Urukundo Essay by Sarah Smith

Love. Urukundo is the Kinyarwanda word meaning love. How incredibly fitting. This astonishing school and orphanage, decked with blue and white buildings, is the creation of Mama Arlene. Immediately, we were greeted oh so enthusiastically by all of the school kids. They were so excited to shake our hands and give us hugs and high fives. One of the classes even sang their days of the week song for us! We then were led on a tour of the expansive grounds – from the school classrooms to the kids’ sleeping quarters to the dentist office in the middle of a patient visit.

All the while, Jacob, a boy maybe 3 years old, held my hand and trudged along in his black rain boots through the whole tour. Eventually, I had to break away from the group to walk him to his lunch. The group made their way to Mama Arlene’s home where we got to talk to her for a while. She told us her story of how she came to live and love Rwanda. She found herself at the Christmas church service worrying about the meal she was hosting for 75 people later that evening, she said that she “was a very busy woman, but [she] wasn’t a satisfied one.” There is a verse from Ecclesiastes that begs the question, “God has given you breath, what are you doing with it?” So, she found herself praying to get her life on a more meaningful track and she warned us, “be real careful when you pray seriously to the Lord, he may send you to Africa.”

With her newfound mission, it is easy to say that God won by unlocking the potential of a phenomenal servant, but Mama Arlene said, “God didn’t win, I did.” Now, she has a Christmas that is not about presents and is not about Santa Claus. Urukundo does those things of course but the focus is on the birth of Jesus, because that’s what it is all about. She remarked, “It’s so great to celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ and not the birth of Santa Claus.”

Mama Arlene sees herself as “simply a Christian serving the Lord and doing [her] best to fulfill His mission.” She is carrying out this mission through operating Urukundo, a school for 465 children and a full-time home for 26. Urukundo is a safe haven for children that are without families. The pure love and care that surrounds them here is incredible. We asked Mama Arlene about adoption in Rwanda and she said international adoption isn’t allowed after Rwanda backed out of the Hague agreement due to believing that they lost too many children in the genocide. Adoption within the country is allowed but Mama Arlene said, “don’t you dare take one of my kids for someone here. When children are taken out of orphanages here, they are made to be servants and are abused as second-rate citizens.” Such a wonderful home has been fostered at Urukundo that a child whose mother was in jail but was soon to be released told Mama Arlene, “Mama, when my mother gets out of prison, I will visit her on holidays, but I’m going to stay at home with you.” Urukundo is home. Urukundo is love.

Posted with permission from author: Sarah Smith, student at Southern Methodist University