The Rwandan village of Mayaga is better place to be a kid because Lyla Godfryd is in the world.
Two decades ago, the village became home to many widows and a large group of children orphaned by the genocide of 1994 that killed as many as 1 million men, women and children in the African nation. In the years since, the residents built themselves houses and a school and brought in electricity, and now, 19 years later, new families have formed and the next generation is being raised in a peaceful, though very poor, place.
Godfryd, a junior at Davis High School, knew of the struggles the villagers faced from family friend Chiaya Rawlins, who works on behalf of the Friends of Rwanda Association. And 2 1/2 years ago, upon learning that the children there loved to play soccer but had virtually no equipment — no shoes, no balls, no anything — she decided to change that.
Godfryd — a longtime soccer player herself — had a sizable collection of soccer jerseys accumulated over the years and suspected households all over Davis did, too. She put out the word to the community and soon had enough jerseys to outfit 10 full teams of students, as well as shin guards, socks, cleats, balls, nets and more.
She turned everything over to Rawlins to deliver to Rwanda for her and was rewarded with photographs of smiling children clad in Davis AYSO and DYSL jerseys happily playing soccer.
“I had hoped to go with her,” Godfryd said, “but I was too young.”
When Rawlins returned to Davis, she told Godfryd of the school’s other needs, ranging from a library to an outdoor court where students could play basketball and volleyball.
Godfryd decided to make that her next project, and last winter, she began collecting again, though this time the effort was more focused on raising money to purchase the materials to build the court.
She sent out letters and received donations from friends and family. A booth at the Davis Farmers Market also brought in a lot of donations.
“I was astounded,” said her mom, Avery Godfryd.
So generous was the community that Godfryd was able to raise everything needed to build the court and outfit it with balls, nets and more. And this time, she got to be the delivery person.
In June, accompanied by family friend Ange Twagirayezu, brother of Rwanda’s ambassador to the United States, Godfryd headed to Rwanda. There she stayed with a family for a month and became close to one of the daughters, Karen, who became her companion and tour guide during Godfryd’s time there.
She visited Kenya, went on a safari and saw the rainforest, but the highlight of the trip was her visit to the school in Mayaga.
She arrived to see kids proudly wearing her own Sacramento club team’s Cal Rush T-shirts as part of their school uniforms.
“The kids had heard I was coming and they had prepared a musical for me,” Godfryd said.
She received a tour of the grounds, saw where the new sports court would be installed and even played a game of soccer, which in Rwanda is considered a “male sport,” Godfryd said, but one that they were happy to play with her.
Many of the kids she was playing with and against wore soccer jerseys likely very familiar to Davis kids.
Godfryd also presented the $1,500 she had raised in Davis — converted to Rwandan currency — to the principal of the school and remarked on how so much of it — the donations, the balls, the jerseys — “seem so little here, but were so big there.”
“It seemed amazing what a difference I could make,” she added.
Back in Davis, her new Rwandan friends are still on her mind and she is already planning what she will do next to make life a little better for the residents of Mayaga.
“I’m going to raise more money to fill in the needs,” she said. “The teachers don’t make much and the kids don’t have a lot of books … the priority will be building a library.”
She’s not planning an active fundraising campaign but anyone interested in helping can make donations through the Friends of Rwanda Association at any time.
And she says she’s so grateful for the support of the Davis community, her family and friends — particularly Maddie Rackerby, who helped her enormously — and the Friends of Rwanda Association. Learn more about the association and how to help at www.friends-of-rwanda.org.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy