Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rwandan Centers for Street Children

RYALE_UNICEF_37
There are no actual statistics on how many children live on the streets in Rwanda, but estimates range from a few hundred to several thousand. Children living on the streets have low school attendance, poor hygiene and around 80% are believed to be on some kind of drugs (alcohol, tobacco, solvents, marijuana). Most children seen on the streets actually return to some kind of home in the evening often bringing back part of their earnings to a parent or guardian. There are also many children who have been orphaned by parents who died of AIDS and a generation of children who are now in their young 20’s who’s parents were murdered in the genocide. The Rwandan government has created with UNICEF’s technical assistance guidelines to prevent, protect and reintegrate children living on the street. We visited two centers that cater to street children with UNICEF that are working to reinsert children into their families and do parenting education for the adults or offer an alternative family care structure with possibilities for vocational facilities that help vulnerable children. The first site we visited is not currently being funded by UNICEF because of limited funding, but they are intending to make it into a model center for which the government can then copy and create themselves. It’s very important for Rwandans, and really for any people, to have pride in their country and see that help is coming from the country itself and not just foreigners swooping down with money. This is a key concept that UNICEF recognizes and in countries with stable governments they work alongside the government to implement all their aid. Visiting the Gitagata center was like seeing a “before picture” of how these center’s were being handled in the past and then getting to see the second center called OPDE that UNICEF has been working with and funding was like seeing the “after picture” of the amazing achievements that are capable of being done in these centers.

Gitagata takes in children 7-12 years old collected from the streets by police and gives them a home and education. There are dormitories, a kitchen, dining hall, bathrooms, fields for sports, benches for outdoor classes, and fields for growing maize and carrots, which are both eaten by the children and sold to raise money for the center. The center also has a few cows that they use for milk to both drink and sell. The center was built on the grounds of an old prison and still had a very prison-like feeling. The walls that surround the complex are still topped with barbed wire and the bathrooms are outdoors and not up to hygienic standards yet. The dorms do not have great ventilation and no lighting, all things that will be improved as UNICEF works with them. The center only caters to boys right now, although a few girls come during the day, but building dorms for girls is also one of the improvements UNICEF is working on.

RYALE_UNICEF_12
RYALE_UNICEF_20
RYALE_UNICEF_13
RYALE_UNICEF_14
RYALE_UNICEF_19
RYALE_UNICEF_21
RYALE_UNICEF_28
RYALE_UNICEF_30
RYALE_UNICEF_27
RYALE_UNICEF_36

Seeing the dorms of the center was an incredible experience reminding me how universal all children are. They were large rooms full of bunk beds and mosquito nets and the walls were covered in the children’s personal paper clippings and notes. They looked like the walls of any American teenager’s room with pictures of their favorite things ripped out of magazines, their favorite drawings and school papers. School papers is probably the one item missing from American teenagers walls- it makes it on their parents fridge, but many American students see school as a necessity that they have to get through. In Rwanda there is such a craving for knowledge and education because education is a luxury and every child I met had an incredible thirst for knowledge, they just needed the tools to learn. We talked with one young boy in his dorm who had been living on the streets of Kigali and was brought in to the center two years ago and was now learning English (Rwanda recently switched from French to English as their national language spoken in addition to Kinyarwanda) and dreams of becoming a pilot, a dream that would have no chance of coming true if he had stayed on the streets.

RYALE_UNICEF_18
RYALE_UNICEF_15
RYALE_UNICEF_22
RYALE_UNICEF_23
RYALE_UNICEF_25
RYALE_UNICEF_26

The second center we visited called OPDE was a wonderful example of what Gitagata can become with UNICEF’s help. The center has two campuses that we visited which provide clean dormitories for children who need them with proper hygiene facilities in the bathrooms. The centers also send the kids to school in two shifts as is done in all of Rwanda because there aren’t enough schools for the amount of children and provides vocational training for the older kids. For the most part the boys live in the dorms at the center and girls are placed in homes with widows who are given support by the center that way the women and children are both supported. The center teaches parenting classes to adults, which over 50% of the adults in attendance take voluntarily.

RYALE_UNICEF_47
RYALE_UNICEF_63
RYALE_UNICEF_64
RYALE_UNICEF_80

The center is beautiful with bright blue walls painted with murals of happy animals and full of books and tools for learning. The center has a very nice kitchen and dining room and we got to watch them prepare their meals of beans, vegetables and rice. The center also has fields which they till for crops as well as a pond with fish, stables with cows and rabbits all of which they use both for feeding themselves and for selling to help bring in money to the center.

RYALE_UNICEF_76
RYALE_UNICEF_74
RYALE_UNICEF_69
RYALE_UNICEF_71
RYALE_UNICEF_70
RYALE_UNICEF_77
RYALE_UNICEF_79
RYALE_UNICEF_78

At the center we talked to a young man who was in college who was a former street child and had been at OPDE for many years. He is now studying to be a teacher and supporting his two younger sisters so they can also go to school. Success stories like his are very common at OPDE and are wonderful to witness firsthand.

RYALE_UNICEF_75

Like at Gitagata all the children were so excited to learn and were all anxious to start their shift at school. I remember waking up dreading going to school and wishing I could stay in bed so many times when I was young. It is amazing what we take for granted here and the love of knowledge these young children have because even at 4 or 5 years old they know what a difference an education makes. One of my favorite experiences was playing with a group of kids waiting by the fence taking pictures and laughing with them while they waited for their school shift to start.

RYALE_UNICEF_49
RYALE_UNICEF_50
RYALE_UNICEF_51
RYALE_UNICEF_55
RYALE_UNICEF_56
RYALE_UNICEF_58
RYALE_UNICEF_60
RYALE_UNICEF_61
RYALE_UNICEF_62
RYALE_UNICEF_59
RYALE_UNICEF_52

0 comments:

Post a Comment

 
Pin It button on image hover