Catch-up school: The opportunities of life
February 19, 2012. Interview translated by Modeste Shumbusho.
"Why do people leave their regions to live in any other?" Emmanuel asks his level two class. He's teaching a social studies lesson about population distribution to the middle level class at the catch-up school for street kids in Kanombe, Rwanda.
He answers himself. "Because they want the opportunities of life."
Theoneste and Mariette Byamamare run a primary school for children of all ages to catch up academically to their peers. These children leave their regions (abusive, broken homes and life on the street) to pursue the opportunity of education. Most of the 252 students are street kids.
Not 15-year-old Clemence.
Clemence lives far from the school with her stepmother. She doesn't know her father and has no siblings. For Clemence, getting away from home is the only way she can strive for the opportunities of life.
While her peers have many different backgrounds and living situations, each one has struggles. One girl's parents divorced and remarried. Both of her step parents refused to have her live with them, so the school pays her rent elsewhere. She is 16 years old and lives alone.
"Some kids live with their parents and other don't have parents. . . Some come here with grief and you can find them silent in classes because of the problems they left home," Clemence explained in a near-whisper. Students like her don't want to talk about their problems, so they don't talk at all.
Clemence has a particularly difficult situation. Her stepmother is unemployed and brings men home, allowing them to abuse Clemence.
"My stepmother has no job, so when [the men] come they give her money. I never forget," said Clemence, who carries the abuse in her mind even when she's not at the house.
Clemence's stepmother once sent her away from home. For two months she stayed with Fiacre Mugabo, the level three math and English teacher at the catch-up school. Then her stepmother took her back, but sometimes forbids her from attending school.
"Before coming here, I was staying home and those men could come and abuse me," Clemence recalls, sitting next door to her class as Fiacre teaches an English lesson. "But when I am here, they never find me. It's a safe place."
Rwanda Partners Program Coordinator Modeste Shumbusho and headmistress Mariette said that police and human rights groups can help somewhat, but till Clemence and other people in her situation find a different place to live, authorities cannot really intervene. For Clemence, school is the only refuge from the abuse she endures at home.
"This school does great work by having a great number of kids and changing their lives by teaching and loving," Emmanuel said.
Education and a loving environment with supportive teachers have made all the difference for Clemence. Although she appears quiet and dejected, Clemence has high hopes for her future. She likes studying English and already feels a calling to use her struggles to help others. Clemence wants to find another place to live and pursue secondary school and university when she has finished at the catch-up school.
Ultimately, Clemence wants to be an executive secretary of a district in Rwanda to help people who suffer abuse. In this way she will convert the trauma she's experiencing into helping others pursue the opportunities of life. She smiles for the first time in our conversation and offers a simple reason: "I want to help people."
Until then, she hopes that people will continue to support and visit her school. "We still need other classes and places to live," Clemence said. Clatter and commotion from the packed schoolrooms next door echoed those needs.