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?

Rising Above the Storms: a Name and a Personal Story!

With some of our kids at the center in Rwanda. Jan 2017

Never in a million years have I ever thought that I would start a nonprofit, leave alone sharing personal, painful wounds of my past with strangers on the cyberspace, or in person for that matter. It has always been a challenge for me to comfortably talk to people I just met, and it still is the case today unfortunately. The idea of starting a nonprofit first came to mind in 2012. I felt urgency and a desire in my heart; I could sense something bigger than I had ever imagined was about to unfold. Soon, it became clear to me that this was what God Has been preparing me for all along.

Losing parents at 13, surviving a genocide with younger siblings who were all under 10, juggling life, pain, loss, poverty, betrayal, disappointment; it has been a long journey to recovery! However, from the very beginning, I perhaps understood that the idea of starting a nonprofit that is centered around my personal journey may possibly mean opening up about my past and personal experiences, something that is extremely difficult for me to do.

You see, I come from a culture that is famous for keeping things to themselves. In Rwanda, you don’t talk about your personal life to people who aren’t your close friends or family members. When you make a casual conversation with a Rwandan around their personal life, they’ll become suspicious of your motives in asking. It is still true today.

Kids in our program during the celebration of International Day of the African Child, July 2017

In fact, more than a decade here, the thought of learning about a stranger’s marital issue or not getting along with a boss during an hour plane ride is still appalling to me today. Don’t get me wrong, I really love listening to others and learning more about their personal stories. My challenge is the other way around; talking to strangers, especially in a group setting, about anything, especially sensitive topics such as 1994 in Rwanda. It doesn’t matter if those people seem harmless. So, when God laid this idea of starting a nonprofit on my heart, I felt equally scared and excited!

RAS Facilities in Rwanda

Summing up my life story and what God has done for me and my siblings, I couldn’t imagine a better name to call my nonprofit: Rising Above the Storms. I chose “Rising” instead of “Rise” as many tend to think of R, to emphasize on a continuing journey, a work in progress. The journey began when the most devastating atrocities of the 20th century hit my beautiful home country on April 6, 1994. By the end of 90 days, my parents and 2 of my siblings have been killed. You can read more on my recollection of their final moments that I wrote on the 20th anniversary of their death: In A Garden of Fame Where Their Treasured Memories Grow Fonder: Two Decades Later.

I like how some people think S means Stars. I will take it 🙂

It’s been a wild ride since the official launch of RAS, in 2014. Combining the expectations of what it takes to get a startup off the ground with my busy engineering career has been close to impossibility to say the least. I now understand why every person I have met who is an executive director of a nonprofit is their full time job. It’s impossible to do anything else.

Earlier this year, we launched our first partnership with a local organization in Rwanda to start a mobile based classroom for street children. We currently have 17 kids in our program, 11 of them back in school. It’s been an incredible journey to get to know these kids, through our team on the ground. The kids who visit the center on weekly basis receive care through therapy sessions after a meal. This allows them to express their challenges and struggles as we walk with them through life.

Group Photo after Launching Treasured Learning Center

There are multiple ways you can become part of this amazing experience: you can sponsor a child for $50 a month. This amount covers their school material, tuition, school uniform, therapy sessions, meals and clean cloths they receive when they come to the center on a weekly basis. Click here to pick one of the 9 children we have remaining that need sponsorship on our website: Sponsor a Child. Or you can simply donate on our website: Donate to Rising Above the Storms.

Rising Above the Storms is my personal story, my non profit and my life’s calling and God’s mission for my life. I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is without a doubt what I am meant to do for the rest of my life. Caring and loving vulnerable children & youth is something that moves me to tears and keeps me up at night. I weep just looking at hungry, abandoned children that I don’t even know; it could be on TV or newspaper. I could have easily become one of those children; it’s not because of anything I did to be very fortunate.

As the Bible quotes in Isaiah 61, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to be their voice!

Will you join me? Add your name here!

God bless you

Looking back at 2016: Reflecting With Gratitude!

Another year is gone! I don’t know about you but I feel like 2016 just flew by. While this year has generally been a great year for me and my family, it has also been my busiest as far as I can remember. In addition to my regular job and non profit work, I have also had a decent amount of travel, both in the US and outside the US. It has been a full plate!

My Family Vacation!

Our Family Vacation Time!

As we bid 2016 adieu tonight, I would like to take this moment to express my gratitude:

  • First and foremost, to God who is my Strength, Hope, Counselor, Provider, my reason to rejoice. He Has a new mercy for me everyday and for that I am forever in awe of Him!
  • I am indebted to an incredible group of people who have been walking with me & caring for a cause very close to my heart, Rising Above the Storms. A few individuals who worked tirelessly around the clock, juggling their busy lives and dedicating their time, talent and finances to make our First Annual Gala a success! I can’t thank them enough.
Our RAS Team @ our First Annual Gala

Our RAS Team @ our First Annual Gala

  • Many people who believe in me, my personal story of hope and my life’s dream to change one life at a time, through sharing a message of hope, empowering through education and advocating for orphans. I am especially thankful to my Cisco community, my immediate team that organized an event to raise money for RAS, many individual Cisco employees who donated, Cisco that matches donations, every single donor (small or big) who is contributing to making our dream coming true! I am forever humbled!
1st RAS Annual Gala

First Annual RAS Gala, Sept 22, 2016

  • I am very excited about our very first partnership with a non profit (Amahoro Builders Ministry or ABM) locally based in Rwanda and set to launch on Friday, January 6, 2017 in Kigali. Our main focus there will be to care for street children by listening to their voices and needs, helping them reintegrate in the Rwandan community and guiding them to a future filled with hope. ABM is a non profit organization that places focus on the well being of the family, youth and early childhood development in Rwanda. Their main office is in the Eastern Province.

RAS & ABM Facilities in Kabeza, Rwanda!

  • My friends, too many to mention here, who are always there for me, even when I am not as available for them. I am very thankful to know the greatest individuals!
  • My adopted family in NY and relatives who have given me another chance to have a family that truly cares about my well being. My adopted Mom who has been the greatest supporter of my hopes and dreams, even when my vision seemed impossible.
  • Last but not least, my siblings who are my greatest boast in the Lord, my source of inspiration, my best friends. I cannot imagine my life without them. In addition to my brother and his beautiful wife, last year our lives have been blessed with a little bundle of joy, my nephew (I also call him my grandson) that I love beyond imagination. I know his real grandparents would have loved him as much as I do and more.
With my 14 month old Nephew, Igor Adley

With my 14 month old Nephew, Igor Adley!

I look forward to 2017 with great anticipation! Happy New Year to you and all your loved ones! God bless you!

An Important Reminder for Stressful Moments: “Be still, and know that I am GOD” ~ Psalm 46:10

 

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Posing for a photo shortly before our gala. Sept 2016

It has been a busy few months, or year for that matter. What a journey! Since January of this year, I have traveled to more than 20 US states (many of them first time), dozens of cities, and three European countries (mostly for business), as well as working 50-80 hours a week on average for my full-time job. If that was not enough, add planning, thinking, worrying, coordinating, and struggling to keep up with what it takes to coordinate our very first annual gala, on top of being the founder of a startup nonprofit.

Let me first start telling you a little bit about me: I am a female engineer; I speak English as a third language. I am terrified by asking people for money, even if its sole purpose is to help orphans out of hopelessness and enable them to dream.

I am not eloquent by any means; I am a nervous wreck before speaking to a large audience. I don’t know how to talk to people I just met. A group of strangers terrifies me, even if they are all friendly. I grew up in a third world country and moved here later in life, but certain aspects of the American culture still puzzle me a decade later!

I dislike conflicts; I don’t like it when someone is mad at me! I can’t keep up when humor revolves around the art of slangs, cursing or sarcasm. I have never met anyone in the same situation as me: running a nonprofit with another full time, technical job. Oh, and I have zero talent!

Well by this time, if you are still reading this, you are wondering, “Why is she saying all this?” I have a point, I promise! Now, if you can tie it back to everything I lack or my busy life, you may wonder why anyone like this would want to start a nonprofit. Well, that makes two of us. I have a secret though! This one may make you think over everything that makes you doubt yourself.

My friends and I performing a traditional Rwandan dance at our gala. Sept 2016.

I lost my parents at the age 13. Though I was absolutely alone and left to fend off myself at that young age, I encountered someone who became my hope in trials, my refuge in time of trouble, my comfort in sorrow, my counselor in hopelessness, my provision when no one cared, a father to the orphan, a friend in need. That is Jesus, my Savior and King, my God!

You see, all these things I lack, and many more I didn’t want to bore you with, He’s taken upon Himself. Before God, I am warrior, victorious, loved, a daughter of the Most High. I am able to do everything through Jesus who strengthens me. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what keeps me pressing on in spite of my lack of experience in nonprofit management and many other things in life.

So, circling back to my nonprofit: YES, it was very stressful to combine my schedule and responsibilities as I got pulled in many directions. It still is and I often wonder what I got myself into. However, a constant reminder as I navigated a busy schedule this year has been a reassuring voice telling me to be still and know that God will be glorified as David quoted in Psalm 46:10 NKJV.

This is what kept me calm even when people and promises fell through and schedules didn’t align with our planning needs and requirements. After all, this vision is God’s work; I don’t really need to worry, as long as He is on my side. Obviously, He doesn’t need my skills or experience. All He wants is my obedience!

I have been fortunate enough to understand my life calling, the reason God spared my life from the machetes and bullets of 1994 in Rwanda. I may not accomplish much in this life, but as God has been to me, so I will be to others. Today, I can afford anything I need, and my siblings feel the same way. God has been everything we ever need, up to this very minute as I type this. My prayer and hope is to be God’s hands and feet through loving and being a blessing for those who have not been as fortunate.

Matthew 25:34-36 (NKJV) gives me a glimpse of how things will look on the judgement day, when God will impartially judge all the nations. This long chapter is wrapped in the true meaning of LOVE. Also, Paul said it well: although all these three are excellent: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of them is LOVE.

rasgala214

Sharing my story and our vision at our gala. Sept 2016!

Through God’s LOVE that spoke the earth into existence, I hope to spend the rest of my life striving to learn and practice what it means to love everyone unconditionally regardless of who they are or their life choices: race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin or ancestry etc.

I am really thankful that our first annual gala was a success, and we are currently almost halfway to our final goal in terms of raising funds for our first learning center in Rwanda to benefit street children and at-risk-youth. God has been great to me, and blessed me with a great team of volunteers who are very passionate about my vision and cause.

Will you join forces with me to share this hope, advocate for orphans, and empower the most vulnerable children through education? I am eternally thankful that the Lord would entrust me with this great mission! I still cannot believe that He picked ME!! Rising Above the Storms (RAS) is not a work I feel burdened to do, it is simply my life story, and a soul that has been truly satisfied & touched by God’s Mercy!