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

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

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

 

moi

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!