Over the years, I have often reminded myself to feel grateful for the amazing life that I lead. The simple pleasure of having a warm bed to sleep in and food on the table every day is more than what most have. I rarely think about how those simple day to day luxuries are more than what so many are afforded.
This past February, I had the honour of visiting an orphanage in Rwanda called L’Esperance Rwanda. These children do have the privilege of meals and a bed to sleep in but being with them taught me about life and happiness. They gave me memories that I will cherish for a lifetime.
Below are some of my writings in my journal while I was there.
The Real Story:
How is it possible for a child to end up in an orphanage? How is it possible for a single parent to give up his/her child for an orphanage? As an extended family member of a child, how does one allow him/her to live in an orphanage and not in the comfort of their own home?
For most of these children, their mothers died at child birth and their fathers gave them up unknowing, unwilling or unable to care for them. For some of these children, their stories are even more grave.
Most of the people in the countryside can barely put food on the table once a day and for others, there is no food at all.
The government attempts to keep up appearances and tries to implement laws that the country is not yet ready for. One such example is of the government wanting all children to be “accounted for.” As a result, they are closing all orphanages and expecting the children to go live with family who cannot support them, who don’t want them or who will try to kill them in order to own the land that used to belong to the child’s parents. The government seem to forget that the definition of an orphanage is a house for children who are without an able or willing family.
On the topic of the government: it does not support anyone with disabilities because it believes the family should take care of that person. But when that person has no family and no education; what happens? I understand that Rwanda is still a developing country who is desperately trying to emerge from the ashes of the genocide but I can’t help but wonder if it is always the right decisions that are being made.
I sit here in shorts and a T-shirt knowing that I have it all. I am loved and have always have been by many people. The sheer good fortune, wealth, health and security that I have been lucky enough to have in my life is greater than so many will ever know. I knew that already, but now, it is different. I now possess knowledge that will never allow me to go back to the way I used to think.
Erina is in the picture above. I met her my first evening at the orphanage and then I spent most of my time with her. She told me that she could no longer go to school because in September she started having pain and weakness in her legs. I did everything I could to ensure that she would get a proper doctor in the city, we did exercises to strengthen her extremely weak muscles and we did a lot of learning together. She is one of the brightest and coolest people I have ever met and I have such respect for her. We had a bond that I will always treasure.
Typically, after a day of studying and hanging out together, the rest of the kids would come back from school, we would work together all afternoon and in the evenings I would listen to them sing in their language and usually do a bit more studying or chatting. The older teenagers were my favourite because they had such depth. They had to grow up way before they should have, but as a result they have turned into these amazing human beings with an enormous amount of strength and maturity.
My Last Night’s Thoughts:
The director said he has never cried so hard or laughed as hard as he did here. He has never felt so alive and yet so dead at the same time and never so helpful and yet so hopeless.
I cannot think of a better way to summarize my experience here. I have seen so much happiness on these children’s faces as well as a delight and an eagerness to learn, be cared for and to have a bit of attention. Really, a big thing that these kids want is to have people who care about them.
I want to remember to have the courage to walk off the beaten path, to remember that what I have is more than enough and to remember that giving is truly more gratifying than receiving. I want to remember to follow my heart down the path it leads me no matter how strange or untraveled.