Overseeing the development of a new campus to house an orphanage in Rwanda might seem a bit much for a man just entering his long-awaited retirement years.
But for Larry Crabill, it’s been a long time coming. Wanting a way to make a difference, Crabill, who lives in Maumelle with his wife, Carol, started asking around — talking to different people around town who know about that sort of thing.
What he discovered is charities are not hard to find. There are, after all, thousands of them. Finding one in which 100 percent every dollar donated goes to the operation itself and not administrative costs was a different story.
Many of the organizations also had corporate sponsors, Crabill said, which meant that his contributions would have less of an impact than he had hoped.
"After two years, I was getting really frustrated," Crabill said. "So I googled ‘orphans’ and ROP came up."
What he had stumbled across was the Rwandan Orphans Project, an orphanage for boys based in San Diego and located in Kigali, Rwanda.
Operating on an annual budget of $125,000 comprised solely of private donations, the orphanage houses, feeds and educates 105 Rwandan orphans, according to Crabill.
Crabill recently accepted a position on the project’s board of directors after visiting the orphanage for the first time. He will serve as the board’s global development director.
Crabill is no stranger to Africa, having visited the continent several times to view and photograph wildlife.
But Africa is known as much for its wildlife-viewing opportunities as it is for its rampant and widespread poverty.
"Pictures don’t even do it justice", Crabill said, noting that Rwanda is actually one of the better countries on the continent.
"You can’t fathom the level of poverty and the fact that some people don’t know where their food is coming from tomorrow and even today," Crabill said. "It’s hard to understand."
As for the boys at the orphanage, "they understand that this is their ticket to get out of poverty," Crabill said.
Each boy has a different story. Some were left orphans after their parents died of AIDS. Others found themselves on the street after their mother remarried and the new husband didn’t want any boys around.
Unlike in some cultures, boys are not as highly valued as girls, Crabill said.
At the orphanage, the boys are educated and prepared to enter the Rwandan equivalent of middle school. But unlike in America, not everyone is guaranteed admittance into middle school—they must first pass an academic test.
The Rwandan Orphans Project is one of three orphanages in Rwanda that has a 100 percent pass rate, Crabill said.
It is also one of the few in the region to have the support of the local government, Crabill said. The American Embassy has been involved and the Marines come over and help, as well.
"It’s been a great relationship," he said.
Crabill described the orphanage itself as modest and humble, "but by Rwandan standards, not bad."
The boys eat porridge for breakfast each day, and then maize and beans for lunch and dinner.
"If they’re lucky, they get fruit once a week," Crabill said.
Crabill’s stint on the board will begin in January, and once the building project is complete, the boys will have a brand new place to call home.
Crabill said the initial focus with the project will be to accommodate the boys they already have. They will then bring in more boys as the funds allow.
The orphanage is staffed mostly by young people in their 30’s, Crabill said, many of whom are Americans.
The ROP’s young director, Sean Jones, has roots in New Mexico, but spends much of his time at the orphanage.
Crabill spoke highly of Jones, describing him as a person who is not only doing a "fabulous" job with the kids, but who also has a unique ability to inspire.
"Sean’s not into it for the splash. He’s there for the kids," Crabill said. "These boys have stolen his heart and he may be there for a while."