Just like any other year, my husband & I spent Christmas 2019 with my family upstate NY & New Year’s with his parents in the midwest! We usually rotate holidays with our families every year, which works perfectly for us. While neither of us is known for New Year’s resolutions & such, still, we felt hopeful & looked forward to 2020, and our 1st wedding anniversary celebration which was around the corner (mid-January). We celebrated it in Palm Springs, CA, with a plan to do a proper celebration the following month in Hawai’i. Palm Springs was a lot of fun, and definitely much warmer than our northern neck of the woods, especially in January!
As we had planned, in late February, we were finally on our way to Hawai’i. It was an exciting moment especially for me since it was my first time in HI. We first touched down at the Honolulu International Airport, on the main island of Oahu, to reach our connection via Hawaiian Airlines. The Honolulu airport & its surrounding reminded me so much about Rwanda’s savannah in the Eastern Province! Shortly after, we were back up and on our way to the beautiful Island of Kaua’i, which is the most northwestern part of the Hawaiian archipelago, and landed at the Lihue Airport.
What beautiful & breathtaking views, water, mountains! It was just as I had imagined, and more. We stayed in the northern part of the island, Princeville. And of course we did as any tourist would do: we drove around the entire island (from Princeville to the north western part, Waimea), visited water falls, Lighthouses, Canyons, hiked rainforests, spent most time at the beaches, of which Kaua’i has in abundance, and not crowded at all. It was a breath of fresh air.
While there, the temperatures were between 70-80s which was fantastic, especially for a tropical weather girl like me. The southwestern part of the Island, Waimea, known for its black sand beaches, was especially warmer and less windy from my experience. The sun tan at the beach there was just what we needed!
As our stay was coming to the end, unfortunately, the pandemic was also making its headway & getting worse by the minute. Looking back, we wished we had extended our stay there and be stranded in a sunny weather instead. Shortly after we arrived back to the mainland US, the lockdown went into effect nationwide. Unbeknownst to most, this was the beginning of the longest, probably most depressing period most people have ever had to go through.
So when I say goodbye to 2020, I am pretty sure I am speaking on behalf of many people! To say that 2020 has brought so much hardship is an understatement! Although the impact varies depending on individual situation pre-covid, but the most vulnerable in the world (economically, financially etc.) were hit the worst. We have seen it with the street children we work with through Rising Above the Storms in Rwanda; the loss of the source of income & hunger was even severe for their families that were already fragile!
UNICEF says it best: “this is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong; without urgent action, this health crisis risks becoming a child-rights crisis“.
While there are probably way too many posts about how depressing 2020 has been, I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight things I am grateful for, and hopefully spread some positive encouragement in a world that I believe needs it so desperately.
As we bit 2020 adieu, I am very thankful to God Almighty for:
– Health & Family
As I type this, there has been more than 83 million cases worldwide & over 1.8 million lives gone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have lost jobs, the world economy is in shambles. Today, being safe and healthy is a something I never want to take for granted, even after this pandemic is long gone. I am grateful to God for my families in the US & Rwanda who have been incredible warriors through this. My amazing husband who’s a gift from heaven and my best friend! I cannot begin to imagine how hard this must have been for people who live by themselves! I thank God for my job, and the flexibility to do it & Cisco I work for! I say a prayer for everyone who is in any kind of need, and that God will use me anyway He choses!
– A much Needed Trip to Hawai’i
While my husband & I wished we had stayed in the sunny Hawai’i longer instead of returning to mainland US & be in a lockdown here, I am grateful for our vacation there, our experience, warm weather, good food, beautiful views, beaches and hiking trails. It was definitely a perfect timing, because soon after, places were no longer accepting visitors.
– My nonprofit RAS’ Donors & Supporters
I cannot imagine where Rising Above the Storms would be today if it were not for the generosity of so many people who have chosen to believe in my vision & mission to change lives of the most vulnerable children over the years. This year was no exception; despite the hardship endured this year by way too many people, donations have been still coming, and we have been able to keep up with our children’s needs and go beyond to support their families during the lockdown. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Moreover, our Rwanda employees were able to receive their salaries during the shutdown, which makes me forever grateful. As we change lives of the most vulnerable children, my hope and prayer is that families & communities our staff are part of are also positively impacted. That’s my dream!
– Our Board & Teams
I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by incredible people who have rolled up their sleeves this year to plow through uncertainties to keep RAS up and running. I couldn’t find a photo that has everyone in it (and looks great) but my gratitude to each and everyone of them is immeasurable. 2020 has been surprisingly the most productive year we’ve had at RAS to date. These powerful women (mostly Cisco employees; we have couple of men too, but they couldn’t make this call) have achieved more than I could imagine: from communications, fundraising, finances, strategies, social media, you name it! I am indebted to them!
– A Trip to Rwanda
What an incredible opportunity to get to travel to Rwanda in October this year! I guess it might come as a shock since I travel there at least once or twice a year; but this trip was extra special for so many reasons. As a frequent traveler, normally a trip like this gets me excited and is always almost predictable. However, for the first time, this was not the case. Due to COVID-19, I was very nervous about the unknowns.
I had so many questions that I didn’t have answers to prior to taking this journey: do I need to stay awake for 17 hours? Can I sleep with a mask on? Are the airplanes safe to be on for that long during a pandemic? How about connecting via Europe that was going through the second wave? Do we get fed on the plane as usual? Will the trip get canceled?
I’d assume that a lot of people have had these questions and more, or are afraid to fly all together. The good news is that you can safely travel during the pandemic. I am not going into details with what the airlines are doing to keep passengers safe, but I think they are doing everything they can to keep passengers safe. My husband and I certainly felt comfortable. Delta has been my favorite airline for the past 3-4 years, and they truly delivered on their promise during this trip.
Landing in Rwanda, it was impressive to see how organized the airport was at handling arriving passengers and prioritizing everyone’s safety. At the time, Rwanda required a negative COVID-19 test valid for 5 days prior to arriving in the country. Moreover, arriving passengers had to be quarantined (at a hotel) upon arrival, and get tested once again. Once the results were in and negative, then you were free to go. Luckily, there were several hotels to pick from to self-quarantine in, including 5-star hotels, of course at the traveler’s expense. I was amazed by how quickly we got our results back (less than 12 hours) and were able to leave our hotel and see my family. The whole process from landing to leaving the hotel was smooth and uneventful.
Navigating the city of Kigali was made easier by restrictions that were put in place; hand washing and temperature check at every entrance, masks and physical distancing enforced wherever possible. This truly made the experience more comfortable; my husband and I even managed to see the kids at our Center, and visited with the staff. I treasured every moment; I didn’t think it was going to be possible to see them. I deeply appreciated our staff and kids’ resiliency on another level.
I have always been grateful of how far along our kids have come, and admired their strength after all they have gone through in their young lives; however, getting to see them after many months of lockdown and learning how that has impacted them really gave me a new level of gratitude. Our kids were allowed to return to the Center for the first time on October 5th since March. That’s almost 8 months. I had a privilege to have a 1:1 conversation with a few of them.
The common concern they all had was being home for a long time without interacting with their friends, hunger, missing school. They were very excited to be back to the Center where they can eat, play, see their friends and get help going through school work. This experience was a personal reminder of the work we do there and the courage of our staff. I saw joy and hope in their innocent eyes; I saw excitement about the future. If there has ever been any setback about the progress we’ve made, their joy gave me strength to keep marching forward.
I also had an amazing conversation with our staff; they shared how their main priority in coming months would be to figure out ways to help our kids catch up to their peers as they started school this November, and beyond. We talked about their experience during the lockdown. They shared how they did their best to stay in touch with the children virtually, which was difficult because of technology access for those families.
I also learned that while our staff members were blessed to be getting their salaries during the lockdown, they didn’t forget those who were not as fortunate. One staff member mentioned how he and his wife were able to buy food supplies for 4 different families at different times during the lockdown. I was deeply touched by this selfless act of kindness. They shared how grateful they are to be in these kids’ lives; they emphasized on how they love their job, our kids & are grateful to get paid to do what they enjoy doing the most.
Back in April, our Rwanda team also did a food distribution in April where they fed about 100 household members of our kids. The process was tedious because of the restrictions of the lockdown; however, parents were very touched by the gesture. And more importantly, parents and local authorities shared how this proved to them our commitment not only to kids, but their families and Rwandan communities. Since then, the local administration has a newfound appreciation of the work we do there. I was deeply moved!
I left energized and encouraged by the visit. If nothing else, I believe that the pandemic has made us even more stronger.
I look forward to 2021 with hope!
Blessings to you and all your loved ones 💕💕