The other day I met a young man, Pacifique, at the hostel and I’ve been meaning to write about it. He was visiting the hostel for the free internet and is a local Rwandan in Kigali. He asked me about my day and was really friendly, despite my quiet and stressed demeanor – this was after I visited the prisoner’s community camp and I was still shaken up about it.
Eventually we got into conversation about his amazing work. He is a survivor of the genocide and his family, like many others, suffered financially after the genocide. He had to resort to becoming a ‘street kid’ – begging for money and food. He couldn’t afford schooling and eventually looked for work to help his mother with money. He was working near a Canadian man who questioned why such a young boy was working and not in school. This Canadian man, after hearing his story, then decided to pay for the rest of Pacifique’s schooling. Pacifique still kept in close contact with his fellow street kids, often teaching and sharing what he learned in school. He mentioned that these kids became his brothers and sisters, always looking out for each other.
Now, Pacifique has graduated. He is an artist – but he doesn’t just sell his art for profit. He still has a great love and devotion for the children living on the streets and a large portion of his profits go to paying for these children’s education! He shared some of his documents with me that reviewed each child’s story and the costs of their schooling per year. Some children don’t have parents, have parents suffering from HIV, some suffering from extremely low-paying jobs or other heartbreaking stories. The children’s’ schooling is roughly $100-150 per year and he pays for nearly SIXTY children! Schooling is free for most Rwandan children, but not for the homeless children – the “street kids.” He shared that he faces a lot of difficulty, one year he didn’t sell enough artwork and had to promise the school’s he would eventually pay them back.
As if the schooling wasn’t enough, he actually just acquired a large space that will allow him to invite TWENTY of the children to live with him. You can see his determination and love for these kids, he is spending so much of his money just to keep them safe and to give them a chance at an education – a chance he was given by luck by that Canadian fellow. Some of the pictures he showed was a large holiday dinner he cooked for the children, even serving meat because they love meat so much. I can’t imagine how expensive it was! But, he was so excited to talk about how much he loves to cook for them – especially for the holidays. I remember another batch of pictures were of boys drumming and also a “Miss Rwanda” activity. The kids seem so delighted when they’re with him.
I could sense this love for the kids as soon as we started talking. He immediately wanted to show me pictures and videos of the kids. Not only does he help them with schooling, but he also runs a cultural center on his own. He teaches them dancing, music and art several times a week. This helps keeps the youth busy, as a life on the streets can often persuade them into dangerous hobbies, as we see in America as well. The skills the students learn aren’t just hobbies, but a way for the children to develop a talent that can help them provide for themselves. He creates free events where the children can perform their new talents and the audience is merely asked to donate. These donations further help the children. It gives them a sense of dignity and ownership at a young age, that they no longer need to beg for money or food – they can earn it on their own. I asked him to share the dancing video because it immediately captured my heart when he showed it to me. You can see how happy these children are. I’ve attached it below.
His cultural center, NIYO Cultural Center, has recently been given an NGO status, so he is able to ask for help. He asked if I plan on returning to Rwanda and I shared that I have been chatting with some people about some of the possible education programs I could apply to. He mentioned that with this NGO status he will be able to grant me a volunteer visa for 6 months-1 year. I’ve said it before, I feel really lucky to be in Rwanda – being sent in a way that makes me feel that I’m meant to be here right now. I wonder if this is where this pull is sending me. I’m not sure how helpful I can even be in his center though. I can graduate with my masters this December, but I’m wondering if I should wait until May… and do my master’s project in Rwanda. I’m not really sure what I do with a master’s project so this idea may not even make sense. Still, something to consider. I’d really love to come back.
Unfortunately, PayPal and GoFundMe aren’t accessible in Rwanda. I feel that people would want to donate to his center after hearing his story, I know I do. But, there isn’t an easy way to do so. A woman who joined us for a bit explained the extensive steps one has to go through to send money to Rwandan citizens. The easiest way is to have a trusted foreigner set up a PayPal/GoFundMe account and send the total money through the extensive steps regularly (this is what she does for the designer she helps). It’s frustrating to know that he’s being held back by such a trivial thing, because I really think (and hope) that people would be interested in donating. I mean, one entire school year is only $100 – even a donation of $25 would be helpful. Especially when you consider he’s paying for sixty children – some in secondary schools that cost much more than $100.
Oh… by the way, Pacifique is 23 years old.
Makes me feel like quite the failure! He has such a fascinating story and a huge heart. What other 23 year old in the world can say they fund education for 60 homeless children and have just purchased a space so 20 of them can finally have a home with him? He’s so committed to these kids and I hope I find time during my stay to visit his center. He’s a person that warms your heart. Despite the struggles he faces, he is dedicated to creating opportunities for children that wouldn’t have a chance without him. We need more Pacifiques in the world. I feel lucky to just have met someone as special as him.
I hope I can come back.
Since writing this blog, Pacifique and I have created a GoFundMe account. If you’re as touched as I was by his story, please consider donating. Any kind of donation will be appreciated.
Here is the link: http://www.gofundme.com/jw5p24
Here is a video of the younger children at the center doing a traditional dance: