Laura in Rwanda

Laura is a senior journalism major in Meadows School of the Arts with minors in art history, photography and human rights. In August 2009 she is participating in the Human Rights Education Program trip to Rwanda, where the group will visit sites including the Nyarubuye Genocide Memorial and Urukundo Home for Children.

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Visiting Les Enfants, a home for boys

Day 1

First rule about traveling in Africa: things are slow.
Second rule about traveling in Africa: things are really slow.

Regardless, after nearly 36 hours of travel, we safely made it to Kigali.

Flying from Los Angeles to London was uneventful, as was the flight from London to Nairobi, bar a rough landing that caused the overhead oxygen masks appear, much to the delight of everyone on board.

The fun began upon our landing in Nairobi. Our flight to Kigali had been cancelled. We were able to catch the next flight, but said flight didn’t depart Nairobi until 1:15 A.M. This flight, which did end up actually leaving the airport, stopped in Bujumbura, in Burundi, before delivering us to our final destination at roughly 4:30 in the morning.

After we were delivered to our hotel, Hotel des Mille Collines, we settled in for a restful, but very brief, morning of sleep.

Day 1 1/2

IMG_7521.jpgWhile our departure from the hotel today was later than planned, due simply to our travel delays, we had a full day planned.

IMG_7529.jpg Our first stop of the day was at Les Enfants de Dieu, in Ndera, a Kigali suburbs. Les Enfants is a nonprofit home for street children. The project provides boys, ages 4 to 18 years old, with a place to live and further their education. Currently, Les Enfants is home to 126 boys. The campus (right) at Les Enfants includes a dormitory, classrooms, a kitchen (left) and a playground.

IMG_7519.jpgAs Rafiki Callixte (right), the project’s coordinator, explained, the program is unique in that it is, in large part, run by the children. Children elect ministers – their peers – who are responsible for overseeing various aspects of life at the center. The ministries range from administration to education to sports to health. Each minister is assisted by a secretary general, as well as two technicians.

This ministry system is vital to the success of Les Enfants. The children at the project are empowered – they are the ones who are in control of their everyday life. In addition, the system allows children to earn respect from not only their peers, but from their elders, such as Rafiki.

Rafiki told us how all purchases must be overseen and approved by the ministers. He regaled us with a story of wanting to purchase a new computer for his office, but being denied by his administration minister, Omar. When he met with Omar, Omar denied his request due to the fact that there was a food shortage and he was more concerned with making sure that his peers were going to remain fed. It is this sort of empowerment that allows Les Enfants to groom these young men for success later on in life.

After Rafiki gave us a tour of the center, we sat down with the children to a lunch of goat and rabbit, both part of the center’s sustainable agriculture, beans, rice and potatoes.

One young boy I met, Shadrick, 15, told me that his parents were murdered in the 1994 genocide. Prior to coming to Les Enfants, Shadrick had lived in eight different group homes. We talked about his upcoming Physics examinations and how he hopes to be a salesman one day. He also requested my e-mail address, as he will be getting an e-mail address soon and wanted to be sure that he could contact me.

IMG_7549.jpgLike Shadrick, the rest of the children were also talkative, articulate and a joy to be around. Rafiki told us that it is very special for these children to have us come visit, mostly due to the fact that in their prior lives they were outcasts and were shooed away, rather than having visitors come just for them.

After a sad departure from the center – none of the children wanted us to go and I think very few of us wanted to either – we drove back into Kigali proper and visited the Kigali Memorial Centre.

The beautiful center features a museum, gardens, as well as numerous mass graves, holding a total of 2,000 bodies.

The experience at the center was particularly moving after having the opportunity to meet with children who have been affected directly by the genocide. One sculpture in the center featured a mother and child and was captioned with “I Wasn’t Born to a Be An Orphan.”

After our experience this morning, this title so perfectly encapsulated our day.

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