Today we visited a group that was six months in to their first year, and they are still on the hardest part (I think) of their path.
One story we heard was from a child whose name I didn’t quite catch, but I think it was Margaritte (or Margaret)
it sounded something like “Makilette” or maybe Immaculee, from the Urumuri group (sometimes, conditions for speaking are suboptimal, and sometimes accents interfere).
She is 20 years old and has three siblings. She lives in a very poor area, even relative to the rest of Rwanda. (Imagine Appalachia but worse.) During her relating of her story, she suddenly started crying, and stopped and turned her back to us. We had seen some sad children, but she was the saddest. We reached out to her, and one of our group wrapped her arms around her and let her sob into her chest for a bit.
Her parents died when she was ten, and her little brother was four. Her entry on the data sheet we have lists two other brothers presently aged two and four. These listings can be a little fluid, but if it’s right, we need to do a little math and read between the lines. There is a tremendous amount of exploitation of these children, sometimes in terms of simply underpaying them (by a factor of five, we heard, in one case), and sometimes in terms of demanding sex for food. (One of the other children we spoke to, Charlotte, became pregnant and had a baby that way, who we got to meet.)
So, she literally had to carry her siblings on her back. At ten, she was too young and weak to work and too weak, in another sense, to strike bargains for, say, work in exchange for food. She tried to “feed” her siblings water, because they were hungry and she had no food, but it didn’t work.
The roof of her parents house collapsed during the rainy season, so the house became uninhabitable. (By the way, we had a pretty serious thunderstorm last night during the dry season, and it was a real gully washer. Loudest rain I’ve ever heard.) When she rented a house (in exchange for labor, the usual rate being a day of labor per week, as I understand it), its roof also leaked. And she had a skin disease, due to poor hygiene.
But, she joined a Zoe group. She learned the basics about hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition. (We take the education we get in school about these topics, and what we learn from our parents for granted. Take those two sources of info away, put yourself in a severely poverty-stricken area, and guess what the result is.) She also learned how to start a small business, and identify a good business plan. She has received a goat from Zoe, from which she can get milk and which will also have kids.
Even now, though, she is still struggling. She still doesn’t have a safe home, and her siblings are still not in school (there are costs, such as uniforms and other materials required to be in school).
However, she and her family are able to eat at least once a day. And, due to her knowledge of hygiene and efforts to keep herself clean, her skin disease has cleared up and she looks clean. (Several of the children we listened to noted how clean and sharp they now look, having learned the importance of hygiene.)
She does have hope. It seems trite to say hope is important, but it is. I can only trust you, dear reader, to know that.
She has a dream of owning her own house, and she is working toward that. (Understand that the houses here are adobie-and-mud-brick structures with two or three rooms and an outhouse. This is what Seliman’s group built for him, when they brought him back after he’d run away.)
I’ll have to tell the rest of the story of our visit with this group over the next few days (it was pretty powerful), but there’s one more thing: as we were driving away, Epihany expressed concern that the groups in this area would be able to succeed. There are so few opportunities here for small businesses, and one of the girls we met is deaf (untreated illnesses can do that). There is nothing for a deaf child in the hinterlands of a poor district.
Epiphany’s concern worries me, but I know this: she and the other Zoe social workers are working these problems. More importantly, I know how powerful these kids can be. I saw a one-legged child and a child with a deformed hand play volleyball (with a few teammates from their group). I have seen their accomplishments and the confidence of the leadership of two- and three-year groups, and I don’t believe this confidence is easily attained or easily destroyed.
I also know the power of prayer. That is something we can do from afar, in addition to supporting Zoe’s efforts.