Frederick in Gisenyi, Rwanda

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Brace yourself for a tough story. But I promise it has more than a happy ending. Sometimes when I think of meeting Frederick I have to stop. I’m just so amazed that anyone like him exists in this world. I admire him more than I can express. When he was 15 years old during the genocide in Rwanda, he was taken off a bus by the rebels. He was handed a gun and ordered to start killing the other passengers. He said he couldn’t kill anyone and he’d rather they kill him instead. They beat and tortured him and cut off his arms below his elbows. (Hang on it gets better.) He was left for dead. After a very difficult recovery period, all he wanted in this world was to serve other people who had been left disabled by the horrible time.  Jump to 15 years later, 2009, Frederick is 30 years old and directing a very rare community center by and for people with disabilities. This center has a large workshop where adults make art, design and sew clothing, weave, make dolls etc. The atmosphere in this large workshop was extraordinary. I didn’t want to leave. These people who were formerly social outcasts had found a loving family. They laughed, smiled and worked together with joy. Frederick told me later that he was determined to get people off the street from begging and teach them skills that would allow them a livelihood. But they were so broken they didn’t believe they could do it. He took up painting with his prosthetic limbs in order to say, “look, if I can paint without hands…you can learn to sew, make art or anything else”! He gave me a gift of one of these small paintings of two crested cranes.  The center also runs classes for children who are deaf and who have mental and physical disabilities. It has an internet cafe and offers computer classes. And they feed at least 35 people a day. Check back to this blog for an account of our day in town and a photo of Frederick’s infectious smile.

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