(This Guest Post by Paige Steele, Hope Haven’s leader for the Kugaba Initiative, is part of a feature in our latest magazine. Message us if you want a free copy in your mailbox!)
Gabi Johnson was the first ever Hope Angel to join The Kugaba Initiative back in 2019. She chose to sponsor the quick witted “class-clown”, Banga, in Hope Haven’s oldest class. Gabi has never missed an opportunity to write letters of encouragement to Banga and three years later, she took a leap of faith, left her home in Castle Rock, Colorado and traveled halfway across the world to Rwanda to meet him.
Gabi first saw Banga when he was eating breakfast with his friends on a Monday morning at school. He immediately recognized her, but like any adolescent boy, was shy and embarrassed to be meeting his Hope Angel in front of his friends. Gabi sat down next to him and quickly put him at ease with a few jokes, laughs and light hearted banter, “Don’t you remember me? I’m your Hope Angel, Banga!” From that point on, they were instant buddies.
Later that week, Gabi and Banga took a ride on the back of the truck, a favorite activity of many Hope Haven guests, and went to visit his home.. Banga is one of few fortunate students at Hope Haven who live in a home equipped with electricity and running water.
“Hope Haven helped me to get division one, many kids [in Rwanda] don’t have that chance,” Banga explained. “If you get division one, you have hope and it helps you fix your future. Hope Haven has been so good to me.”
Gabi’s heart warmed upon hearing this, understanding that most of Banga’s classmates fall into that category. She has confidence that Banga will achieve his dreams with the schooling he is receiving from Hope Haven, grateful that she is able to contribute in some way.
Banga went on to say, “Having [Gabi] as my Hope Angel gives me hope that I will finish my studies. She encourages me in her letters and I really enjoy the letters I get from her.”
Gabi later described meeting Banga as the highlight of her trip, “I always looked forward to the day I could meet him in person and give him a big hug – whether he wanted one or not, ha! Riding with him in the back of a truck on the way to his home was one of my favorite moments because he really opened up to me and we were able to bond. This experience took my sponsorship to a whole new level and now I have a forever friend.”