Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 2 in the Field: Contrasts

Today was my second day in the field since I’ve arrived in Rwanda. Throughout this month, the social workers will be visiting many of the boys’ homes because 30 will be reintegrated in December.

Reintegration is just another part of how the center works. Many of the boys have at least one surviving parent. The ultimate goal of the center is to prepare the boys to transition back into their normal life and become contributing members of their family and society. Many of the boys who leave the center become leaders of their family, using the knowledge and skills EDD has taught them. The center will continue to pay school fees until the boy completes secondary school and also provides the family with financial assistance if needed. Before each boy in reintegrated, the social worker makes one final visit to the family to make sure they are prepared to receive the boy.

Out of the four home visits (Eugene, Innocent, Fils, and Jean Paul) we did today, two stuck with me the most. The first one was Fils’ family. Fils is a boy who was very reserved when I first met him. Although it may seem that he is indifferent to what is going on around him, I soon learned that his mind and heart travelled beyond the center’s walls to a small mud hut on the outskirts of Gisozi, a region in Kigali. His mother lives there, a small frail woman with a tired face, but a kind smile. She has suffered a bout with tuberculosis that has rendered her incapable of doing any physical labor. Because of this, she is currently unemployed. This makes it extremely difficult to feed and take care of her three children who live with her. Although she owns her small house, they must use the neighbor’s toilet.

As I sat in one of the small dark rooms of the hut, fanning flies away from my face and admiring the posters of the Holy Family, Paul Kagame, and a potty training toilet advertisement, it was clear to me why Fils seems so distant and preoccupied. In one month, he will be reintegrated with his family. He will join his mother, his brother, and his sisters in this hut. He will become the leader of the family, shouldering many responsibilities at only the age of 15. These are responsibilities I haven’t even faced at the age of 20. His mother said she was very eager to receive him. It will be a much-needed relief to have someone to help share the stress of life.

After we said goodbye to Fils’ mother and his siblings, we jumped back into the truck and continued to Jean Paul’s home, about fifteen minutes down the road. Jean Paul’s house sits just below the road. It’s a strong, cinder-block house with cement floors, a tin roof, and many windows which let the sunlight pour in. Jean Paul welcomed us all into the living room, furnished with plush couches and a coffee table. A few family photos and classroom posters outlining the alphabet, numbers, and parts of the body decorated the walls. His sisters were well dressed and both were enrolled in school.

I couldn’t help but compare the lives of these two boys who lived less than 15 minutes apart. Jean Paul and Fils both decided to leave their homes and live on the street at some point in their life. In one month, they will be returning to very different circumstances. The fate of Fils’ family rests on his small shoulders, while Jean Paul will just focus on finishing his schooling.

This contrast reins true throughout the country and probably all of Africa. African-suburbias, for those who can afford it, are popping up all around Kigali, flanked by mud huts and slum-like conditions. New buildings, hotels, and businesses are under construction in the capital city. Kigali is a wealthy region of Rwanda. Many things have changed since my last visit two years ago. But if you were to venture outside the city, many live in the most desperate of conditions. There is a complete lack of infrastructure and resources being allocated to these areas. Perhaps they are forgotten. It’s a difficult contrast for me to accept and I don’t know if I ever want to. 

Home visit from earlier in the day: Eugene and his father

Earlier: Adorable children at Innocent's house

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