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Quick Learners Make Most of Rwanda Trek

August 27, 1994|LYNN FRANEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA HILLS — They had brought only a few boxes of food and bandages, but three South County residents who traveled to war-torn Rwanda found themselves turned into medics and international relief agency couriers.

When Ron Neely and Gary and Carol Kusunoki, members of Calvary Chapel in Rancho Santa Margarita, left two weeks ago, they knew the supplies they carried weren't much. Still, they hoped even the little they could give would help orphans in Rwanda's devastated villages.

But when several international relief agencies in Kigali heard about their mission, they inundated them with supplies that had sat unused in the capital because there were not enough relief workers willing to make the tough trek into Rwanda's rural areas.

The threesome ended up transporting water purifiers, diapers, fresh produce and 100 blankets, along with their few boxes of supplies, to an orphanage 36 miles from Kigali.

"I now know first-hand that we can do something. Every person can get involved," said Neely, 36, a Lake Forest resident and the director of Safe Harbor International, a relief organization run by Calvary Chapel. "But for each orphan we were able to help, there are 100 more we could not reach."

After briefly lifting the spirits of the 120 undernourished children of the Kayonza orphanage with songs and hugs, the Safe Harbor members now hope to help the orphanage on a permanent basis. They plan to build additional rooms at the orphanage, send a medical team to treat the children and bring in bunk beds, clothing and more food, they said Friday after returning from their five-day trip.

Gary Kusunoki, 35, a Laguna Hills resident who is the Calvary Chapel pastor, said it is hard to forget the sight of corpses beside the road and dozens of flies buzzing about the children's faces as they sat inert, too exhausted to swat them away.

"If they don't get help soon, they will die," he said of the infants, toddlers and adolescents who broke into smiles and laughs when the Americans fed and held them. "It's a cold, hard fact that when we return, some of them won't be there anymore."

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Carol Kusunoki, 34, said the filth of the restrooms and water supplies shocked her and made her realize that Safe Harbor could not end its relief mission with just a five-day trip.

Safe Harbor plans to send a team of volunteer doctors and nurses to Kayonza in October. Although the three travelers were only prepared to treat minor wounds, they ended up setting broken bones themselves by following telephone instructions from doctors in a distant city.

The three said they are happy to be home, where they can eat food other than cold Army rations, take hot showers, and hug their own children, who stayed home for this trip but say they want to go next time to meet the Rwandan orphans.

"The trip has given us a greater appreciation for the blessings we have here," Gary Kusunoki said. "The most encouraging thing was being able to do so much for the kids. But the frustrating thing was leaving so much more undone."

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