It is that time of year again, the Christmas period, old customs are reprised, new ones begun. At Urugwiro Village, Rwanda’s state house, an annual invasion of the little people, has become an established tradition, with the normally formidable security personnel, turning an indulgent, blind eye to the excitable insurgents.
Yes, it was the annual Christmas children’s party, hosted by Rwanda’s first lady. Three little people, or minie me-s, if you prefer, are selected from each one of the country’s districts, now twenty-seven, plus the city of Kigali. The basis for selection varies. Those selected, are the brightest and most gifted pupils, or they are from disadvantaged families, or have some form of disability. Each group is accompanied to Urugwiro village, by their district’s vice-mayor, in charge of social affairs. There they are joined by their peers whose parents are members of staff at Urugwiro.
To welcome them, are all the things that delight any mini-me, from bouncy councils, tramplins to organised games, descending into organised chaos.
Situated in one of the city’s most impressive gardens, Urugwiro can justifiably claim to be a garden with Presidential offices attached, rather than the other way round. The larger, older trees, are home to some of the region’s rarest bird species.
On this, the Minie-Me day, the smaller bushes were festooned with Christmas decorations, which the odd Minie-Me could not resist tagging at, presumably to see if it were attached to the bush.
You cannot have a small persons’ party, without adults dressed in bizarre costumes, and the sight of an adult in a clownish costume, comforting a small boy, who was yelling his lungs out, after grazing his knees, seemed perfectly normal, part of the scenery. And there were of course, treats, enough to make any adult with they were a Minie-me once again, just for a moment, at least.
The first lady strolled into the specially erected marquee, without fanfare. She was accompanied by a Minie-Me, with a painted face. Either she was holding his hand, or just as likely, he was holding hers.
The organisers contrive to make the day feel as if it is the the litte people, who are in charge, who are organising. The little people in turn, seem to love the responsibility, somehow feeling empowered, not just noticed, but recognised. And so, once she was seated, with the Minie-me escort sat next to her, the master and mistress of ceremony, moved forward, to welcome her, and start the entertainment.
Two little people, a male and female, each wielding a microphone, almost as tall as they were, outlined the day’s prorgramme. The show kicked off with a karate demonstration, by a group representing the IG Sports Academy.
It is quite astounding how talented and accomplished, little children can be, when when nurtured. The MCs, Meia Rwahigi Ishimwe, and her colleague, Yuhi Nick Daincky, were flawless. Few adults could have done better.
Expecting mothers say they can feel their babies kicking in the womb, could the minie performers of the Kinyarwanda dance, have been practising still in their mothers’ wombs, when else could they have perfected their skills.
Time flies when you are having fun, they say, and in a blink of an eye, the performances were over, and it was time to give out the prepared presents.
“Children” announced Mini-Me Meia, “it is now time for the presents that have been prepared for you, please move towards them, in an orderly fashion.”
And miraculously, they did as they were bid, queuing excitedly, but certainly in an orderly fashion. The first lady, supervised the prize giving, often interrupted by a demand for a hug. She soon left the handing out of the presents to her staff, and concentrated on giving out hugs instead, playing catch, and a kickabout.
The first lady is a sports enthusiast, and seems to rather enjoy ball control drills. As the stray ball came to her, she deftly cushioned it back to the Mini-Me, who had lost control of it. The Mini Me-s must have been awed. Here was someone, just like their own mothers, except that she could control a football, well enough to perform a back pass, on-her-heel.
How many a mother will be fed up with being told, for the umpteenth time, but mummy, the first lady can do it, look, like this, see?
The organised chaos, in which the first first lady seemed to be revelling, in between chatting to this, or that person, breaking off to dispense yet more hugs, was interrupted by lunch, properly announced of course, by the Mini-Me MCs.
For the adults, it was just a children’s party. For the Mini-Me-s, it was a memory that would linger well into their adulthood.
As they remember, they will hear the music from the Gisimba After School Programme Initiative (GASPI). The initiative takes children, whose childhood has in some way been blighted, either by abuse, poor parenting, lack of care, and aims to give them the love they ought to have had.
The love and healing, is provided through whatever activity interests the particular child. Watching their joyful performances, listening to their beautiful voices, it is at once moving, and impossible, to imagine that these children, now singing out the joys of Christmas, at Urugwiro, were ever unhappy.