July 28, 2008 (Musanze, Rwanda) — The absence of light in the middle of the afternoon is blinding inside the tiny mud-brick house, where Cecile and I have been invited to see what a typical village home looks like.
The tall, slender woman, dressed in a striking blue print dress — no doubt worn for our visit — beckons us to peek into the room where she sleeps. It is large enough for a mattress and maybe six inches on one side in which to make her way to her bed on the dusty floor.
We cross the central room to the other side, where we can barely make out two more mattresses on the floor and what appears to be a pile of clothing in the corner.
This is where her seven children sleep.
Outside once again, as we make our way through the maze of paths connecting one house to another, I am surprised there is no aroma, given that the bathroom facilities in this typical outlying village consist of a hole in the ground covered by planks with two round cuts in them. They are surrounded by thatch for privacy.
Hussein Nsenga explains that a new latrine is being constructed for the small orphanage he is leading us to down a path surrounded by banana trees. We pass several other mud-brick structures before reaching the building that serves 32 of the 761 children in Nyakiwjanama — a village in the Musanze Provence — who need help.
Mostly what happens in the four-room building where two dozen youngsters have assembled to greet us with song and dance — as we have learned is always the custom — are lessons.
There are a few bunk beds in the rooms off the main one, but isolating children in orphanages is not the preferred scenario in Rwanda — a country with 500,000 orphans.
"The government does not encourage children to stay in orphanages," says Hussein, who spent half his life in a refuge camp in Uganda, where he was born after his parents fled Rwanda in 1959.
Instead the children are cared for in what amount to foster homes.
Hussein is the coordinator for this orphanage that falls under the aegis of the Amahoro Integrated Development Program (AIDP). Amahoro means "peace" in Kinyarwandan.
He came to Rwanda in 1994 at the end of the genocide.
He says he came to help.
"I have to dedicate my life to these children."
He is — like most rural Rwandans — a subsistence farmer.
He eats what he grows and sells whatever is left over.
As with all the children's centers we have visited since our arrival, the young people who have traveled with us are completely smitten by these beaming, generous kids.
One tiny little boy joins in the dancing, keeping rhythm just to the side of the older, more accomplished dancers.
Cecile and I share a moment deciding which one of us will bring him home.
It is always hard to leave behind these perfect, smiling faces — so full of happiness, despite what might seem to us to be an abysmal existence.
The love that exudes from everyone we meet assures us somehow there is more to life than "things."
But it is still heart-wrenching for all of us to see so much need, and be able to offer so little.
It is chilly in Musanze because of the elevation — especially at night. There are no windows in this tiny orphanage at the base of Rwanda's three imposing volcanic peaks.
Hussein agrees he will find out what it would cost to put glass in to give some protection from the cold.
He will let us know, he says.
To be continued ….
Editor's note: For more about the trip, read first lady Cecile deJongh's Travel Journal.
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