Good Cause: L’Esperance Orphanage

L'Esperance Orphanage

I started talking to Cristina when she got in touch to tell me about L’Esperance Orphanage’s dried fruit for sale at La Galette. It’s a great cause and an interesting revenue generating idea so I asked her to do an interview. For more information, check out their website http://lesperancerwanda.org.

Can you tell me a bit about you?

My name is Cristina Maria from Portugal/Canada. I am doing an internship with L’Esperance in the sector of Business Development. I am a Post-Graduate student in International Development and Policy and I got involved through affiliations with the Belgium Cooperation who knew about this orphanage and their projects.

Can you give us a history of L’Esperance?

L’Esperance is a Children’s Village located in Kigarama, Rwanda run by the German NGO, L’Esperance Children’s Aid International. It started in 1995 after the Genocide by Paul Kowell the founder of the NGO.  Their objective is to provide a safe and healthy environment for these children while providing them with the basic human needs everyone deserves such as shelter, clothing, food, water and education.

Who does L’Esperance aim to help and how?

It aims to help orphan children who have lost their families during the Genocide, or now who have been abandoned or lost their parents due to illness or disease. They provide all basic needs and in the recent years have directed their efforts in encouraging education and direction in life both spiritually and through guidance. Their capacity is only meant for 100 children but over the years due to tragic events have reorganized themselves to take in orphan babies and so they now have a total of 130 children they care for.

How many children call L’Esperance home?

At the moment, 130 kids aged 4 months to 22. The kids are expected to complete their studies and are allowed to stay if they continue to try and put effort in school. If they have trouble completing their studies quickly after close evaluation they are allow to stay as a means of supporting them to finish school. Many of the children have come in families and live with their siblings which is one of the reasons that they are over capacity. Based on their situation and story the idea of separating siblings felt unfair and harmful to the well being of the children despite the overcrowding L’Esperance now faces.

They hope with their businesses to address this problem independently by income generating and building new facilities and more resources for the kids. Since the success of the already established businesses of the Chicken Project they have been able to build two Classrooms for the children at the front of the orphanage property. These classrooms are used for study periods as well as a facility for volunteers who choose to use it for educational purposes such as IT lessons, English lessons, Open Group sessions for teenage empowerment and Sex Education. The goal is to continue expanding and providing these kids with more resources and opportunities for their future.

What does a day at the orphanage look like for the children?

A typical day in the orphanage is school in the mornings, chores based on their ages such as cooking, cleaning, cultivating crops and planting in their individual gardens behind each house, older kids helping with the younger children in terms of school, needs etc. The orphanage does not have a reliable source of electricity due how remote it is. They rely on solar energy for illuminating their surroundings at night such as paths, but are providing with 2 hours of electricity for homework time in the evenings.

It is expected that everyone understands that they are a collective unit that must work together to succeed. The sense of unity and being a large family is emphasized in all manners of life at the orphanage. Most of the kids when asked about their situation are happy, based on the help of several volunteers that come from all over the world and they have voiced their desires. Song and dance are a big part of leisure time at the orphanage and so on the weekends a routine of singing and creating music with a keyboard and recording CD’s of their own songs is very much a high point for them. A vollyball court and soccer field also exist on the orphanage property for the kids to use and play in.

Who cares for the children?

The system in place is that each house has a live in Mother or Father assigned to the house who leads the family. The baby house consists of 8 infants from 4 months to 3 years old and their are 2 mothers that work together to attend to the children. Then there is a children’s house where boys and girls lived mixed between the ages of 5 to 13 with a mother. Then there are two boy houses with a father in each for boys 13 and up and two girl houses with a mother each for girls 13 and up. Based on familiarity and family some kids sleep two to a bed.

How is L’Esperance funded?

L’Esperance has been an organization that has depended on charitable donations by their German mother organization monthly for the basic needs of the children since its conception, however they plan to become self-sustainable in the next five years by means of Social Enterprise. L’Esperance is situated on 10 hectares of fertile land composed of six houses. Over the years, food and crops have been planted and cultivated as a main source of food to feed the children. L’Esperance has been strategic and revolutionary in planning for their future. They have decided to invest in their resources and have developed small businesses throughout the orphanage for income generating. Income generating projects such as a tailoring shop, chicken production (selling leftover eggs kids don’t eat), cows (selling leftover milk) and now their new project known as “The Orchard Project” are all means of supporting their community and generating more income for the number of children that they have.

What is The Orchard Project?

The Orchard Project is based on the rational that L’Esperance has created a fruit orchard of a variety of fruits such as pineapples, mangoes, avocados, and guavas that help feed the kids. However, due to the volume of quantity over the years and over supply, L’Esperance has taken initiatives to bring in professionals in business and engineering to develop a way of producing these fruits for sale purposes. Through the help of non-profits such as Engineers without Borders Colorado and Texas as well as NASA /Johnson Space Center and business professionals, solar technology for fruit drying and fruit processing have been developed.

Business Professionals such as myself have now come in to help launch and implement the project. I have been responsible for creating this project and vision of the Director Victor Monroy into a functioning Business. That being said my tasks have consisted of evaluating the functionality of the project, creating a business plan, researching a local and international market, planning operations and logistics for transportation ie. shipping and exporting, securing funding for a more improved and better functioning Processing Hall, certifying organic and quality control, and marketing and sales. At the moment, as we are still small and starting we have only entered the Kigali local market at New Fiesta and are hoping as we expand to also sell our products in other stores as well as export to Europe and the US.

Where did the idea for selling solar dried fruits come from and how is it going?

The idea for selling dried fruit and all the other income generating projects come from the Director Victor Monroy. He is a enthusiastic dreamer and visionary from Guatemala who has dedicated that last 8 years to L’Esperance and who has a background in Agricultural Engineering. He is realistic about their situation and due to all the fertile land they have he always thinks further what can be done to continue to improve the orphanage. For some time now they have been harvesting fresh fruits for the children and in terms of selling the fruits and maintaining their quality seemed better thought if dried for preservation reasons rather if the fruit remained fresh if sold.

When will your Eco Lodge be ready for visitors and where can they get information?

The Eco Lodge is another Project that will be another means of generating income but also link the world with L’Esperance in a more recreational way. With the new developments of The Congo Nile Trail, L’Esperance has been selected as a lodging site. Therefore, after hosting visitors at the orphanage in the guest house and camping area, the thought of creating a better facility for their guests entered Victor’s mind. He thought why not make an Eco Lodge also designed by Green Technology that would be on the shores of Lake Kivu close to the orphanage for people to come visit. They hope to provide a retreat feel for people to be able to rest, meditate, hike, bike, swim and enjoy with programs or day trips that will be spent at the orphanage. They feel that this will be really great for both the kids and the guests by providing an exchange with one another. To get more information check out http://lesperancerwanda.org. They hope to have it built within five years.

Is there any way for volunteers to get involved?

Volunteers can get involved by emailing lesperancerwanda@aol.com or searching the website. They would be more than welcome to come volunteer or if people want to donate they can also do that through the website. As for the orchard project, a forum is being created in the next couple days on http://www.betterplace.org under ‘Aid Project Orphan Entrepreneurs Rwanda’ with details on the Orchard Project and a breakdown of all costs and materials necessary for building the processing hall. People are invited to navigate through that site and donate while keeping updated on the progress of the Orchard Project. Also, they can go to New Fiesta La Gallette in Remera or to Mr. Chips near Sonatubes and look for a wooden children’s box that will hold our new available fruit.

What are the organisation’s aims for the future?

The orphanages aims for the future are to be self sustainable and economically independent in the future with a facility for orphans to not just have their basic needs covered but invest and empower them to do good and have opportunity in the future. With all the entrepreneur projects being established, skills and tools for understanding business are also in place for the children to learn about and participate in. It’s a Children’s Village that’s transforming itself not just in being an establishment for aid but instead for fostering future leaders in Rwanda.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.