Yesterday morning, despite my illness, I dragged myself out. We were to visit the transit center an hour from Gisenyi, which we manage with MINALOC and the World Food Programme. On the way, we stopped at the Imbubazi (Compassion) Orphanage, a site made famous by Rosamond Halsey Carr, an American woman who has spent a large part of her life here in Rwanda.
In 1994, she had been living an hour from Gisenyi, in a little house by herself. When the genocide began, she was evacuated with all of the other Americans; however, she followed the events closely from the U.S., and begged the Ambassador to let her return in August, despite continued insecurity and constant interahamwe attacks. She had seen the orphans of the genocide on TV, and wanted to help them.
The Ambassador finally agreed, and she returned in September 1994. She was 82.
We met with Rose, and she welcomed us into her European-style cottage, which was enveloped in ivy, and surrounded by exquisitely kept floral gardens. She served us tea and told us her story.
She was childless herself, she said, but at the age of 82, she had 40 children. She founded the orphanage in her old house, which had been completely ransacked and emptied by the interahamwe. She cared for the children in the farmhouse adjoining her cottage.
The children had nowhere to go, and if they were found walking about, they would surely be slaughtered. Most were babies, the oldest were 5 or 6. She struggled to keep them well-fed and to protect them from the constant interahamwe attacks.
The insecurity became too much, and she moved her orphanage to Gisenyi, where it remained until last month, when the landowners raised the rent to $700 a month. With help from UNHCR, the Red Cross, Save the Children, other organizations and private donors, she reopened a new, expanded orphanage next to her original cottage. The old, bombed-out farmhouse is still there. She now hosts 120 children, some genocide orphans, some who have been left behind by their asylum-seeking parents, some without parents. She is 94.
It's enough to make you cry.
She said this: "I never knew the generosity of people until I opened this orphanage."
But really, she is astonishingly modest. I believe that we are all, fundamentally, cowards. We all want to do good, but no one actually does anything. It takes an exceptional individual, like Rose Carr, to take that first step, and undertake the hard work--and then the rest of us follow, giving her money to support the cause. We congratulate ourselves for having done something good, when all we did was give a couple of dollars.
So when Rose said she couldn't believe the generosity of people, I couldn't help but tear up at the thought that she passed on the credit that she deserves to others.