Hope Made Real

Retirement volunteeringIn sharing my story let me tell you from the start: Retirement from the business world is possible but retirement from life does not exist unless you want it to. No, it is not possible for every retiree to do as I have done but every retiree can be involved in a worthwhile project that requires they use their body and mind to its fullest capacity. Giving your body and mind permission to set idle is giving yourself permission to die. I can’t think that is such a good idea.

Starting my life in 1930 there was no way anyone could have predicted what has become a reality for me. What future does a coal miners daughter from the coal fields in Pennsylvania have to look forward to? My dad worked in the coal mine from age 10. Dad died at age 51 from Black lung. My mom was a farmer’s daughter with a fifth grade education. No way they could meet but they did. Mama gave birth to 7 rambunctious kids in seventeen years, 4 girls and 3 boys. I was the oldest. Don’t ever volunteer to be the firstborn. Like you have a choice?

Being the oldest simply means you grow up too fast. I decided at an early age that I would never have kids and then I proceeded to have 5 of my own. Oh well what does a kid know? I decided I would not grow old. My idea of old age was 25. Now at 84 my idea has changed and I am setting my target for 130 years. It will take that long to accomplish everything I see on my horizon.

After finishing High School in 1947 I started nurses training. This was a hoot. I am not sure how serious I was and being a bit stupid I dropped out the last half of my senior year. Love and marriage seemed more important at the time. The training I had was enough to let me be a practical nurse and take care of my family and then later the children at Urukundo Village. Being a mom gives you lots of experience in childcare. Retirement volunteeringLife experiences are more valuable than education in a University. Don’t ever sell yourself short. The older you are the more valuable your knowledge is.

After retiring from my place in the business world at age 63 I spent the next 2 years doing all the things I so looked forward to. Rest, relaxation, travel and volunteering in local schools working in prison ministry and being a regular do –gooder did not satisfy my needs. I found that life was just not for me.

Looking for something (I was not sure what), I became a temporary missionary with a group from the United Methodist Church and that mission trip introduced me to Rwanda. In 1995 I made my first trip to Zaire, Africa. At the time I thought I was helping the victims of the Genocide. Any one with knowledge of the events in 1994 would know the refugee camps in Zaire (Congo) were not for victims of the genocide but for the perpetrators. However I worked in the camps near Goma feeding and caring for children. The children needed help. Children are definitely the victims of any conflict. I am not sorry I was there and I am grateful I did not know the danger I was in at the time. I returned to America determined to do something to help vulnerable children in Rwanda. In 2002 I returned to Africa but this time I came to Rwanda and was in Gisengyi when the Nyiragongo Volcano erupted and I felt very much what refugees feel when running for their lives with no place safe to run. The US Embassy helped to get our team out of Rwanda making room for those who could really help displaced people who escaped from the fires and hot, burning lava.

I returned to Kigali, Rwanda in 2004 determined to make a difference in the lives of children in need of love, food, lodging and a family life. Many events happened to discourage me ( a threat on my life was a serious one) and after some time I returned to the safety of the US only to learn that my ministry in Rwanda had not been completed.

Retirement volunteeringIn 2006 I once again traveled back to Rwanda but this time I did not settle in Kigali. The help was not needed there because all NGO’s wanted to be in the capital. The rural area was were the help was needed and so I settled in Muhanga, South Province.

The future looks glorious and busy. I do not have time to spend dying at least not for many years. By that time others will be in place to care for the children in Urukundo Home for children. You notice I do not call it an orphanage. When a child arrives here he or she is no longer an orphan. They have a mama who loves them and many brothers and sisters.

Starting Urukundo Home for Children was a bit scary as I had little capital. I had heard it was not expensive living in a third world country. I must remember never to listen to experts who have never lived in such a country but know it all. I came to Rwanda with $15,000 USD a strong faith and friends who believed in me. I came to start a home for little girls. I would have only girls and all older than 7. My thinking was “girls over 7 years would be able to care for themselves, go to school during the day and my life would be easy. Wrong! My life could not be that simple. The 13 girls who arrived first were all older than 7 years and in a short time Belise a 4 year old came to my house to stay. Soon 7 street boys joined our family.

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  1. Arlene,
    I can relate to your disliking of chickens! As a child I encountered two nasty ones that chased me around pecking at the backs of my legs! They are far down my list of pets. I much prefer eating them!

    May your family continue to be well blessed!

    Nancy Jacobs

  2. Mama Arlene, my husband, Jeremy met you and your wonderful children when he was in Rwanda in 2010 I think and he could not sing your praises enough. Well done and bless your heart

  3. What an inspiring story! As I am just entering the retirement phase of life I’m looking for a something to do that is a service to others. Bless you for stepping out of your comfort zone and helping those needy children. I’m praying you have many more years of good health to do your important work of blessing these children with your love!

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