Vulnerable Students being assisted by
Rwanda Yearly Meeting and
Kagarama Friends Church,
Interviewed by Peggy Senger Parsons
And Augustin pastor of a Friends Church
On February 19, 2007
On February 18 I met with Augustin and RYM Legal Representative to discuss the possibility of a cooperative effort between Friends in Oregon and Friends in Rwanda to help children orphaned in Rwanda.
This inquiry was a response to a request by A. in the spring of 2006 for help in feeding and educating orphans.
I was informed that at one point in 2004-06 RYM had been assisting with the feeding and educating of up to 300 orphans from preschool through secondary school. Funds to continue that work had dried up and new sources were not found. The YM worked with local NGO’s and local churches to place the children in more stable settings. The youngest orphans were placed first and most easily. Eventually all but 50 were taken off the care rolls of the YM. The fifty that are left are secondary students enrolled in Friends Schools, or somehow attached to Friends churches. The pastor and the legal rep agreed that these students are, without a doubt, the most vulnerable.
They are living in precarious situations. Their food and health care is insufficient and their place at school is in danger because they cannot pay school fees. These students are orphans or functionally orphans due to imprisonment of their parents or homelessness or extreme poverty of their parents. Most of them live in sibling groups. Some are living in the houses of their dead parents. Some live with relatives. Some do the Rwandan equivalent of ‘sofa surfing’. None of them have hope of any decent employment without finishing Secondary School. Very few are able to pay much of their school fees. These students are in school at the forbearance of the headmaster/s. But the strain on the school of keeping these students contributes to problems like teachers not getting paid or other basic expenses going unpaid.
The men asked that a program be considered whereby these students be assisted with school fees. The men considered this to be more important than food or health care in the priorities of these kids. They feel that these kids can find enough food, and can arrange the other details of their lives, but have no chance at earning cash for school fees which amount to 250$ USD per year which covers thee trimesters.
I asked to be allowed to interview and photograph a handful of students the next day. I was very clear that this was exploratory, and that I could not promise that any funds would come of this, but that I was willing to try and tell their story This was agreeable, as long as it was presented as research. The men were very clear that they did not want me offering hope of anything to these kids if I could not back it up. I was impressed by their protective concern. They were not willing to exploit these kids for gain.
The next morning Augustin accompanied me to George Fox College a secondary school on the grounds of the YM/Friends Church center. We met with the headmaster Samvura Antoine. We talked with him about the school and vulnerable students. 78 of 918 students at the school cannot pay their fees. He sends students away on a regular basis for failure to pay, but attempts to protect the most vulnerable. We asked him to choose six students to talk with us, one on one, who would represent the students in the vulnerable class. We asked him to tell him that the lady from America was meeting students to educate Americans about Rwandese students and their lives.
Some important things to know about Rwandese Students: Many of them are older than they should be. They look younger than they are. Everyone in Rwanda lost years of their life to the war. Most children had their educations disrupted During the 1993-1994 year at the very least. Many lost several years. In Central Africa, Primary School is six years, then you takes comprehensive exams to be admitted to secondary school. Secondary School is then six years. So a sixth form student is a senior is high school. Most of these students were primary school students during the genocide. After the genocide the new government arrested and jailed without trial hundreds of thousands of people. Some participated in the genocide, some were denounced by others for various petty reasons and have been held these 12 years without access to law. There is no way to know in any individual case whether someone is imprisoned justly or not. The children of the imprisoned usually do not know. Some are members of the Friends Church, many are not.
There are a hundred ways to become an orphan or a functional orphan in Central Africa. The AIDS rate is about 20%. Malaria and TB are endemic.
The next six posts will introduce some of these students.
If you want to know how to help - read here.