So today was the day! I was picked up this morning at 8am by a member of Compassion Rwanda's staff team, John, my guide and translator for the day, and driven to Musambira which is about 45 minutes south-west of Kigali. First of all we went to the Compassion project and I met the staff team there. As far as I could gather they are working with almost 300 vulnerable children in the area most of whom are sponsored. They also operate a Child Survival programme where they support pregnant mums and mums who have recently given birth. They work in close partnership with the local church and it is the local church which identifies those families most in need of support. The project runs mainly on a Saturday when the children come to the centre and they get educational support as well as faith-based input, and they are supported to write letters to their sponsors. During the week the children attend their local school and the fees for this are paid for by the sponsorship. Some are also involved in choirs or sports activities at the project. The sponsorship also means that each child can get health insurance and therefore health care.
I was introduced to each of the staff members and was shown Nsengiyaremye's file which keeps track of his educational achievements as well as health information. A few weeks before I arrived in Rwanda I'd received the latest letter from Nsengiyaremye in which he told me that because he hadn't been doing well at school he had been switched to vocational training in construction. I found out today that this is a 3-year programme and it will mean that Nsengiyaremye will be able to gain employment on completion. I'm happy about this because from his letters I knew he was struggling at school and it's good to know that he's got future prospects when my support for him ends in 2014 at the end of his vocational training.
We hopped back into the car and drove down a very bumpy and pot-holed dirt-track to Nsengiyaremye's home. All of a sudden we'd arrived and he came straight out the door and gave me a big hug - it was an emotional moment to meet him at last! He had dressed up for the occasion and was looking smart in a suit which was really sweet. Then I met his mother, two of his sisters and a nephew and a baby niece. Altogether Nsengiyaremye has 3 brothers and 4 sisters, but his 3 brothers work away from home. He is the second youngest. We sat down inside his home - just a simple home made with mud-bricks. I gave Nsengiyaremye his gifts and some for his family to his mother as well. She kept shaking my hand, giving me hugs and thanking me. Nsengiyaremye's father came in from the fields - a wizened wee man who has obviously worked desperately hard all his life, he's 69 now. He seemed a jolly wee soul and was coming out with a few cracks. He asked me if I worked the land and seemed to be chuffed to hear that many of my relatives are farmers and that when I was a kid I used to help my brother feeding calves and lambs. He also told me that Nsengiyaremye had been sick and in hospital. Apparently he has problems with stomach ulcers which just emphasized the value and importance of the health insurance provided by the project. I showed them some photographs I'd brought with me from home of family and friends and of the young people I work with. Nsengiyaremye told me he was enjoying the vocational training course and he asked after my family. I showed him my collection of all the letters he has written to me over the last 11 years. We went outside to take some more photographs of the family together in front of their home. Nsengiyaremye took me by the hand and showed me his goat which he'd been able to buy with his Christmas money. Finally I had the opportunity to pray with the family, praying a blessing on them and Nsengiyaremye also prayed for me. It was incredibly humbling. And then we had to say goodbye and the family saw me out to the car. News had obviously spread and the neighbours were out on the road - no doubt they'll be talking for a while about the mzungu who dropped in one Tuesday morning.
I'm giving you a description here of what happened this morning but to be honest I can't really convey what it was like. When I got back to Kigali I was actually feeling a bit emotionally drained, not in a bad way, it's just that it was a bit of a special moment this morning and I've no idea how to communicate that. It was really wonderful to be with Nsengiyaremye, it wasn't awkward at all, he just held my hand. We inhabit completely different worlds and so much separates us - language, age, distance, culture, levels of poverty/wealth - all huge stuff and I will not pretend to have a handle on any of it. I don't know how to solve world poverty even though I could probably rant and rave with the best of them about social justice and the rights and wrongs of development, aid, corruption, greed, inequality etc etc. I don't know what I've witnessed means for my own rich Western lifestyle, I think having a lot of stuff makes you kind of blind - blind to the important things in life and to the needs of others. I've no idea what to do with any of that yet so I've no lack of food for thought. But this morning I had the opportunity to meet a 19-year old boy face-to-face and know that he's been getting a better start in life as a sponsor child. It was obvious to me that Nsengiyaremye's parents care very much for him and the rest of their family, they're just like the rest of us because they simply want the best for their children. These folks don't have 2d to rub together, when I say they farm, it's just subsistence farming and it's basically about survival - trying to grow enough to feed themselves, their children and their grandchildren. But through this sponsorship arrangement they know that there is someone on the other side of the world who cares about their son as well and they don't have to do it all alone. I ain't got the answers but maybe that's all that matters for now.