As of yesterday, I have officially been in Rwanda for 4 months. I have realized that it was so easy to be lulled into a routine. I’ve been working at the center 5 days a week and have been completely immersed in happenings there. I had become part of the perfectly contained little bubble where street boys are in the process of being rehabilitated; blissfully ignorant about what truths and realities lay beyond the center gate. Perhaps not ignorant, but I wasn’t actively seeking the other end of the story. And yesterday, my friend Willy shook me out of my reverie and brought me back to reality.
Valance is 22 years old. He is currently in his fourth year of secondary school. He is well dressed, well mannered, and speaks broken English. As Willy, Ally, and I sat on a small patch of grass underneath a tree a few meters away from the market, Valance told us his story. He goes to school right after he finishes his work. He pays his school fees by working as a night watchman. Ally asked him when he sleeps. He replied “The two hours I have after school and before work are enough.” But during those two hours, Valance has no home to go to. According to him, he was born on the street.
|Some of the boys we talked with|
Valance is just one of the ten boys we talked to on Saturday. Near the Kichukiro market, a community of street boys has developed. These boys carry bags for people in the market to make some money. They dumpster dive for food, steal money, and beg when necessary. When it’s cold at night, they smoke marijuana to dull the numbness in their fingers and toes. They sleep on doorsteps; going to bed late and getting up early to avoid being arrested by police. The majority have been arrested and spent many nights in prison in conditions unfit for any living thing. These boys have been dealt an awful hand from birth and have every right to be bitter, but they agreed to talk with us. We promised we would share their stories with others.
As we sat there for an hour talking to these boys, my mind kept wandering to the boys back at Les Enfants de Dieu. This was their life not too long ago. They were not always laughing and chasing a football at the center. They spent many nights on doorsteps, their tummies growling, and running from police. They came from the provinces, from the different districts of Rwanda, but they all ended up at EDD.
Our friend Willy is a product of Les Enfants de Dieu and probably one of the most intelligent and kind people I’ve ever met. It is hard to believe that Willy was smoking marijuana and stealing radios from cars at the age of five. Willy is about to start secondary school and often makes visits to groups of street boys to listen to and document their stories.
Yesterday showed me one of the many chronic problems Rwanda faces. The street boy problem is no going away. There are centers (similar to EDD) for the kids, but they don’t stay because the boys are not being rehabilitated properly. I feel helpless because I could do nothing to help these boys. Not having an answer is something I’m learning to live with here. I feel frustrated that nothing is being done. I find that reform and change is slow here. African time applies to all aspects of life. I feel angry at the injustices that they face. All I can do right now is keep my promise and share their stories.