Shifting Gears Towards a Brighter Future
Christie Abel calls Frisco, Colorado her home but you’ll often find her exploring different areas of the world. Although a majority of her career has been in graphic design and marketing, she thoroughly enjoys working with her hands and creating works of art that allow her inner bliss to shine. In 2012, she started Laughing Hands Studio, which offers a variety of different art mediums including graphic design, photography, clay, wood, paper, metal, and snow. Constantly in awe of all the magic that surrounds us, the beauty of the human race, and the pure joy and curiosity of children throughout the world, she continues to find inspiration in nature, life and the human race. She also loves to explore different cultures and one of her favorite things to share is a smile and laughter.
In 2002/03, Christie spent 6 months at the Imbabazi Orphanage in Gisenyi, Rwanda. It was there were she met and befriended Frederick Ndabaramiye and Zachary Dusingizimana. After losing touch for a few years, she reunited with them in 2011 while they were in the United States fundraising for the Ubumwe Community Center (UCC). This reunion brought much joy to all of them and since then, they have remained in contact.
Sometime in August of 2013, Frederick called Christie to tell her that he was ready to share a new message. He wanted to ride his bike across Rwanda to show others that disability is not an inability and that we are all able. This is something he described he would start in Rwanda, but could eventually take anywhere around the world, especially to those places where the disabled are still kept from others and shunned upon by society. He envisioned an annual ride with a mission to spread awareness that disability is not inability and that we all have something to share.
Christie was thrilled to hear about this and continued to stay in touch and follow his progress. Soon thereafter, Frederick and another member of the newly founded I am Able cycling team started contacting her for some business advice. Although she continued to remind them to stay true to their own vision, she was happy to work on their logo and offer words of encouragement and advice. Even though she had her hands full with her full time job at a local publication company and freelance work within her own company, she couldn’t hold back her excitement about Frederick’s new project! Shortly thereafter, her company (Laughing Hands Studio) took on a big job of which she knew in her heart would enable her to fulfill her dream of reuniting with the kids of the Imbabazi Orphanage. Each year, around Thanksgiving, the kids of the Imbabazi get together to give thanks for their ‘mom’ Rosamond Carr (who Christie worked for and still admires to this day) and she had a good feeling that this would be the year that she would reunite with all those smiles again!
After Frederick decided that he wanted others to join him, he asked Christie if she would come to Rwanda to join them on their first annual ride. They sent her an itinerary entitled, ‘Look Mom, No Hands: the 2013 I am Able cycling tour.’ When she received this, she couldn’t help but laugh. Not only did the title itself have Frederick’s sense of humor written all over it, but ironically she was working on a project for her own company, Laughing Hands Studio, and she couldn’t ignore the fact that her last name is Abel. After sharing a few laughs with the boys, she asked if they were serious. Indeed, they were and they reassured her that the irony of it all was a perfect fit. After Frederick told her the preliminary rides would take place sometime in late November or early December, she knew right away that the universe had once again opened up to her dreams. At that very moment, she knew that she’d be on a jet plane within months heading back to Rwanda where she left her heart 11 years prior. Not only would she be reuniting with the kids of the Imababazi, but she’d now also be joining her friend Frederick (one of the ‘kids’ from the Imbabazi) on his first annual ride across Rwanda! The timing couldn’t have been better and it would be an honor to join Frederick and his team on their first ride! Needless to say, within about 3 months, Christie quit her job, rented her home, and packed her bags. With a one way ticket to Rwanda in her hands, she never looked back!
Her time with the I am Able team was more beautiful than she could’ve ever imagined. She was instantly welcomed as a member of the team and she found each team members sense of determination, compassion and camaraderie completely inspiring and contagious! Riding through remote villages, the I am Able team found themselves surrounded by crowds of all ages, looks of amazement and wonder, smiles, laughter, curiosity and joy. Every now and again, we’d stop along the way to engage with the crowds, answer questions and share our message. Each team member would share their stories and remind the villagers that we are all able. The whole experience was somewhat indescribable, but definitely full of joy, love, gratitude and inspiration!
Although Christie didn’t share her own story with the locals, she rode with the team and took photos documenting I am Able’s first preliminary rides. Being the only Muzungu (white person) on the team, Christie also turned quite a few heads along the way. Because of this, and the fact that she was able-bodied, she wondered if she was taking away from the purpose of their ride. But, later after we assessed each ride, the team agreed that she was a great addition, showing villagers that a ‘muzungu’ (and a female at that) was a part of their team and someone who is supporting them and their overall message. After all, we are all able and we are one!
The excitement and response of the people that we met along the way was quite evident that I am Able is bringing (and leaving behind) trails of hope, encouragement, forgiveness and love. Knowing that we each have a part to play in this life, the I am Able team hopes to continue to inspire others to take care of themselves, their communities, and our world. I am Able’s ultimate gesture of love and compassion is making an impact on the world and it will never be forgotten.
Shifting gears along the roads of Rwanda with Frederick and the I am Able team
Innocent and Christie (& an intrigued crowd) during a spontaneous stop for some mangos, peanuts, water… and sugarcane!