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Stories from Rwanda: It Takes What It Takes

I bought Let's Learn How to Help Ourselves and Others, which was written by Odette Umurerwa and illustrated by Jen Lemen. Jen addressed the envelope, in what has become her trademark manner, to "The amazing Schmutzie". I have ordered a few things from her Etsy shop, and I am absolutely going to continue buying whatever she has to sell, because my ego loves it when I get mail that tells me I am amazing.

Let's Learn How to Help Ourselves and Others is the story of Odette and her brother, Innocent, when they were refugees in Uganda. The children where they were had very little and could not even afford to go to school, so Odette and her brother, at the young ages of seven and nine, decided to start a cooperative with the other children. They shared what chickens they had, sold the eggs at market, and then the children pooled the money amongst themselves so that they could buy things like clothing and pencils and afford to go to school.

I had the desire to share the book right from my first reading, so I read it out loud to the Palinode, and I almost did not make it through, because I was choking up and sucking tears back through my sinuses. The Palinode kept reaching out and patting my foot to help me calm down enough to continue with the book, to which I kept replying It's just so hopeful and so sad!

And it is both a hopeful and a sad story. I have been feeling a little creatively stuck lately, and when that happens, I tend to spiral into a depression that revolves around the senselessness of the universe and the futility of all things, because my present inability to complete a particular poem or photographic project obviously means that THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE AND ALL OF ITS CONTENTS ARE RENDERED COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS. Odette and Jen's book knocked me right off that load of hooey. In fact, it reminded that the hooey is not outside but inside of me. I, folks, am full of crap sometimes, and I sorely needed to figure that out for the umpteenth time.

Reading about so much hope and major change from the hands of children with such little to go on encouraged my heart, and Odette and Jen's mission to bring this message to the villages of Rwanda has moved me profoundly. As companion pieces to the book, I am also keeping up with Jen's stories about her recent trip to Rwanda where she distributed copies of the book and stayed with Odette's family. She melts my rigid adherence to cynicism and opens me up to the belief that all things are not senseless and futile. The pursuit of the good transforms individuals, whole communities, and the face of the planet on which we live. And quite accidentally, Odette and Jen have managed to transform me along the way.

I urge you to buy their book. With the sale of each book, a second copy is sent to northeastern Rwanda, where books are scarce and sorely needed to teach young girls and women that they can be the backbones of their communities and their country. This is a story that is worth it for all of us to spread.