Orphans is a term widely used in Rwanda and it is difficult to come to this country without meeting people who have lost their parents.
There are a lot of young people here. Half the population is under the age of eighteen. The genocide killed between 800,000 and a million people. Many if not most of these were parents, often with young children. The war which led to the liberation of the country by the Rwandan Patriotic Front claimed the lives of many fathers. Added to these factors, HIV and AIDS have removed from the population many women who were raped during the war and genocide.
The result, fifteen years later is a young population many of whom have grown up without parents. There is a generation, now in their late teens and twenties who were young children at the time of the killings. They have now passed through adolescence and into adulthood having survived by whichever way they could. Indeed, the local term here for people who witnessed the genocide is ‘survivors’. They have grown up in a country which itself is still growing up after the devastation and which is not yet able to offer large-scale employment or any measure of prosperity to its people.
The youngest of the survivors is now fifteen years old. There are also a large number of children younger than this who are also known as orphans. Many of these children have been abandoned by their parents as babies or else ejected from the family home later. Undoubtedly some will have been orphaned by AIDS or another disease. In some cases, the parents are still traumatised by the events of 1994 and have been incapable of caring for their children.
These young orphans are surviving in the same ways as the generation before them. Some are fortunate and have relatives who can offer a home. Almost always, this simply adds to the pressures of feeding a family on little or no income. Other children are cared for in institutions such as orphanages. Many live as groups known as child-headed households, where the family head is a teenager or little older. The rest sleep rough on the streets finding shelter where they can.
The problems of these children are many and varied. Their greatest need is food and shelter. Without income they cannot afford to go to school. Without an education, they cannot get a job. Without income, the country will remain impoverished. We are directing our efforts to helping to break this cycle and help create a brighter future for these children.