Alex – A small candy cane brought a big smile to my face when I received a shoebox gift in an orphanage following the Rwandan genocide.

14th October 2020

< Back to all articles

Imagine the excitement of 250 children in an orphanage who had never before received a gift, each holding shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child.

We were so curious. What was inside these boxes? Finally, there was a countdown and we opened the lid and looked inside!

Kids began screaming left and right, not because they were sad but because of their joy to receive a gift for the very first time.

As I opened my shoebox I saw school supplies, hygiene items such as toothpaste and a toothbrush, socks, underwear, and a watercolor paint set.

Some of these items were foreign to me. I looked at the paintbrush—I didn’t know what it was. I looked at the paint—it was colorful but I didn’t know what it was either. I looked at Smarties and wondered what they were. I thought they were medicine.

Everything was new! Nearly all of my senses were being used. I was feeling, touching, smelling to figure out what it was.

One of my favorite items was discovered using my other sense—my sense of taste. I had no idea what it was when I ate this item with the plastic still on it. It was sweet. It was very pepperminty. It tasted like something I didn’t expect. That was my first time eating a candy cane.

A hair comb was the item that I kept the longest. This wasn’t a typical comb. When you opened it on one side there was a pick and by opening the other side with a twist, a brush would come out. I took this comb with me everywhere I went for the next three years.

Each and every item in that shoebox brought me joy at a time when I had lost all hope. I didn’t see how Jesus Christ was working at that time, but an eternal seed was planted in my heart in that moment. A year later, I realized the many things God did in my life to bring me where I was.

My Mom passed away with AIDS when I was a very little boy. During the Rwandan genocide my grandmother and uncle were killed right in front of me. People argued about whether or not to kill my entire family. A bullet missed my head by an inch. We walked for miles and miles, sleeping in the bushes, the dirt, and abandoned buildings. In the end I was put in an orphanage.

That box gave me joy when there was nothing left. Something as small as a candy cane put a smile on my face even when I didn’t know what it was. God used that moment to give me a glimpse of greater joy that is in Him.

In the years that followed, I wrestled a lot with “why?” Why am I alive? Why did God spare my life through the war? Why did God take away the people I loved?

Through the mentorship of people around me and through Jeremiah 29:11, I began to see that God had a plan for my life. I could look back and see the miracles since the day I was born. I could not ignore His presence in my life. One of those moments was receiving a shoebox right after the genocide.

A simple candy cane might seem small and insignificant but at that moment as a 7-year-old, I needed to be reminded that someone loved me, someone still cared. It was such a joyful moment I will never forget.

N.B. Sweets and toothpaste are no longer allowed in shoebox gifts due to increased customs regulations. We remain confident, however, that your gift will still delight a child in need without these items and we have shared lots of other great gift suggestions here

Useful Links

Traditional packing

Donate and follow your box

Drop-off locations

Build a Shoebox Online

Latest media

‘God Is Helping Me Fight for My Life’


Operation Christmas Child

Island with No Power, No Airport Receives Shoebox Gifts


Their Faith Endures in Sickness and in Health