We are a supplementary education program offering summer camps and after-school programs for children in Kigali, Rwanda. Hope Shines, Inc. is officially incorporated in the state of New York (approved by both the New York Department of State and the Department of Education), and is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit.
Our founder, April Riegler, was a retail buyer in New York City, working with Fair Winds Trading on the Rwanda Path to Peace basket project. She visited Rwanda for the first time in 2007 to meet the basket weavers, the survivors of the 1994 genocide.
On day one of her visit, April visited the Rebero Orphans Centre (the site of our first two camps), just outside of Kigali—Rwanda’s capital. The orphan centre was full of amazing little girls and boys, all without parents, and many who are HIV-positive. Rebero was founded by two men, themselves orphaned and survivors of the genocide, doing their best to care for these kids who needed the basics of life: food, clothing, and shelter.
April knew there was something she could add to these basic necessities—education, friendship, and mentoring. April said, “As we spent time there, seeing the facilities…talking and laughing with the kids, I was inspired by the two strong father figures these children were so lucky to have in their lives. At the same time, I wondered where the mother figures were. Holding a little girl in my arms, whose need just to be held was so evident, I thought of my own mom, and how lucky I am to have her. So many motherless girls surrounded me; with the incredible changes young girls face as they ascend into adulthood, who would be there to listen to their secrets, to give answers to questions all girls have?”
She knew that what Rebero needed was a mentoring program for the young girls, and in less than a year April made it happen. Within two years the programs grew to encompass both male and female children and a sports curriculum was added. Now at the three year mark, Hope Shines is expanding to a second orphan center, running two different camps, will be supporting 150 children and is launching a four month long after school program.
The successful launch of Hope Shines occurred in July 2008. Seven mentors (four from the U.S. and three from Rwanda) worked with forty female orphans of Rebero during a weeklong day camp. Activities included dance and all kinds of arts and crafts, aimed at improving their English language skills, self-esteem, gender equality, moral values, and overall quality of life.
Of course, the boys of Robero could not be left out! A Canadian organization, OA, signed on to run a soccer program so the boys could experience a camp with similar goals. Both camps focused on giving the kids value and self worth through talks about achieving goals, gender equality and the importance of education. The camps combined twice during the week so that the girls could play soccer too.
The 2008 camps were just the starting point for this grassroots mentoring program. In August of 2009, eight volunteers and four local translators returned to the Rebero Orphans Centre or another weeklong camp—successfully merging the two camps into one with an extensive sports program that included soccer, American football, and baseball (which some of the kids had never played or even seen!).
For the last two years we have expanded our camps into the school year to provide a place for our kids to go after school. We kicked-off the new program in 2011 with a 6 week program, and in 2012 we reached a major goal of offering 4 months of programming!