At 5:30 in the morning, myself and an interpreter were dropped off by motorcycle taxi to a family’s house. Their children are sponsored by the Portland, Oregon, based Itafari Foundation. Unreachable by car, transportation within the village is on foot or by an old gearless bikes for the lucky few. I spent my time there following and photographing,“the day in the life” of two children, brother and sister.
Sunrise – an hour after I arrived to Claudette’s house.
It was dawn when we arrived at Claudette’s house. Her 16 year old brother, Justin, and two children, John Claude (8), and Naomie (10), were already awake. The children were finishing the first of their morning routines, taking the chickens out of the house and putting them in mud walled pen outside. At night the chickens sleep inside to avoid theft.
This chicken wanted to come back in.
The family I was with are among the most impoverished in Rwanda. Where they live has no running water, and no electricity. Their house was made of mud and bricks with a fabricated sheet of metal for a roof. The floors were the hard red dirt common to this part of Africa.
On this day I witnessed something unexpected. It didn’t come in a box, it wasn’t in a museum, it was no great feat of science, engineering, or technology. In the course of an average day I saw an astonishing abundance of laughter, joy, community, and neighbors and strangers coming together.
John Claude and Naomie have breakfast.
Leaving the house for school.
On the way to school with some friends.
After breakfast and chores we walked to school. The kids are fortunate because the school is under a mile from their house. Today their mother will walk with us and introduce me to the principal so I can ask permission to photograph at the school.
In much of Rwanda, no one has ever seen a fair skinned person before. When we arrived at the school many children crowded around me, and continued to throughout the day.
Their shoes, imported from China, are foam rubber and the least expensive available. I couldn’t get over how much they resemble the latest fad for school children in the United States. With a few minor modifications, they’re no different from the crocs shoes that sell for thirty dollars and up in the U.S.
The school day began with the students lining up outside by the flag to sing the national anthem and recite a short prayer. Then, class by class, they filed off to the rooms to begin their studies.
The start of school began with cleaning; the chalk boards, the classrooms, the walkways outside.
Naomie stands to answer a question after being called on.
Some other students in the class room.
At 12:15 school lets out for an hour and a half to give the kids time to go home for lunch. In some schools, where resources are more plentiful, children will stay in school for lunch. One of the endearing qualities about Rwandan culture is the closeness and affection shared among friends, young and old. This next photograph is a scene I’ve observed many times since coming here, in the city and the country side. You would only see this between friends. Couples do not show their affections in public at all.
After school the kids had two things to they needed to accomplish: get water and collect fire wood. In many areas of Rwanda, running water is not available. Some people spend as much as three hours a day walking for water. Water is survival, and in Rwanda it’s carried mostly in 20 liter yellow jerry cans.
Not an uncommon sight, this man has just finished filling 5 water cans and is on his way home. 20 liters of water weighs 44 pounds (Add the container and it’s 50 pounds a can).
The next time you think you have it bad, imagine caring 50 pounds of water on your head, or carrying 100 pounds (50 on each arm)? Now imagine doing that with a malnourished body on an empty stomach.
John Claude and Naomie are fortunate, their water source is less than a half mile from home. Going with empty cans isn’t bad. For kids there are smaller 5 liter containers.
The government has piped water into many areas. Their immediate goal is to have water access within a 2 kilometer walk for everyone.
For a child, 20 pounds of water makes the walk home a much bigger choir. After I took this photo, I also took a can from each of them.
After returning home with the water, we headed out to collect fire wood. The walk was much further this time, almost an hour, to a spot where Claudette rents a small plot of land to cultivate food. Here the children collected fallen wood from the side of the road. Due to deforestation, cutting down trees is strictly regulated in Rwanda. I tried to help collect wood, but the branches they were gathering had small thorns on them and were piercing my skin.
Naomie gathering wood.
Walking back Naomie was able to easily balance her load. John Claude had to hang on.
The last thing the family did before I left was feed the chickens. Each bird was taken from the pen, and one by one Claudette tied a crudely fashioned rope to their legs.
John Claude holding two chickens awaiting to be tethered.
Then the chickens were placed on the ground and given corn.
Naomie holding a rooster to be put back in the pen after feeding.
The last photos I took before leaving for the day were of two of Claudette’s friends. This woman lives with her family in the other half of the house.
This woman looked wiser than most people I know.
And she had a great smile.
If you’re interested in sponsoring a child in Rwanda, or want to help in another way,I encourage you to contact the Itafari Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization ( http://itafari.org ),and help support their extraordinary work.
Copyright 2007 Adam Bacher. All rights reserved. Absolutely no use without prior authorization.