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?