In the early 2000s some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable children – some orphans, some children living on the streets through no fault of their own – began seeking shelter in a half-built warehouse in Nyabugogo, Kigali's busy, dirty industrial area. Hundreds of children would congregate there seeking shelter from the streets, the cold and other dangers of the night. A local Rwandan church began assisting these children by providing some food and clothing, but the sheer numbers of children overwhelmed them. They put local people in charge of caring for these children and named the shelter El Shaddai.
The orginal children's home
In 2005 Dr Paul Oas, a retired psychotherapist from San Diego, California, and Dr Ron Reinsch , an obstetrics/gynaecology surgeon, and others visited Rwanda and volunteered their time to treat patients and train professionals. They were told about El Shaddai and decided to pay it a visit. They found the conditions within the warehouse deplorable.
On this and subsequent visits they spent time with the children at the El Shaddai orphanage and were moved by what they saw. Upon returning to the U.S. they joined with other concerned citizens to form the Rwandan Orphans Project in order to raise funds in the U.S. to improve the conditions at El Shaddai. They soon became the primary funders of the center, while it continued to be run by the Rwandan church.
Children receiving meals at the El Shaddai kitchen
Through their donations El Shaddai soon became more than a shelter for street kids at night: classrooms were made in the warehouse and a catch-up school program was launched to begin educating the young boys who had fallen behind in school. Health insurance was purchased so all children had access to proper healthcare, and dormitories were constructed so the children could stay at this new center all day, safe from the dangers of living on the streets. El Shaddai was soon known as the Rwandan Orphans Project, Center for Street Children, or simply as the ROP. Conditions had improved, but the warehouse where the ROP center was based was in a very poor condition, with a leaking roof, little ventilation in the dormitories and only one light bulb in the entire building.
The original center was overcrowded and very basic
In 2009 Sean Jones became the newest member of the Board of Directors and committed to volunteering at the ROP center for several months to assist the program locally. In February 2010 the ROP split with the church that was running the center over differences in how the money was being spent and how the orphanage was being managed. The ROP then took over the running of the center and continued to fund it from the US, with Sean as its Executive Director on the ground. The ROP continues to be a secular organization with no religious affiliation.
In April 2010 the Center moved from the run-down warehouse it had been based in for years to new location in a former school on the outskirt of Kigali. This was home for the ROP for the next five and a half years, until the owner of the property decided to redevelop the land for commercial use and pressured us to leave the site with little time to find a new home and fundraise for a move.
Fortuntely we found our new home outside of Kigali in an area called Rwamagana. Thanks to many of our supporters we were able to purchase the property fully early in 2016. Our children have chosen to call our new site the Imizi Children's Center (Imizi means "roots of a tree" in the local language). Now, finally, our program has a home nobody can take away from us, and where we can take care of Rwanda's vulnerable children for many years to come.
Today's Rwandan Orphans Project
The story of the ROP has mirrored that of our children over the years. We started out not having much, but we never gave up, and today things are better than ever. Despite all of our successes we still have challenges in front of us, and we will never quit striving to give our children an ever improving home environment, education and opportunities so they can thrive. With your help, we can continue transforming the lives of these special children.