I have just received the following story from Kevin Sudi, the volunteer coordinator at Kenya’s Common Ground Program. Kevin asks that anyone willing to repost this article do so freely.
At the base of the majestic Parc de Volcanes mountain in the north-western part of Rwanda, in the town of Musanze, is a household headed by 19 year-old Aisha. She always has a smile on her face but a talk with her provides a glimpse to a life that would be near-impossible for some of us to even fathom.
I was introduced to Aisha and her siblings by Mr. Elie Nduwayesu, a modest man with a big dream for the poor children of Musanze.
Photo: Mr. Elie Nduwayesu, FCYF founder/director and the man behind the child-headed households development project shares a light moment with baby Hirwa while Aisha looks on.
This is Aisha’s story:
My siblings and I lived with our parents up to 2004, when my father passed away. My mother later confided in me since I was the eldest, that my father had died of the disease called HIV/AIDS. She asked me not to tell my siblings so as not to cause them any discouragement and worry. Later in 2005, my mother too succumbed to the same disease. It is then that I became the provided for my four siblings, who, by then, were aged 13, 11, 9 and 7.
Photo: Kevin with Aisha during the interview. In the background is the structure that Aisha, her siblings and her 4 month old Blessing have lived since birth
Aisha looks pensive as she talks of her family, as though it is a distant memory that she has to delve deep to retrieve. She speaks in Kinyarwanda as she is most comfortable with the only language she knows.
After my parents died, I left school in class 5 to fend for my siblings. It was really difficult and my younger sister, Sophia, also was pushed out of school to help support the family.
The three other children go to school since primary education is free in Rwanda, but their lack of school materials and uniforms is a psychological war they may soon lose. They stand out in their classes due to their situation. Their lack of food also hampers their concentration. They run home anytime it becomes unbearable.
Sophia, the second-born, told us that sometimes when she was in school, she would be so hungry that she would be unable to even stand, leave a lone concentrate on her class proceedings.
Photo: Aisha and her 4 month old baby Hirwa
At home, they sometimes find vegetables in an adjacent garden that is not theirs, so they can only pick wild growing plants, nothing else in this garden with a lot of plants, vegetables and root crops.
A couple of months ago, someone raped me. I became pregnant and gave birth to Hirwa.
(Hirwa means “blessing” in her native language). When asked about the name, she says it wasn’t the child’s fault that she was raped, so she named him blessing to keep the pain and trauma away from her relationship with her newborn baby.
Elie has been immensely supportive of Aisha. With a MSc. in Psychology, he has been counseling Aisha and helping her recover from the trauma.
Photo: Aisha by her small stand where she sells charcoal
To support her siblings and baby, Aisha sells charcoal, and when business is low she also doubles as a public phone attendant and could make between 500 and 1000 Rwandan Francs a day (less than 2 US dollars) on which the six of them are dependent.
This charcoal and the public phone don’t bring enough money, and I would like to learn other skills to increase the daily income to support my family. Since the small profit I get cannot support us, I cannot save any money, and even sometimes we use the capital, and business is stops for a while until we recover.
Their latest predicament lies in their housing. The structure that Aisha and her siblings were born in and have always called home is actually not theirs. Some months ago the apparent owner of the land told Aisha that someone had paid a deposit for the land, and as soon as the rest of the money was paid, she would be forced to vacate the land. Supposedly, Aisha’s parents had a friend who allowed them to settle on the land, but he later died. The land went through the traditional inheritance process and the new owner, a relative to the deceased initial owner, has already sold the piece of land, oblivious of the repercussions this move will inflict on Aisha’s household.
I asked Aisha to tell me what she wanted the world to know about her child-headed household, and this is what she said:
Children who are heads of households did not volunteer for the tasks they face everyday. They are just victims but have to live with the responsibility. We have the will to support our siblings the best way we can but the means are just not there. We want our siblings to be lead better lives in the future but how can we makes sure they do? We would be very, very grateful if anyone comes to our help.
Views inside the house that Aisha shares with her 4 siblings and her newborn baby
The structure the 5 siblings and the little Hirwa live in is, in reality, a death trap. The mud walls are worn out badly, the roof leaks and the siblings relocate several times to different corners of the house when it rains. Aisha told me,
I can’t even sleep at night because I get dreams of our house falling on me, my siblings and my baby. I also can’t sleep because I worry about the owner of the land. If he tells us to leave, where will I take my siblings and my baby? My heart is not calm because for three years, I have not found a solution to this problem.
This is just one of the many child-headed households that Elie’s study found. There are a massive 94,207 children living in child headed households around Rwanda, where USAID estimates show the country has the highest percentage of orphans under 15 years in the world. Elie Nduwayesu’s study identified 1575 vulnerable children in Musanze that he aims to incorporate in recovery and self-development through his Fair Children /Youth Foundation (FCYF). Without a single donor or sponsor, Elie has used almost all his monthly income to set up this project, and for a good course.
Sitting on an old tire outside the house, I look at Aisha and wonder how one person could have gone through all this, how she and her siblings were living each day, and what I could do to help them. The only way I could do this was to use my network of friends and hope that through them, the world would know and someone?s heart would be touched enough to reach out to this forgotten family.
Photo: Kevin Sudi, the Kenyan volunteer, at the back of Aisha’s and her siblings’ house, with its low, rusted roof and see-through walls.
We already found one friend that paid for the health Insurance of Aisha, her baby and her siblings. This is just a start, and we hope this sign of goodwill will continue. No help is so small.
For information on the fair children/youth foundation, please contact the founder and Director, Mr. Elie Nduwayesu on firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the volunteer who sent this story on email@example.com
About the author:
Kevin Sudi is a volunteer coordinator at a Kenyan Non-Governmental Organization, the Common Ground Program (CGP), based in Kitale, KENYA