembly, and dedicated the Temple. Although he understood that even the heavens couldn’t contain God, much less the Temple built by human hands, but he believed that God promised that His Presence will be present in this Temple.

I personally love the honest prayer that Solomon prayed as he dedicated the Temple; he prayed to God in a way he could predict that people were going to mess up in life; he asked that: if anyone sins against his neighbor, or God’s people are defeated in war, or the heavens are shut & there is no rain because of people’s wickedness, or if there is a famine/pestilence in the land, or foreigners in need, if any of them prays toward this Temple, that God will hear the pleas they make.

“12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon by night, and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, 14 if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:12-14 (NKJV).

Over and over again, we see in the Bible where God’s people rebelled against Him, and He would allow/let them go through things to learn to keep His commandments. And we do see it in this conversation between God and Solomon. Surprisingly, the COVID-19 is considered a pestilence. I am by no means implying that God brought this calamity upon the nations. But I know and believe that He is able to stop it from happening. Subsequently, I believe that there’s a reason for this. And if we truly understand that our existence and breath we take is in the hands of God, we’d pause and wonder if there is something at stake that we need to learn here.

I have read multiple internet articles that have called for prayers worldwide; this is very encouraging! However, I personally believe that if we are only praying for this coronavirus to end, we should pause and ask God if there was more to it that He wanted us to learn from this experience than just the pestilence happening & ruining people’s lives. You see, when God told Solomon about that calamity that may be brought upon His people because of rebellion, in verse 13, He didn’t ask them to pray for the end to the pestilence/locusts/drought. God mentioned not one, but 4 things that His people should do in this scenario:

  1. Humble ourselves
  2. Pray
  3. Seek God’s Face
  4. Turn from our wicked ways

And after then, He will hear from Heaven, forgive our sins, and heal our countries/land. Just think of it like this: as a parent, let’s assume that you are disciplining one of your children. Rather than them cleaning their room as you instructed, or doing a chore you know would build their character in a long run, they are just sitting on the couch, playing a video game or watching noneducational YouTube videos.

Then you decide to teach them a lesson, and you take the iPad or TV privileges away. To protest your decision, they cry and call you a bad & selfish parent. As a parent, do you immediately reverse your punishment because they cried, and called you a bad parent or really begged you? Or you let them cry, and eventually do the chore you asked in the first place? And then, only after then, they get the iPad/TV privileges back! Isn’t how parents do it? Isn’t this how most of us were raised by loving parents?

Likewise, I personally believe that if we’re only asking God to end the pandemic because it’s inconvenient to us, and not repenting/seeking God’s Face, we are truly missing the point!

We see some examples of people in the Bible who were told about an impending destruction if they didn’t repent of their sins. One example is recorded in the book of Jonah about the great Assyrian Empire. Its capital city, Nineveh (today in Mosul, Northern Iraq), was a flourishing city, a trade center, and later became one of the largest and most affluent cities in antiquity. Nahum 3 describes how horrible the people of Nineveh were: bloody city, full of lies and robbery and so many more. Jonah has been sent by God to warn them they’d perish if they didn’t repent.

6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying: let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water.

8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? 10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Jonah 3: 6 -10 (NKJV)

Will you join me in seeking God, praying, repenting our sins, and humbling ourselves before God? May be, like the King of Nineveh, God will hear our prayers, forgive our sins and put an end to this pandemic? Again, I am not saying that God sent this outbreak; but I know without a doubt that He’s capable of ending it. And I know He will, in His due time! And He is Glorified, now and always!! But until then, you and I have a part to play! Do you believe it?

Looking Back at 2019: I am Beyond Humbled!

I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me. ~ Psalm 13:6 (NKJV)

My People, my Family, my Treasure, my Blessings, my Gifts from heaven!

Another year in the books! 2010’s coming to an end, and we are about to start a new decade. As we wrap up 2019, I want to take this moment and reflect on the past 12 months; I am deeply humbled and filled with gratitude to Jesus, my Lord & King, to my amazing family, incredible friends, and community around the world. 2019 may have been my busiest year to-date, but it has also been the best year of my life! The Lord Has truly been great to me!

So here is to summarize my 2019:

  • I got married 

I tied the knot with the man of my dreams! I ask him often what took him so long 😀 He is by no means perfect, and I am not either. But he is absolutely perfect for me! Almost a year later, I love him even more, if possible. I shared more details about our big day in this post: ❤️On This Day, I married my Best Friend❤️

Our First Dance

  • I made it to the Asian continent, for the first time!

Xin chào (hello in Vietnamese)! After a long deliberation and having way too many options (which doesn’t always help), we finally ditched the idea of a honeymoon in Hawaii at sunset for a completely different, new place. In my defense, it’s very hard to find a location that my husband has not been to. His professional career has taken him around the world, to countries and places that will take me a lifetime to catch up to. Luckily, Vietnam happened to be one of those places he had yet to visit. So, it was settled!

At the Ho Quoc Temple, Phu Quoc, Vietnam overlooking the Gulf of Thailand

As an added bonus to our choices, my husband found a JW Marriott resort, which made our decision much easier since I have been part of their Marriott Bonvoy top tier for the past 2 years I have been staying with them. The Vietnam’s island of Phú Quốc was decided on and we booked our travels without a hitch. And it turned out to be one of the best travel experiences of our lives.

JW Marriott Resort entrance in Phu Quoc, Vietnam

Phú Quốc is an Island located south of Cambodia. Relatively undeveloped, and mostly part of the National Park, it’s also home to the world’s longest cable car, white sand beaches, tropical jungles and so many other hidden treasures. We loved it there and the Vietnamese people were very nice to us.

We also visited the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi

  • Cisco Award

In addition to being nominated as one of 10 Cisco Bridge Award Winners (2018) which I wrote in this post: A great Privilege that I got to be named one of them, I was voted as the Cisco 2019 Community Hero. I am absolutely not a hero; but it was my greatest honor to be bestowed upon this title by my Cisco global community, and our Leaders.

Accepting the Award from our CEO Chuck Robbins & EVP & Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas

Part of this award, Cisco donated cash to my nonprofit Rising Above the Storms for our work in Rwanda. Moreover, Cisco flew me and a media crew to film my childhood neighborhood in Rwanda and my nonprofit work there. They produced a short story to summarize it; click here to watch: Cisco Community Hero. The experience was incredible and surreal!

The Award

  • Moving Across Country

This is an understatement to be honest with you. I don’t know if I call it an accomplishment but it did happen! After our wedding, I relocated from one US coast to to the other, literally. Moving is never easy, but moving across country is a huge task to undertake. Luckily, my husband is a great planner, which made the process bearable for both of us.

The pod getting packed up

I chose to (and obviously had to) get rid of things that were not worth keeping, packed the rest and we loaded it up in a moving pod. My car was shipped separately of course. Thankfully, prior to the wrap up, we had already moved anything that could fit in suitcases by plane, without any additional cost, since Delta allows my husband and I 2-3 free checked bags each. It was a blessing! Our moving pod and car made it to their destination without a problem and ahead of time.

  • I finally visited Alaska

Well, in my head, Alaska sounded far away and unique. The first time I got intrigued by the beauty this place is dates back to the movie The Proposal by Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds in 2009, about Sitka. I then joked to my friends that I couldn’t wait to visit the country of Alaska. Of course I knew that it was a state, but in my defense, some US states may as well be called countries since sometime laws vary from place by place as if they were independent countries.

Cruising around Juneau, Alaska

Regardless, I wanted to visit it. Luckily for us, when we visited around the 4th of July, it was the warmest summer that Juneau had seen in 112 years apparently. It was in the 80s for the whole time we were there, which was a real treat for me, a tropical weather lady. The caveat, people there don’t speak the air conditioning language. Can you blame them?

It was funny to find out that even our Four Points by Sheraton (a Marriott Hotel) or the Juneau airport didn’t have air conditioning. I mean, who needs AC when the weather rarely makes it to 73 degrees? We couldn’t sleep that well because it was too warm and the space fans didn’t do the trick, but man, did we have fun whale watching, hiking the Mendenhall Park and exploring the Glacier (Nugget) Falls!! It was an amazing experience.

Anchorage, Alaska, at 12:01am (July 7th)

We also visited Anchorage, Alaska, which was an experience of a lifetime for me to go to bed past midnight and it was still bright out. I have never seen anything like that! The sun set around 11:30pm. I couldn’t believe it. In Rwanda where I was born and raised, the sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm, as long as I can remember. Rwanda is only a few degrees below the equator.

  • RAS Board of Directors 

Yes, I finally have a group of incredible & successful women who have decided to help me take RAS vision and mission to the next level. I am extremely excited, grateful to their expertise and I look forward to what 2020 has in store for us, for our kids in Rwanda and the future. Check out our team’s bio.

With some of RAS Board Members

  • Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

Yes, you read that right. This past November (2019), we introduced laptops at our Learning Center in Rwanda, to help forge our kids’ confidence, promote skills learning, while we provide them with a motivation to stay in our programs, and prevent them from going back to the streets, and prepare them for a future career in technology.

The Laptops installed in our Rwanda Learning Center Computer Lab

I believe that, giving RAS youth access to technology that they can’t afford in their home environment, will help them catch up with peers, enable them to engage others outside their communities, and maybe turn out to be a career path for some of them. It is so moving to see how excited they are to learn and can’t wait to see how impactful the knowledge will be to them.

The kids busy learning; Dec 11, 2019

  • I made Delta Diamond

It’s a big deal  to me 🤷‍♀️😊 I switched to Delta at the beginning of 2017, from American Airlines. Comparing with American, I personally think that Delta makes it difficult to climb up. However, I realized that Delta was my best shot to travel to Africa because of its partnership with KLM that really makes the journey bearable between the US and Africa. When you reach the diamond status, you are flying at least 10k miles a month and spending a lot of money to accumulate enough base miles (MQMs) and dollars (MQDs). So, I guess you could say the 3rd time is a charm here, 3rd year!

Delta diamond medallion requirements

  • Who’s keeping Score?

Well, I think I broke record this year; I managed to be on 3 different continents, and connected through the 4th, all in one week. How did that happen? After spending about a week and a half in Vietnam, we returned to the United States on a Monday. The very next day, Tuesday, I left for California, where I spent couple of days. Later that week, I left for Africa from San Francisco, via Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I arrived in Rwanda the same week I left Vietnam, on a Sunday. It was a crazy week.

A picture with our kids at our Center in Rwanda

I spent 10 days in Africa; toward the end of the trip, understandably, my body gave in. I went down with a cold. Flying sick is the worst. Getting back to the US, I only had 48 hours to recover from my cold before my husband and I could fly [across country] to finish packing my stuff to get our home ready for rental. The wedding, honeymoon to Asia, a trip to Africa, moving across country, to name a few, all happened between January – March this year.

As we enter 2020, I am even more hopeful and excited about the new beginnings, changes, experiences, travels, new friends.

Thank you very much for reading this. I pray for the Lord’s blessings on you and your loved ones, this holiday season, the New Year and always.

“For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 116: 8-9

My Heart is Glad & My Soul Rejoices!

“I will declare Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You” ~ Psalm 22:22 

With my husband, my travel partner for life! Juneau, AK

My husband recently told me that the travel bug bit me. May be he has a point? Looking back though, I don’t think I remember when I first got interested in traveling. Growing up in Rwanda, you can easily drive from one end to the other in less than a day. It’s that small! Many Rwandans don’t necessarily vacation outside their homes, and still a few do get the luxury to travel outside Rwanda today. Like most, my first plane ride was later in life. While in college in Rwanda, I was awarded to attend an international conference organized by ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in Cairo, Egypt for young IT engineers. It was a huge deal!! First time on the plane and outside the country!

High Falls, Rochester, NY

Couple years later, when I first moved to the United States, its size and opportunities it had to offer must have stirred something in me. The idea of flying for hours inside one country left me puzzled! While I took some history and geography classes in high school (least favorite topics then for a Math & Physics major), I was still clueless about the world map and where countries were located on the map. For example, when I first moved to the States, in Rochester, NY, that’s when I found out that Canada was right across Lake Ontario just north of me. How shocking!

Hanoi, Vietnam. 2019

While in grad school @ RIT, I didn’t get to travel much even during breaks; while it may be normal for students not to have a lot of money, my situation has always been unique. Even after I got a full time job that paid relatively well, I had already been used to splitting 4 ways every blessing that ever came my way. The more I had, the more I felt compelled to make sure that my siblings didn’t need anything in this life. Although I very well know that our parents will forever remain irreplaceable in our lives, but I have come to believe that I was spared for a reason. If it is to play even a small role in their healing process, I have no regret in this life!

Amsterdam, 2016

Honestly, it never bothered me that I couldn’t have everything other girls around me had. It was no different when I had my first job: to this day, one of my greatest fond memories is when I received my first paycheck as a Teaching Assistant, a job that was offered to me at the same college I went to in Rwanda. Prior to graduation, the College chose a few of graduate candidates with top grades and offered them a Teaching Assistant job. I didn’t have to wait, or do job hunting; I felt so lucky! After a month, my first paycheck, about $400 (in 2005), all of it, was mine! I couldn’t believe it. This was the largest amount of money I have ever owned.

Downtown Kigali, Rwanda, at night!

As soon as it was deposited in my bank account, I called my siblings, with the most exciting news: I was taking them shopping! This very first time, they were not going to be wearing hand-me-downs. Up to this time, a cousin had been picking clothes that were too small for him and handed it down to my brother. I shared clothes with my sisters. But this time, they were all going to pick whichever ones they liked, brand new. I sat down, watching their excitement; I got emotional! I told them to pick anything they wanted. I didn’t really care, that a half of it went to their clothes, and I gave them the rest for school. I knew I’d get more next month. To this day, this personally remains a fond memory that I treasure all my life. The joy of my siblings I call my kids has been my greatest gift! My heart rejoices in the Lord of my Salvation!

Duomo di Milano, Italy

While memories like this one are an absolute treasure, I have tons others that I wish I could blot out completely and erase forever. Memories like that of relatives who have hurt and abused my siblings and I instead of being there for us. An aunt who told me that I would never amount to anything in life, and later burned all my clothes and high school diploma. She was so sure that this would stop me from attending college where I had been awarded a full scholarship. She probably thought this would mean the future filled with uncertainty for me! Read Beyond Broken Memories or Hope; God is Real!

The Pont des Arts. Paris, France 2012

But some of the most humbling experience were my early days of college where I lived off campus. Since there were no rooms on campus for incoming freshmen, I had to figure out where to live, a place that’d allow me to walk to school everyday. While this was absolutely a concern, the major challenge was $50 to register for college. Miraculously, I got that money and started college. However, the next 2 years would bring days where I had to visit people I knew around lunch time, in hopes to eat with them. It was my last resort, after not eating for couple of days. I had been close to becoming homeless, or worse!

Food in Croatia was the best. The country and its people stole my heart ❤

Recently, my husband and I traveled to Alaska, It was my first time there. I was struck by beauty and nature found in its capital, Juneau. We participated in a few things as any tourist would do, without going crazy. We hiked to the Mendenhall Glacier, visited Nugget Falls. However my favorite part was whale watching. While it’s an incredible experience watching those creatures showing off their water skills, my favorite part was when our tour boat was cruising around Juneau (for 4 hours). There were about 40 or so people were onboard. My husband being like me instead of sitting inside, we went out back and rode on the deck. As we cruised chasing whales around, the engine was very loud at 30 miles/hour. Since a conversation was not an option during that time, I got time to reflect.

The Glaciers in Juneau, Alaska 2019

With the water as far as my eyes could see, perched between beautiful mountains designed to perfection by the Creator, I couldn’t help but praising the Lord! I marveled at their beauty and got lost in their gaze. The water was so beautiful, and waves splashing, clear blue sky, warm weather that Juneau has not seen in 112 years, it was a dream! Somehow my brain raced back to when I had nothing, and no one. I couldn’t believe the beauty, majestic creation that surrounded me, while in the embrace of the most amazing man that only God could have created just for me! I thought of my siblings, my past, my nonprofit, my life, my husband, my adopted parents, my friends, my blessings!

London Tower Bridge, 2016

As if in a prayer, I whispered to God, my Father & Provider, counting my blessings: I could afford to be in Alaska without breaking a pocket. I experienced luxury without my siblings missing a meal or school. I can eat or afford anything I want. I have stayed at 5-star resorts and luxury hotels, flown first class without spending a fortune. My travel & hotel statuses often afford me a treatment that is more than I anticipate or expect. I have traveled almost everywhere, from small towns to big cities and everything in between. I am truly grateful!

At the United Nations Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland!

I have been blessed with a job that had allowed me that opportunity for the past 7 years. I didn’t ask for it, but perhaps God knew that I enjoyed traveling but couldn’t afford it so He gave it to me! Yes, I did work so hard in school, but so did/do many people. However, while things may seem like it’s going great, there is something that I had asked God long time ago: not to allow my heart to be too merry to forget my painful past.

“Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with the food allotted to me. Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9

Downtown Johannesburg, South Africa, 2018

Just like Moses pleading with Israelites & cautioned them against disobeying God after entering the land God prepared for them.

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full— then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Deuteronomy 6: 10-13 

While my daily prayer is that I am able to forgive and love others as Jesus has loved me, I never want to allow myself to forget my beginnings; I want to use my suffering, tragedy, loss, hunger, struggle, and wounds of my past to help and be a blessing to those who aren’t as fortunate. I have been given a chance, not because I am better or righteous; it’s far from it! It’s only God’s Grace! For that, I am forever humbled & amazed by His love!

Beautiful downtown Kigali (on the top of the hill), the Capital of Rwanda

It is for this the reason that I weep for people who are hurting, I can relate to them. People in need, poor, homeless, move me with compassion! I have been given a chance, a voice, and an opportunity to serve God. I eternally pray that I always seize opportunities God makes available for me to act! Simply put, I am able to truly love, because I am loved so well, by the Lord!

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory.” 1 Samuel 2:8

A Great Privilege, that I got to be Named One of Them!

Sometime in the Fall last year (I’d say August or September?), I received an e-mail in my work inbox. I don’t remember every word in it, but it was a mass e-mail asking employees to nominate their peers who have gone above and beyond to make an impact in their communities and around the world, for the “Be the Bridge” Award. The content was especially appealing, and I flagged the e-mail for a follow up on my part so I could nominate some of the amazing people I knew. Unfortunately it got busier, and the deadline passed. I didn’t do my part. I was bummed!

I am the Bridge between Street Kids in Rwanda and a Chance to Dream! SJC, Nov 2018

Sometime later, I received another similar e-mail, this time a very different message. “You have been nominated for the Bridge Award“. The e-mail also revealed the name of the colleague who nominated me, and I reached out to him immediately, in awe. As it turns out, he wanted to remain anonymous! Perhaps a check box he may have forgotten to tick/untick, but I was glad I knew whom it was. I later found out about another colleague who also nominated me, but I didn’t get notified for that one. These 2 incredible people, had previously worked on a year-long project that featured my nonprofit in 2017-2018. I was very humbled & thankful!

With our very own Fran <3, the head of HR!

A month or so later, I received another e-mail;

Congratulations! We are thrilled to let you know that you have been selected as a Grand Prize Winner of The Bridge Awards! On behalf of the entire Cisco community, we are truly inspired by your actions and proud of the incredible contributions you have made. In recognition of your achievements, we are pleased to offer you a trip to the Global Citizen Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa. Your prize will include airfare, accommodations and, a VIP experience at the Global Citizen Festival.

Kelly & Maxine, cheering, after my video shoot interview at Cisco in SJC! Love these 2 ladies very much!

I was too excited that I couldn’t even hold it down to read the rest of the e-mail, that urged me to keep it to myself until every Winner has been notified. I saw that after I shared it with at least 10 people (my family, fiancé, adoptive parents, my manager..). I was like oops, sorry guys! I couldn’t help it. Fast forward to November, the Winners (later I found out it was 10 of us) were invited to the Cisco Headquarter in San Jose, California to attend the company’s meeting where the Winners were going to be revealed.

Making it to San Jose in the morning of the event, I saw a dear friend there, Joy. I know her from church, Cisco & a gala that my nonprofit hosted in 2016. None of us knew that the other was a winner. Everything was a secret, obviously, until the official announcement!

With my dear friend Joy, in SJC, CA before the Winners Reveal!

Then I got to meet more people, and learned the amazing work they did. I couldn’t believe my ears, eyes! Please allow me to proudly brag about men & women (in no particular order) that I got an honor, great privilege and an opportunity of a lifetime, to be named Cisco Bridge Award Winners with. I cried, felt encouraged, and humbled! Now my lifetime friends! Cisco has greatly empowered me, my family and now many more people, our kids in Rwanda!

Make sure you watch this YouTube Video: We Are the Bridge! It’s also embedded into the post!

7 of the 10 Winners, with our head of HR & head of Marketing

Joy, through Habitat for Humanity rallies Cisco as a company to help build homes for the homeless around the world; she hails from North Carolina. Rajeev helped organize relief goods for victims of flood in Kerala, India in addition to founding two NGOs dedicated to hunger relief for children in slums and on the streets of India!

Vanessa founded the non-profit Love Never Fails, which works to rescue and empower human trafficking victims & survivors; she is based in the beautiful California. Cathy, in Johannesburg, South Africa, dedicates her personal time to take care of kids in need, feeds them and gives them basic essentials.

Claus in Germany, works with Refugee School for Digital Integration (ReDI) to teach courses like Cloud Security and IoT to refugees, via Cisco.

Scott, a long time volunteer firefighter & ski patroller, developed technology (that won award) to keep firefighters and skiers safe in the US and around the world. He hails from Seattle. Shawn, in Atlanta, works with Women Orthopedist Global Outreach, (an all-female team of orthopedic surgeons) that replaces joints for people in developing nations.

Daud, in Pakistan, created the SAYA Welfare Society by donating a family owned land to create a basic medical facility to provide free healthcare services. Ramachandran leads a program that partners with Step Up For India to teach English to kids using technology near the Cisco office in Bangalore.

@ the FNB Stadium, South Africa

In addition to 10 of us, Cisco extended the invitation to 10 Runner Ups. 7 of them joined us, and a total of 17 people (plus our leadership teams, including our CEO & Chief People Officer), we all went to South Africa. For the Global Citizen Festival, Mandela 100 (Mandela would have turned 100 in 2018)!

Global Citizen Festival, according to their website, is a concert that brings together musicians, world leaders, and global citizens in an effort to influence positive change on a global scale. In South Africa, 70% of the tickets were given away for free, to recipients who took action, to help advance the mission of the Global Citizen to end extreme poverty by 2030. The FNB stadium was packed, close to 100K people. Knowing that I was surrounded by people who care about the humanitarian work, gave me hope.

There were so many famous people, artists, humanitarians, activists, world leaders, global citizens; Beyonce & Jay-Z, Tyler Perry, Trevor Noah, Oprah, Ed Sheeran, and so many more, all to support causes around healthcare, education, fighting poverty & diseases etc. It was absolutely incredible!

After the brunch with our CEO & Head of HR, South Africa

It was an experience of a lifetime, but my favorite part was getting to know the winners and runner ups. The runner ups represented Belgium, Lebanon, Nigeria, Italy, United States etc. Hearing their stories and work they are doing, in addition to their Cisco job was truly humbling. How do they do it? There is no simple answer but here is a fact: Cisco makes it possible for its employees to do what they love doing outside work. For example, full time employees get 40 hours a year, paid time off, for Time 2 Give (community give back). For every hour spent volunteering for qualifying organizations, Cisco donates $10/hr.

Moreover, Cisco matches donations, dollar for dollar, up to $10K a year, by employees to qualifying organizations and nonprofits. All the above, is really what has encouraged and helped my nonprofit continue its operations and grow. Cisco employees’ donations to Rising Above the Storms constitutes somewhere over 80% of our annual funds. That’s huge!

The bottom line, I now have colleagues around the world, that I am humbled to call friends. They are changing lives, and it gives me an encouragement and hope, just knowing them. And I am proud to work for Cisco, a company that deeply cares about a cause close to my heart, and empowers me to be succesful!

Will you join us?