LILLIAN NAKAYIMA visits the world of street children
It is coming to 6.30 p.m. in Kibuye, Western Province. It’s a gloomy evening and the clouds are beginning to gather. Armed with a notebook and pen, I head to Gatare, a home for the street kids.
“Are we about to reach your home?” I impatiently ask Rahab Murenzi. Murenzi is one of the boys of the night.
About 300 street children are said to be living in a cave somewhere in Gatare and I am determined to find what sort of life they have.
They huddle in a big cave here and watch as the night passes. They call the cave their home. They hunt for food during the day and enter the cave when night falls.
They grumble as they eat. Sometimes, bigger boys terrorise the weak. Life is horrible. The story sounds like the tale of young boys in the William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies.
In the book, kids are cut off from the world of grownups and are busy doing all sorts of crimes and turn to savagery.
It discusses how culture created by man fails, using as an example a group of British school-boys stuck on a deserted island who try to govern themselves but with disastrous results.
Like the world depicted by Golding, in Kibuye street boys live alone and indeed have turned into savages. But they have not lost everything. As I stroll around, I discover there is still evidence of good.
Though my guide assures me that his home is a walking distance, the home seems to be an illusion or a receding mirage.
I had heard in the past about a place ‘captured’ by streets children and that they were busy erecting structures to turn it into modern residences. At first, I was among those who could not believe this. How wrong I was!
We trek over an hour with Murenzi. He keeps telling me stories. He says one day, he dodged a spear from his colleague. He had stolen his pancake! He says the boys are building permanent homes but they are currently being restrained by financial limitations.
“May be you can help a bit. Any small contribution comes in handy,” he says.
When people talk of homes, our minds quickly flash to decent houses with walls, a roof, doors and windows, with rooms and furniture. But in Murenzi’s case, he means a cave. After years on the streets, they ‘captured’ an area here.
“I have a special attachment to this cave,” says Murenzi.
He is one of the many street kids that had stayed in the cave since they were very young, perhaps since the age of 5, area residents say.
They hunt and cook. “At times it becomes hard but somehow, we have managed to survive,” Murenzi explains.
As we approach the cave, I hear shouts from kids mixed with laughter as well as cries.
The cave is in the middle of the bush. About 30 minutes drive from Kibuye. Though with one entrance, one can manage to peep inside the cave. It’s quite dark for an eye to cut through deep inside.
“Let’s light a candle so that you can have a better view inside our house,” a young boy named Kadongo says. Kids had warned me against calling their house a cave. But swirls of fear cut through my body. Just one girl in a group of about 30 kids in the bush!
“Suppose the devil takes over them,” I begin asking. I quietly say a prayer. As I bend to enter the cave, I see dirty ragged cloths, a heap of stones which the kids explained are for protection in case they are attacked by wild animals.
Paper bags full of what they explained is cocaine and the remains of sweet potatoes are scattered around. Old shoes and empty mineral water bottles are littered everywhere.
They take me to a small place metres away from the cave.
“This is how we live but we are happy that this has been our identity at least,” said Mushimiyimana Petite.
“Sometimes we are not sure whether we shall exist tomorrow but God is our providence,” adds Mushimiyimana as his nose flares.
Mushimiyimana is washing potatoes, preparation for supper. They eat once a day. Since they don’t have grownups around or money to buy food, they cannot afford luxury. Eating twice a day is being wasteful to them.
Asked about how they cook, Mushimiyimana lit a fire with firewood to demonstrate their expertise. He places a small metallic can on top was keen to know what it was. The 17- year- old told me it was an empty can of USA oil.
“As you can see, it’s small yet we are many so we have to cook many times,” he added as he puts it down again.
The street children get their food from Kibuye market. A lot of the time, they steal. The street children, as they are usually called, have many stories to tell.
“I was once in prison for pick pocketing but all I told the officer that hunger had made me do that,” said Rahab. “By God’s mercy, I was released.”
The street children explained that drugs allow them forget their worries and troubles for a second. They normally take cocaine at night when they are about to sleep. They say it’s a sleeping pill that makes the bodies resistant from hearing the mosquito bites and other threats.
“We go to the lake when the sunrises, wash our cloths, hang them, and then we go back to wait for them to dry,” said 13-year-old Alno.
Kids say they don’t want to go back home. “Home is no better. Tell the world,” they say as they bid me farewell.