In earlier posts we explained the way Rwanda literally runs on manpower. One example being the way in which the trees in our back garden were cut down and turned into straight boards with nothing more than a chainsaw. This week, some workers returned with handsaws, nails and hammers and turned that same lumber into palettes. Without seeing the weeks of manual labor with our own eyes, it would be easy to take these palettes for granted as just mass-produced, characterless, functional objects.
That is the reality of Rwanda. There is little industry, and the entire country is landlocked within the very heart of Africa. Any product or service that is required, must be imported at a huge cost. Because of this, absolutely everything is re-used, re-cycled and re-invented by hand through human resourcefulness. I am ashamed when I think of the sneakers that I have thrown away in my life, because I thought they were worn out. I've learned here that there is always a way to re-sew, patch-up, re-sole and wash to make almost any raggedy pair of sneakers look almost brand new.
In the West, just to leave the house, a mother with infant needs a bag of diapers, milk, a bottle of water, jars of food, a pram, a car seat and a car to get anywhere. Here, and I am talking about the lower classes, nothing comes without extreme physical effort. A mother with infant straps her baby to her back with a piece of cloth and walks miles both ways just for water or firewood, balancing it on her head. This goes for manual labor as well. We have seen groups of women shoveling concrete at building sites with babies strapped to their backs.
Everyday, women such as these from the village of Ndera pass through the grounds of Les Enfants de Dieu on their way to fetch water or firewood. One day, three women walked passed Dorota and I playing basketball with the children. One had a baby on her back and all three had large bundles of firewood balanced on their heads. We said hello, and although they were shy, they seemed very interested in our game. I invited them over to play with us, but they just smiled politely and started to walk away. I ran over, and gestured that I wasn't having it. I knew they wanted to play, so I picked the firewood up off their heads and put it on the ground. They thought this was hilarious, so they came over to shoot some hoops, baby still happily tied to back. These ladies were just laughing it up with us, playing a little 3-on-3. I guess the point of this little story is that a simple life of hard work which may seem impossible to the softer, richer population can actually be full of happiness.
Dorota and I worry about some of the older boys in the street children rehabilitation system. We have seen boys who have been living in centres for so many years that they have come to depend on that way of life. They have lost the survival instincts of the streets, and no longer have the drive to work, even when given job opportunities by the centres. Who can blame them? Why slave away all day for small pay, when you can just hang out and relax all day, while your food, clothes and shelter are given to you for free? We believe centre's like EDD are essential to help bridge the gap from street life to reintegration, and in many cases they have succeeded from start to finish. However, this whole thing is an experiment, not just at EDD, but in all centers. One area that we see needs improvement is in preparing older boys for the real world. The sooner these older boys can leave, the sooner younger boys can get off the streets and into the centres. That first step of rehabilitation is where the strength of the current centres lies, in being a safe place where kids can escape to from the grim life of the streets, and learn how to be kids again.
The below video shows the boys at EDD doing just that, and the gallery that follows shows the artistic results of some these library therapy sessions.