Letters to our friends in Africa

Dream Center students take up pen pals with Rwandan children from Hope Shines

Last week Dream Center students found themselves wondering about life in Africa for students of Hope Shines, a local supplemental education and resource center for children in Rwanda—not unlike the Dream Center at St. Vincent de Paul.

For many students, it was the first time they imagined so specifically one person in a particular far off place in the world.

What does my Rwandan friend eat? What do they wear? Do they go to school like me?

These questions and more filled their letters written as the Dream Center closes out African Geography month this February. The students also drew a picture to accompany each letter.

The letter writing project came about through Dream Center supporter Next Phase Enterprises, who connected the center’s Supervisor Cindy Bernardo with April Riegler, founder of Hope Shines and an employee of Next Phases' sister company, FoodStory Brands.

“What I love is that we’re feeding minds and bellies,” said Riegler, referencing the food and meals provided in tandem with both education centers. “It’s also important that it’s in a safe environment to imagine, learn and mentor.”

Hope Shines' Executive Director Dan Gladden will deliver the letters this summer to the organization's 35 students, ages 9-14. Knowing this, many of the Dream Center letter writers, who are slightly younger, are practicing patience as they eagerly await their responses.

“It truly inspires learning on both sides of the world,” Riegler said.

Scroll below for a photo gallery of some of the Dream Center students and their letters traveling to their Rwandan pen pals. (Click on the letters to see a larger version.)


Hope Shines Founder April Riegler (at left) and Dream Center student Monique, 11, pause for a brief moment to smile at the camera during their letter writing session.


Monique's letter and artwork (above) will be received by Hope Shines student Latifa Nzayisenga. Monique said she can't wait to receive a reply and wants to know all about what it looks like where Latifa lives.


Kendra, 6, cherishes her art piece that will accompany her letter to Jeanetter Iribagiza.


Kendra said she wanted her drawing to be sunny for her pen pal.


Kenya, 6, looks up to April for some letter writing advice after intensely focusing on what she wanted to ask her pen pal, Yvette Nishimwe.


Kenya's letter

Kenya had lots of questions for Yvette. She said her drawing shows how much she loves the idea that she and Yvette will become friends through the letters and drawings they share.


Ana Parker, wife to Next Phase CEO and Founder Mike Parker, volunteered her time to support the project the company helped make possible. Here she helps a Dream Center student Victoria with spelling.

Jonathan's letter

Jonathan, who is 8 and in our story's feature picture, devoted most of his time to drawing a happy family and their house for his pen pal Germain Ndayisaba.


These are a few of the smiling faces from Hope Shines in Rwanda who will receive the Dream Center students' letters and artworks. Stay tuned as SVdP follows this story further when our Rwandan pen pals' replies arrive.

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