Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Day In The Life Of A Rwandan Family

I was fortunate on my trip to Rwanda to participate through World Vision in a day in the life of a Rwandan family. We arrived at Alice’s house which was built for her by World Vision, she has two daughters and Alice herself is a survivor of the Genocide. She and her youngest daughter are both HIV positive and life has been a real struggle. Upon on our arrival we were greeted by a woman who was warm and wonderful, despite her HIV status she exudes life, love, appreciation and an unwavering sense of hope. Alice has hope for herself and for her young daughters because through World Vision she has found a hand up and is learning to make a better life.

We were divided in different groups and house hold chores that would normally be done by Alice and her daughters were assigned to us. I volunteered to be part of the group that would go and gather firewood. With Alice’s oldest daughter in the lead and Costa following behind us to act as our interpreter off we went. We traveled down the road past Alice’s neighbors for quite a distance happily waving to all the curious onlookers. We were pumped! This was fun! We picked the best job of them all! We chatted excitedly. Turning a corner we began our decent down into the valley, the trail was rough and the sun was beating down on us mercilessly and the excitement was beginning to wane. Down we went further and further from Alice’s house, as we reached the bottom of the hill and began crossing the valley we came across a water hole with small children gathered next to it. Costa stopped to speak with the children, and picking up a long stick he plunged it into the filthy stagnant water showing us just how deep it was. He spoke with the children a little more and we continued on our way; we hiked across the valley and began to climb the other side where our search for fire wood would begin. Alice’s daughter stopped in an area that had many dead trees and branches, she began dragging out the larger ones and breaking them into smaller pieces that would be easier to carry. The rest of our group began doing the same, it didn’t take long to realize that the branches were covered in thorns and we had to be careful not to injure ourselves. I was sweating, my fingers were bleeding from the thorns and all I had to show for my efforts was a pitiful looking pile of sticks! So pitiful was my little pile that an old Rwandan woman, who came walking down the hill, looked at me and my pile and began laughing, she was so sweet and her laughter was so infectious I began laughing right along with her. Next thing I know she’s grabbing branches and breaking them like they’re toothpicks, soon my pile wasn’t so pitiful. We chatted for awhile, or should I say she chatted while I shook my head smiling, not understanding a single word but never the less enjoying her cheerful company and assistance. After helping me she journeyed on down the hill and began chatting with Costa, they seemed to be having quite the intense conversation so I headed down to find out what she was saying.

She asked him who we were and what we were doing gathering firewood with Alice’s daughter. Costa explained to her what was happening and she began thanking him and World Vision for the miracle they had preformed for Alice and her family. She was so grateful for all that had been done to help Alice, that she along with the other neighbors felt like Alice had truly received a miracle. At the time I had a hard time to wrap my head around that, here we were sweating like pigs scratched and bleeding just from gathering the fire wood, and I wondered how Alice’s life was so much better? After the old woman thanked us and continued on her way the children that had been down by the water hole began making their way past us headed toward the top of the hill. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking it was to see such small children struggling to carry their water jugs up this steep and uneven walking path. A couple members of our group helped them carry the water to the top of the hill to the makeshift shack they were living in. All of these children under the age of five and were there alone, no parents in sight, they were off working in the fields and the kids were left to do the chores and look after one another. We asked Costa if these children were part of the sponsorship program and he told us they were not. He knew of them, but since they were transient workers they did not qualify for sponsorship, they had no permanent residence and they moved quite often. With heavy hearts, we bundled up our piles of wood and began the long journey back to Alice’s house – down the hill across the valley and back up the other side. At one point I was so hot and tired I just wanted someone to shoot me and put me out of my misery, but alas there were no guns to be found so I had to just suck it up and keep moving. I did get a bit of a reprieve when Costa’s cell phone rang, and Costa with the largest pile of wood stacked on top of his head chatted happily on his phone while climbing the steepest part of the hill! I had to laugh, we were just dying, barely able to speak and here was Costa going along like he was on a leisurely stroll chatting all the while.

When we finally made it back to Alice’s house, we dumped our wood on a pile and headed out in search of some shade. I found a small patch along the side of her house next to the cow and goat; I sat drinking water and trying to cool down. As I rested I began thinking just how much work that had been, it really hit home when I realized that either Alice or her daughter do this every single day – twice a day, just themselves. A short time later the group that went to gather grass for the goat and cow came back, they were just as battered and worn as we were. They suffered from cuts they received while cutting and bundling the long sharp grass – it was nothing like the grass we have at home, this stuff could seriously be used as a weapon. The other group that had gone out to the fields to gather vegetables was busy peeling and preparing them to be cooked in a stew that we would later eat for lunch. It had taken us almost 2 hours to gather the wood and just as long for them to clean and peel the vegetables. Finally the food was in the pot cooking over an open fire and we sat in the shade shelling raw peanuts and fending off the goat. That goat would eat anything including our hair and clothing. On this day no one went to gather water – the well was so far away they didn’t think we could possibly survive the journey and it saddens and humbles me to know that they were right. At least they are able to gather water from a fresh water well and not the dirty stagnant water hole we passed on our journey for firewood.

When I put the day’s events into perspective, I understood why the odds are against the people of Africa. It took 14 people to do what a 13 year old and an HIV positive woman do all by themselves everyday. These chores for them have to be done one at a time, gathering firewood, fetching water, gathering grass for the animals and vegetables from the field would take them hours to do on their own. It took two hours to just wash and prepare the vegetables for cooking; they do not have cutting boards and sharp knives like we do.

All this has to be done before they can have their first meal, some how they also have to find the time to earn some sort of income during the day, go to school and then repeat the whole process over again before the sun goes down and it’s dark. This is Alice’s reality, this is her life every single day, and for her she has it good – very good thanks to the support she receives from World Vision. Can you even imagine what it must be like for those who have no help, those struggling without the sponsorship of World Vision? Alice is an example of what sponsorship can achieve, she and her daughter are on anti-retroviral medications, and they are doing really well. The oldest daughter has been able to catch up in school now that her mother isn’t in the hospital sick all the time; they have a cow that will give birth to a calf in October providing additional income for their family. This one thing that to us seems so small, to them it is like they have won the lottery. Before World Vision built them their new home they were living in the shelter that is now home to the cow and goat! Yes their life is still very hard by our standards, but at least they have a nice home, fresh food to eat, livestock for additional income, and medical coverage that keeps them all healthy. The girls are getting an education and they have hope – there was a time when they had none of that, yes you could say World Vision has given them a miracle and it’s called a sponsorship.

The day was hard, it was an eye opening experience and Alice and her two daughters were absolutely wonderful. We shared chores, good food, fanta and we all danced the hokey-pokey. This was a good day and when we had to say goodbye, my heart was bursting with joy for this little family that despite their hardships and struggles in life were truly a story of success and hope.



Erin said...

Vickie & Carol,

Thanks so much for the beautiful card and pictures of Ernestine - what an amazing oppotunity we have been given, to care for a little girl and her family 1/2 way around the world. Today Sofia has brought the pictures to her Gr. 3 class to share about Ernestine. She has also asked her teacher if the class could send pictures and letters - which she has agreed to. We are truly blessed... thank you for giving us something which has impacted our family in such a dramatic way.
-Erin Derkatz

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