Young lives with heavy burdens: Dorottea and Cecile

February 22, 2012. Interview translated by Modeste Shumbusho.

Dorottea walks home from the Gashora Sewing School. The 20-year-old Rwandese girl pulls back the 101 Dalmations curtain that hangs at the front door, revealing three children playing inside on the dirt floor. The room is sparsely furnished with a few chairs, a worn table, and a storage cabinet. A young girl in a dirty skirt picks up the bright-eyed, naked baby as her brother, wearing only one sandal, plays with an old bike tire. But these children don't belong to Dorottea; they belong to her housemate, a single mother.

Dorottea (portrait, left) has no family of her own. Her mother passed away when Dorottea was three, and her father passed away when she was five.

"At that age, I couldn't understand. I was desperate," Dorottea recalls. "When I heard other children calling their mother, I was hurt."

As Dorottea got older, she was unable to complete secondary school because she couldn't afford the school fees or materials. So when a local church teamed up with Rwanda Partners to select vulnerable youth for their Gashora Sewing School, Dorottea was a strong candidate. She and the other 14 students, ages 15-24, are orphaned or are in some way responsible for providing for their families. Many thought their situations were unique, but found community with the other students.

After completing their training at the sewing school, Dorottea and her classmates are transitioning to cooperative status. Rwanda Partners Program Coordinator Modeste Shumbusho explained that they will earn more money as a cooperative than as individual students with a monthly stipend. "We also teach them how to save, which will help them in the future," Modeste said.

For now Dorottea's classmate Cecile, 18, (portrait, right) uses her stipend to support her mother and nephew, whom she lives with. Her father is in jail for genocide crimes. Despite conflicts that this might cause among Cecile and classmates like Dorottea who lost family members, the students have chosen to unite instead. "We live in peace. Last year I lost my brother, and I couldn't imagine that the class and my teacher would come to spend time with the family," Cecile said. But they did. "I was excited and felt loved."

On the weekends, Cecile fetches water and finds pasture for their cow. But when she's at the sewing school, her mother works to prepare the food, take care of the cow, and to cultivate their field. Cecile couldn't pay fees for secondary school, but is eager to learn.

"We had difficult moments in the past, but now we have hope for the future. If I get the opportunity to go on with my studies, I am ready," Cecile said.

Dorottea also has ambitions for her future. As she sits in a woven chair, the most ornate object in the mud-brick home, Dorottea talks of going into business with her sewing skills and having her own family some day.

Until then, the foreign market for the bags she and her peers make gives them direction and ambition.

"I am thankful that I found people who can restore me, give me hope. I am now happy and thankful," Dorottea said.

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