From street to classroom

A chilling story of his past and a better future Ernest Murekezi is a former street kid. He remembers the cold night street life with depressed nostalgia.

A chilling story of his past and a better future

Ernest Murekezi is a former street kid. He remembers the cold night street life with depressed nostalgia.

“At night, the hard hitting cold would descend on us and cut through our blood. We would cuddle each other,” recalls the 15-year-old. His father died in 2003 and he was the only family breadwinner.

The father’s death hit the family like a thunderbolt out of clear sky. The family hails from Kanama sector in Rubavu. Murekezi’s father was motorcyclist in Gisenyi. He talks about his dead father repeatedly throughout the interview last week.

“Our father was generous and his death becomes the source of living,” Murekezi add in a sad tone. He is the fourth in the family of five. He joined street life after conditions became impossible at home. They would spend a day without having lunch.

“I saw beggars of all ages, old men, women and children” he said.

“House verandas were our bedrooms and garbage pits our eating places. Mosquitoes feeding on our blood freely since our mattresses were the boxes,” Mukerezi says as his nose flares.

As the night falls and other people retire to their homes that is when our day would begin. We would spend all the time running a way from local leaders and local defense forces who wanted to lynch us. Harassment was as common.

“It was terrible. We used to think there was a better life,” he says. He says the street is full of despicable things.

“I had wanted to become a beggar on Kigali streets but decided to go to Gisenyi after one of my friends  told me there were many white tourists who gave beggars a lot of money though I realized it’s wasn’t true,” reveals Murekezi.

His first day on the streets is the worst moment in his life. Many beggars ‘welcomed’ him. They said they were going to baptize. I was taken to Lake Kivu. The Baptism was an awful function they initiated as a sign of acceptance to any new comer in their midst.

“They tortured me badly. They forced me into the cold water of Kivu, almost drowning. I was kicked, slapped and turned upside down,” he says as he displays some of living scars got from the streets. After the baptism, I was officially declared one of their own.

“They said I was courageous throughout the baptism process,” he says as he tried to hide his bitterness. When children of our age were living comfortably, snoring in their warm beds, rain mosquito was attacking us. One day, I made small money after carrying people’s the buses to the market place.

He says one would sit somewhere on the veranda and starting planning his next move. When you are hungry, you pray and leave everything in the hands of God. The street beggars are very hostile. Beggars develop self hatred. They are callous and don’t mind about tomorrow.

Murekezi is now attending Kanama Primary School. He was together with other street children lured from their new “home” by Point d’ecoute, a local humanitarian Non-Government Organization.

“I am determined to work hard to be an important person in future. Every body in Gisenyi laughed at me and I was called all sorts of names,” Murekezi continues. He says society is harsh.

“Sometimes, a small mongo you pick from that tree near the road can earn a hard slap.” You wonder why people don’t to see you happy. He says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up because he hates to see people falling sick.

“May be if I were a medical doctor, my father would not have died,” he says as his face turns sad again. According to Florien Birasa, one of Murekezi’s teachers, the former street kid is a brilliant, hardworking and devoted pupil.

“It should be every ones responsibility to get these children from the streets because they are intelligent and tomorrow’s leaders,” Birasa appeals.

Emmanuel Harerimana is in charge of the children’s welfare at Point d’ecoute. He says the organization gathered street children, convinced them to identify their families. Later, the families were also given loans as starting capital to set off income generating projects.

Hererimana said that with Frw30, 000 given to each family, most parent started small businesses such as selling foodstuffs in Nyakabungo market in Gisenyi. He said that such small business through the guidance given to them by the organization has made them able to provide for their household thus keeping their former street children at home.

“We are very much impressed. Although the help is small, it has transformed the families,” he adds. Murekezi’s mother Claris Mukaminega says the loans had helped their children live decent lives.

“My child was on street due to conditions because we had nothing to eat,”explains Mukaminega.

Mukaminega has a small business of selling charcoal in Nyakabungo, the second biggest market in Gisenyi. Her capital of Frws30, 000 was advanced to her by Point d’Ecoute.