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|Out of Sorrow comes Happiness|
For the past twenty years I have been traveling to Africa – first to Uganda and now to Rwanda to volunteer at two community development projects located in these countries. It has become the ‘other half’ of my life. It is work that brings great satisfaction and joy. But there is another side to it... sadly, it is the witnessing of great suffering and tragedy of people trying to survive despite the tremendous odds against them.
I have one such story to tell...
Padri Vjeko Centre employs several watchmen to see that everything at the two schools is kept secure. The daytime watchmen see that the students are entering and leaving the school premises as they should, and for ringing a bell to announce the change of classes. The two night watchmen guard each of the school premises to ward off any theft or wrongdoing.
One day this past May, when I was at the school, Immaculee advised me that Musengimana Modeste, a night watchmen at the Technical Secondary School, was having trouble swallowing any food and was becoming weak. He had been to see a doctor, but nothing could be found to be wrong. I asked if he had had x-rays or a CT scan and she said she would inquire. You see, after many years of not having any health care plan, Rwanda finally has an affordable form of health insurance, which all students and staff pay into.
It was not even two days later when we learned that Modeste had died. You might think this impossible to have happened, but when you spend time in rural areas of impoverished countries, you begin to realize that the many things we take for granted are simply not there – safeguards against tragedy are non-existent. We later learned that Modeste lived in very poor conditions, and yet he never came to ask for help. No one knew the sad state of his personal life. The Rwandese people have a great deal of pride. Despite all that has happened in the country to have brought it to the world’s attention (or perhaps, because of this...) Rwandans are a proud people and do not wish to make a show of their abject poverty or their great needs to others.
Modeste, his wife and six children lived in what might be described as little more than a shed - a locally constructed building, 2 ½ by 5 meters, of only two rooms, one used as a bedroom and the other a sitting/bedroom. Can you imagine eight persons living in this small structure? There was no kitchen. There was no toilet or washing room. There was no storeroom. There was almost no furniture – a bench and some locally made mattresses (filled with grasses). This was their life. And it is important to realize this is only one of many such stories......everywhere people are struggling.
When the conditions of the family came to light, Modeste’s widow was sent for to see what might be done to help. Although one of the children, the eldest – a boy – was studying building construction at Padri Vjeko, we learned that the next two children, both girls, had been turned away from school a couple of years ago because the family had been unable to pay the tuition fees of about $30 per term and they had never gone back – imagine this!
Immediately fra Ivica offered the older of the two girls (who had been out of school longest) to enter the tailoring program at Padri Vjeko Centre. She worked very hard and is now going into her second/final year. With financial assistance from fra Ivica, the other girl was assisted to get back into the school she had left. With hard work, she will hopefully catch up in her studies. Then, when she has completed her Senior 3, she will come to Padri Vjeko TSS (Technical Secondary School) to finish her academic education while learning a skill at the same time. Meanwhile the remaining three young children are at the home and are going to primary school.
It just so happened that at this time, when I was at the project, Thomas, a friend of mine with a kind heart and gentle soul, had come to visit the school and had left behind a generous donation. Fra Ivica contacted Thomas and asked if he would like to donate the money to help build a new home for this family. And so it was decided.
Work began and very soon a new building was erected. The new building has a sitting room and three bedrooms. And located inside the compound is a pit latrine (hole dug in the ground), a room for washing (water is carried in plastic jerry cans and washing is done using a plastic basin), a cooking room (a clay cooking unit with charcoal is placed on the floor and a metal pot is set on top) and a small storeroom (for dried beans, etc.). The tiny plot of land surrounding the house will be used for growing food for the family.
It is a new beginning for Modeste’s widow and children. The two older children will complete their training in a year and will be able to help support the family, the next in line will be given an academic education as well as a skill and the younger children will be busy studying in primary school.
Although this family has suffered a terrible loss with the death of their father and husband, they now will live in a home that is strong and secure, bringing them hope for a brighter future.