by Maxime Crawford-Holland
For over three weeks now Misha and I have been working at a Caritas location in the Nyamirambo district of Kigali. This is one of the four placement sites for our Team’s five week experiential learning in Rwanda.
Caritas is an international NGO, run by locals, which takes in children who are found living on the street due to either poverty at home or a family conflict. They provide the children with classroom education, food, and a safe environment to play in during the day. The children then return to their home at night, the same home they left behind in hopes of finding a better life on the streets. Caritas works closely with the families as well. Some of the poorer families are provided with money, and all families are advised on how to successfully receive and reintegrate their child back at home after they have been rehabilitated at the centre.
The centre coordinators and teachers have so much love and compassion for the children. Learning how to cooperate with and respect for others is perhaps the most important part of the children’s rehabilitation. The teachers demonstrate a very delicate balance between discipline and encouragement, both of which the children have lacked growing up.
I am finding it more and more difficult to believe that these incredibly joyful and intelligent children who I have gotten to know so well are the same ones who spent so much of their time growing up on the streets. All of the negative preconceived notions I had of “street kids” are being challenged as I slowly discover their personalities. They are children just like any others. They possess limitless energy, are full of joy, and are far more intelligent than their lack of formal education would lead some to assume.
Initially, I was amazed at how much these children reminded me of any other children. However, after getting to know them better, I have noticed that they have lacked role models in their young lives. It did not take long for the children to feel comfortable with Misha and me, and quickly they became very affectionate and attention-seeking. They love being loved, and they need to be loved. Needless to say, the love and attention the children receive from the coordinator and the teachers at the centre are very important.
Furthermore, I have found is that they seem to be very mature and independent in many ways. They have had to grow up way too quickly on the streets. Their survival on the streets has depended on their ability to look after themselves, which leads to having to stick up for themselves verbally and physically. This instinct that they have developed is evident in their behaviour. When resolving conflicts, they will forcefully argue through them, and although it may seem overly physical to me, it is simply their way of sorting things out. There is no doubt that the children have a high level of empathy for each other, and conflicts are very often resolved respectfully.
The stigma of “street children” needs to be changed. It implies that the future of these children will inevitably result in failure. This outlook is the exact reason why these negative stereotypes are so prominent. If the children are loved, cared for, and given the same opportunities as most children in the world, I have no doubt that they are capable of being among the most influential and productive members of society.