Rene is a former street child. When I first met him, he was completely lost. He was not even strong enough to stand under the sun for a few minutes. Most of the time, he was talking in a sitting position avoiding eye contact. Now, when you engage in a conversation with him, he immediately smiles and shares his current feelings and his past. I cannot believe how far he has come, and he tells me he is very grateful.
“I was lost, totally lost. Now I realize how crazy I was. Can you imagine yourself not being able to differentiate days and nights? When you are high [on drugs], they both look the same. I am still wondering how I survived in such bad conditions…The street is a hell,” Rene told me. He also added that there is no future on the street, but sometimes, street children do talk about it – as if it belongs to others not to them. “On the street, you just get high and you sleep. The only thing you have in mind is how you are going to get the next dose of a drug. Whatever you find is fine as long as you just get high.”
Raised in a single parent family, Rene has six siblings and he is the first born, which puts him under pressure because his siblings expect him to support the family. Influenced by his neighborhood (an extremely poor area in Kigali City), Rene chose to escape that heavy responsibility. He found refuge in drugs instead of working.
Rene became a MindLeaps student in March 2014. It took one year and two months for Rene to realize that he was transformed into a responsible young man. His mom passed away a few months after Rene’s behavior changed. The MindLeaps team was afraid that the death of his mom would send him back to using drugs again, but that didn’t happen. Rene kept working hard and following instructions from his teachers at MindLeaps. He is now the lead dance student at MindLeaps. He also attends a vocational training school where he learns tailoring. He is a good student, and he wants to become a fashion designer. Here is how he describes his plan for the future:
“On the street, I learned that clothes and food are the most import things in life. As I was raised in a homeless family, we had no land to cultivate, so that is why I am interested in clothes and the textile industry. At least I can produce clothes for poor people as well as for rich ones. I feel so happy to be able to finally differentiate days and nights, to see that my siblings are enjoying wearing the clothes I made during my days – that I am finally able to sleep with them at night and take care of them.”
Eugene Dushime is the Country Director for MindLeaps Rwanda.