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!

She Is A Princess! The world deserves to know!

If you have visited my blog more than once, I’m sure you have met my siblings that I honorably call my children. This is not by coincidence. Since after God spared my life during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, He entrusted me with the 3 most amazing siblings on this planet. Although they were all less than 10 years old at the time, I cannot imagine my life differently. Even though I have never been young and never got a chance to be selfish, I don’t have a regret.

This year, 2014, marks 20 years since after we lost our parents and two siblings, and how long I have been raising my siblings: Eric, Alice and Mireille. If I had to start all over again, I would do it in a blink of an eye. These 3 are the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Every single moment and breath I take, I praise God for honoring me with such great and important responsibility: to love and be a mother to an incredible man and two beautiful women anyone can ever wish for in their lives. I call them my TREASURE! Just shortly after the Genocide ended, the day I learned that my 3 siblings had survived, too, was my first sunshine of hope to give me a reason to live for, thrive and strive in this life.

It was the best day of my life!

My Adorable Baby. Isn't she a beauty?

My Adorable Baby Mireille Noella. Isn’t she a beauty?

You may have read the article I wrote about my brother Eric “Inconceivable Heroism Amid Horror” and another post about my sister Alice “She is A Pure Beauty. And a woman of God“. However, this specific post is unique in its own way, because I get to talk about my youngest sister, our princess Mireille Noella. She is my baby and I don’t feel any different than if I had birthed her myself!! This is very true. During the Genocide, Mireille was only 3 years old. I certainly owe everything to my little brother Eric who, at 8, kept both Alice (6) and Mireille (3) safe, when it was a matter of life and death and everyone running for their own lives. He sure is my hero!

When I share my story, people often ask me what I struggled most with since after the loss of my parents. My audiences wonder if it has been forgiving those who killed my family members or raising my siblings. Surprisingly, it is neither. My greatest life challenge has been to slowly realize how much Mireille doesn’t have many memories about our parents or life before the Genocide. Sadly, things she can recall most about is during the Genocide. For 13 years that my life was a paradise with the most incredible parents that ever existed, my baby does not remember much about her portion.

It can range from simple things like our family childhood dog’s name. Or routine things like the fact that we used to pray together every night as a family. She absolutely doesn’t remember this at all. When I sing our Mom’s favorite Gospel songs that she always sang to us when we were little, it sounds made up to her. Instead, she randomly remembers things that none of us knows where she got it from.

Few treasured photos we have of our parents and two siblings we lost in 1994, my little sister is unable to connect those images to our childhood before the tragedy. She’s completely disconnected from memories I hold onto so dearly! It breaks my heart. This is the deepest wound that I will probably carry for the rest of my life.

I will never find words to express to my readers that can accurately describe how much it hurt when Mireille speculated her greatest wish in this life: to see our parents again so she can get to call them “Mommy and Daddy“. Undoubtedly, this is a precious part of her life that has been snatched from her before she could get to live it. No wonder why she didn’t really talk much until after high school. It’s very touching when she calls me MOM; it absolutely melts my heart.

Very Stylist and Chic. She can easily be a model!

Very Elegant. She can easily be a model!

Mireille and I are almost 10 years apart; for this reason, she will always be young in my eyes, and simply a PRINCESS. I already accepted the fact that I can never replace our parents’ empty spot in her heart, but I know one thing: I love her with all my heart, for the rest of my life. There is simply nothing she can ever need that I am able to provide. She’s not only the youngest of 5 siblings. I watched her growing from a malnourished 3 year old out of the orphanage where the government placed my 3 siblings after the Genocide ended, to the most beautiful woman she is today!

Absolutely gorgeous and a fashionista from head to toe that I often wonder how we are possibly related, she is smart, a hard worker, intelligent, creative, loves God and people, very funny, although she may appear to be shy sometime. She is also spoiled, not only by me who would give her this planet if it was mine, but also by Eric and Alice who love her endlessly.

I will probably never fully understand why my little sister had to grow up without parents, but there is one thing that sustains me: GOD Who has been our Father, Comforter, Redeemer, Provider and everything we ever need to this day. I owe to the Lord every good possession and health that my siblings and I have.

Mireille may have been deprived of her precious childhood and forced to grow up in a hurry, but today she is finishing up her college senior project to graduate this December with a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. And there are so many opportunities that await her ahead. I know very well that she will do amazing things in life!

Even if I have children of my own in the future, Mireille will always remain my oldest child as long as I shall live! Her, Eric and Alice will never, EVER need anything within my capability. This is my standing PROMISE to my parents in heaven and Jesus who has them with him. The Holy Spirit bears me witness! Although it may sound unreasonable to say, I praise God who has allowed me to somehow remain single this long so that my siblings can enjoy my full attention, which I certainly have for them, undivided.

I love them beyond comprehension. Mireille will always be my baby and spoiled until God calls me home. When I will see my parents in another life, I will be eager to narrate everything to them!

My love for my 3 siblings is unconditional, all my days!!

She Is A Pure Beauty. And A Woman of GOD!

I am very privileged to know this stunning woman and eternally honored to call her my sister. It may sound silly to say that about your little sister, but if I was asked about someone I know who is wise and rich in knowledge, she would be the first one in my mind. She is so many years younger than I am, but it’s incredible how she is full of wisdom. She always reminds me of our mother Colette; all my Mom’s good qualities got passed onto my little sister. The love she has for God is truly outstanding; she is a prayer warrior, a woman of faith. She inspires me and challenges me at the same time.

Alice is a very good planner and someone who makes everything look normal and organized in our family.  It’s not unusual to hear her friends entrusting their whole wedding plans into her hands and resting assured that everything will be perfect, because Alice is there. Unlike me and the rest of our two siblings, she is very outgoing and gets along with everyone she meets. She makes friends in public transportation, churches, public market, everywhere she goes. I definitely find it impressive because the last thing I would be comfortable doing is to talk to strangers in random places.

She is a very good cook, too, a skill that I certainly don’t have. She makes everyone feel welcome. You may find yourself too comfortable to leave; it happens often with her friends. On the other hand, I am not good at hosting parties or knowing what to prepare when I invite people over. I must admit that I have to think so hard when I have friends over :(. It doesn’t come naturally I guess!

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce to you the most amazing woman on the whole planet, Miss Alice.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you the most amazing woman on the whole planet, my little sister Alice.

I am not the only one in our house who thinks Alice makes things work; recently we had a conversation about an upcoming big family event, trying to piece things together. Since Alice is currently away in grad school, our youngest sister Mireille said that when she comes back, she will fix this and that. None of us objected to that, we nodded in agreement. She doesn’t even know we volunteered her during her absence.

If there is a new project to be proposed for our family, Alice is somehow always the best one to bring it up, and she does it so amazingly that you can never argue or say no. When something major needs to happen, my little brother Eric and sister Mireille always put her in front and say that it’s her idea. She is very reasonable in what she says and very well articulated. My little sister especially slows me down when I am needlessly in a rush or being unreasonable, and reminds me that I can relax, after all, even parents need to chill sometime.

She is someone I can trust with all my heart; I can always rely on her words of wisdom. They lift me up. She is very creative in so many ways, brilliant and a very hard worker; for example, she initially went to grad school with the expectation to get one Master’s degree. When she arrived there, she decided to double major. She is now expecting two Master’s degrees this year. Alice also gets nominated for leadership roles everywhere she is, always. I often wonder how I am possibly related to my 3 siblings who are all way beyond talented and so beautiful!

There is not a single day that passes by without praising God for putting an incredible little sister in my life. I doubt that our parents ever got to know how amazing and special their little girl is, in only 6 years they had known her. I am glad I am there for them. I treasure everything in my heart and ponder on it often; I cannot wait to tell my parents all about it, in heaven.

Alice is an astonishing young woman, and I am very very honored that she is indeed my sister. She is beautiful inside-out, and I am forever proud of the marvelous woman my beautiful baby has become. I know she will do great things in life, there is no doubt about that; I am equally excited and looking forward to it all with great anticipation and gratitude.

Only God knows how much I love her, her sister and brother; because my love for them came from above!  They are my treasure all my days!

Glory be to you GOD, always!

My Little Sisters

Okay, so, when it comes to talking about my children, wait a minute, my siblings, yes I took the liberty of adopting them as my own, I get super excited. You can blame GOD who gave me the love I have for them.

So, it was my birthday few days ago. How old I am? Let’s just say I was born many moons ago. In Rwanda, at least when I was growing up, we didn’t really celebrate birthdays; people barely remembered it was even their birthday, leave alone celebration. That has drastically changed recently though, and I guess it is because of the western influence through movies, TV, Internet, social networks & media etc. Not to mention that you do not ask a Rwandan lady how old she is, and this is almost true :).

My favorite part is best wishes messages I receive from friends and family. I have some friends whom we normally don’t get a chance to talk often, but they sure know when to drop me an e-mail, exactly to wish me a happy birthday. How thoughtful they are! I keep records of inspiring notes from friends, on paper or by heart, but for the sake of this post, I wanted to share this year’s messages from just my two sisters. Whether they used a dictionary, or Google translate, got a help from our brother or whether I underestimate their English skills is irrelevant here. I just love everything about them and their effort. I was deeply touched. “Ndagukunda” means “I love you” in Kinyarwanda.

Mireille Noella

Mireille Noella

Mireille, above, is the youngest of our family. I just love it when she calls me Mom, it melts my heart. I am sure parents would understand. This  is her message on my birthday:”My beloved sis and Mom, may this day brings and makes your spirit bright and there be many pleasant surprises for u from morning to night. May all your dreams come true  and this day be just right especially for u because u deserve it and all My Love.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY. NDAGUKUNDA.

Alice, below, wrote: “I’m so thankful that i not only have a magnificent sister, but an amazing friend that stands by me and supports me, by giving every piece of her life. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LOVE U SO MUCH.”

Alice

Alice

My brother Jean Eric’s messages, like always, are full of wisdom and beautiful wishes from the heart. His English is far better and I don’t get surprised as much as I do when it’s a message from Mireille or Alice.

I love them more than I can ever put in words. I sometime have silly thoughts when I picture my siblings’ respective wedding day. I wonder if I will be called “the mother of the bride/groom” or just “the sister of the bride/groom”, or later a grandma or just auntie. Either way, it will certainly be my best moments. Even if I had to start over again and raise them, I would do it in a twinkling of an eye.