“Inshuti, Inshuti, You have to come, Mom is sick and she needs you. Please come.” The pleas came from 5 young children, I’d met about a month prior in the streets, when they first came running and shouting, “Umuzungu!” and proceeding to ask for food. Since that time, I had seen the children at least weekly when I would ride into the city for errands. After the first time we went and bought bread and milk together and sat down and ate, these little ones decided we were forever friends! Now whenever they see me, they come running, yelling “Inshuti!” [friend] and greet me with a swarm of hugs.
From what I could gather, each had a home to go to, but were all sent to the streets by their families or caregivers to “find” money. I had often pondered what condition one would have to be in to send a child into the streets to beg. The best I could figure, one would have to be completely depraved or entirely destitute. What I did know was that no matter the circumstances that sent them, these children were desperate for affection and something for their bellies. Thus began our weekly treks together to find food.
On this particular night, the children had seen me go into a business center and, though I did not know it until I came out, they had waited for me for over 3 hours on the steps of the complex. By now it had been dark for over an hour. They should have already been securely home, and I needed to be on my way. Then began their urgent pleas for me to come to their home, where they claimed their mother was so sick.
Realizing it was late, I was alone with minimal language skills, no one to accompany me for safety or translation, and not having any idea where “home” was, and not even knowing whether there actually was a sick mother, I reasoned that it would not at all be sensible to go with them tonight. “Not tonight,” I told them. “I’ll come one day very soon and bring a friend with me. I promise to come.” Anytime an Umuzungu does anything in Africa, it draws attention. By now there was a small crowd gathered around us, and the crowd was telling the children I could not come as well. The children only became more insistent that I come, and when they realized I really did not intend to come this very night, their faces completely dropped. Looking into their little faces, I realized something was driving these children to their urgency that I come. They were looking for hope.
It was one of those moments when the still small voice inside completely defies reasonable, common sense. I knew the dangers of going to an unknown village alone at night, and would not have taken the risk foolishly; however, I knew I was supposed to go. I also knew I was not going alone.
I hired a taxi to take us all to their village. When the children realized I really was coming, they were exuberant. We arrived at their home a few miles away in pitch blackness, there being no electricity in this area. The children were obviously familiar with their surroundings, but I, who could see virtually nothing, could only tell that I was swarmed by village people and being pushed through a maze of mud walls so closely built together that my shoulders brushed walls on either side of me.
The five children I had come with were of 3 families consisting of a total of 10 children and 3 mothers. Homeless, they were residing in these mud corridors in one of Rwanda’s poorest areas. This area is seen as such an eyesore for the community that the government hopes to tear it down to rid itself of the rubble. Each dwelling was no larger than 6’x 8’ having only room for a twin mattress where the entire family slept together. Each of the three mothers was very sick. Two of the mothers are dying of Aids; the other has severe physical conditions as well. A baby sister also has Aids. These children were sent into the streets to beg of necessity. The mothers are unable to work; thus the only means of bringing anything to the family is sending the children to scour the streets.
The mothers had obviously gotten word of an Umuzungu [white person] visiting with their children and had asked the children to have me come. I asked each mother how she most wished I could help. Each replied the same, “Please help our children go to school.” The children ranged from 7-11 and none had ever been to the first day of school. Each one of the 7 school-aged children would begin 1st grade along with an 18 year-old sister who wanted to begin secondary school (7th grade). With the help of a God-sent interpreter, who showed up in the midst of these mud shacks and offered to help, I was able to get all of the information necessary to arrange to put the children in school.
A few days later when I arrived, to take them to school, these children and their mothers greeted me with pure joy. Each child was bathed and dressed in the best clothes he or she could find. Dress is a cultural display of respect and honor in Rwanda. I had never seen the children so clean or so happy. They were ready for school.
The children have now been in school one week. I have visited them at school, where they are busy learning and catching up alongside their classmates. The beauty of seeing these children in school is knowing that because of people who care about children they may never have the opportunity to meet, these children have hope for a future. Education opens doors for them to one day support themselves, find jobs, gain thinking skills and the ability to read and write and support their own families as adults. None of these children has any guarantee of how much longer he or she may have a mother, but each of them knows that somewhere, someone they don’t even know loves them and cares about their future.
Once a child is enrolled in school, the relationship with them is just beginning. Once Love Alive has invested in a child, I follow up with their status at home and school. This affords me the opportunity to know of their spiritual, medical, nutritional and academic needs and offer some form of support. In the best cases, it is possible to provide the families with some form of being able to support themselves.