Student travels to Rwanda to teach, but brings learned lessons home

“Why do kids rule the roost?” asks writer Elizabeth Kolbert in her July 2, 2012 article in the New Yorker. She cites the 2004 expedition by anthropologist Caroline Izquierdo of UCLA, which involved travel with the Matsigenka, a tribe of about 12,000 people who live in the Peruvian Amazon, she compares that study to Izquierdo’s anthropological study of 32 middle class families in Los Angeles, Calif.
What Izquierdo found astounded Kolbert. Izquierdo discovered that during her time in the Amazon, toddlers were performing chores such as heating food over the fire, and three-year-olds were cutting grass with machetes and knives, all without being asked.
Contrast this image of complete self-sufficiency with her findings in Los Angeles, where “no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused.”
This summer, I spent six weeks in Rwanda, an African country comparable to the size of Maryland, and the 22nd poorest country in the world, according to the United Nation’s 2011 Human Development Report.
While I expected to experience a place filled with desolation and poverty, and I certainly saw much of that, I didn’t expect to encounter such well-behaved, self-sufficient and responsible children.
Our team of six Villanova students andPeace & Justice Professor Tim Horner spent one week in Nyamata, which is in the countryside, at Nibakure Children’s Village. During this week we met and became completely enamored with 19 orphans and four stand-in “mamas,” all widows of the genocide who’ve decided to dedicate their lives to parenting the children.
We were astounded as we observed how completely unassuming, dependable and giving the Nibakure kids are.
I mention my trip in association with Kolbert’s article about Izquierdo’s Amazonian expedition because I developed a real attachment to her story as I read about it.
The entire time I spent at the Children’s Village, more of a home than an orphanage, I grew more and more impressed with the children, many of whom watched their parents lose their battle with AIDS and had to parent younger siblings until the village found them.
But I wasn’t solely impressed by their impenetrable hope and their vibrant spirits so much as I was shocked by their understanding and appreciation of chores and rules, as well as their desire to help, which was so prominent—they never needed to be asked.
Every school day, the children wake up as the sun rises. They shower, dress and head into the dining room, where they all pile onto wooden benches.
Nineteen precious bodies bow their heads in prayer while the mamas, who have already been up for hours, set out the morning breakfast, usually some form of toast with jam, bananas and tea.
There was never any difficulty in the mornings; the children knew that they needed to get to school on time, neededto dress diligently and eat their meals without complaint. I recall my mornings at home before a day of elementary school; oftentimes there were tears, fights and someone receiving a postponed time-out before the clock had even struck eight.
Around noon, the children head back to Nibakure. They only have twenty minutes to eat before they must return to school for the remainder of the day.
Again, there were never any complaints about what the mamas had cooked for lunch; none of the children argued, which I found remarkable in that 19 kids were forced together from various parts of the country and expected to instantly become friends.
I think during that entire week, with 19 children whose ages ranged from 6-17, I didn’t see a child cry once.
After school, which brings the children home at around 5 p.m.—yes, that means approximately a 10-hour school day—the children conscientiously change out of their uniforms and put on their play clothes.
They then, again, without being asked or instructed, without any argument or refusal, wash their school uniforms. Dinnertime comes again, no complaints about the food, which is very often the same thing every other day.
Then the children do more homework, change into their pajamas, would bid us visitors goodnight with hugs and kisses and willingly march off to their beds, only to repeat the exact same day tomorrow.
I think of the arguments I had with my parents before bedtime many a night. I would kick and scream—I’d probably even bite—all in an attempt to stay up a bit longer. I’d refuse meals at dinner; I’d scream at my mother until she cooked something else.I’d complain about being bored constantly. I would beg my parents to entertain me with some activity that always, always cost money.
I think a lot can be said about American children today and their refusal to complete the simplest of tasks. I’m not sure if it’s the parents who contribute to it or if society makes it impossible for children not to senselessly need to have more, do more, see more.
All I can say is that I watched 19 children with no parents and the quietest, simplest life never cry, fight or complain. And I think we need to stop looking at countries like Rwanda and seeing only poverty, when our children can learn a great deal from theirs.


Colleen Francke is a junior english and communication major from Southbury, Conn. She can be reached at cfrancke@villanova.edu.


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