Rwanda’s Courageous Children and the Lessons they Taught Me
– by Natasa Economou
In 2014 I volunteered for three months at an orphanage in Rwanda through indiGO Volunteers. An orphanage that was closing down due to new government policies. I witnessed children with no support being taken to homes of strangers and children being rejected due to their disabilities. Due to the orphanage closing my friend Gemma and I wanted to help support the children after we left. Now it is 2018 and for the last 4 years – since the closure of the orphanage we help support 2 children through secondary school. I coordinate money from 4 donors (Gemma, myself, Katrina and Stein) from three different countries in order for the 2 teenagers to go to school.
In October 2017 I visited Rwanda and visited the school that 6 orphans from the orphanage attend. I felt like a celebrity entering the school! Students stopping to look at me, whispering to their friends about the “Muzungu ” (“White person”) walking awkwardly around the grounds and teachers stopping to introduce themselves to me. I felt overwhelmed seeing all 6 of the children again, who had turned into young adults. This group of young adults began asking for my advice on problems they had at school and within 5 mins they were all listening intently to my advice. I was giving a “pep talk” to a bunch of 17 year olds about life and school. I don’t have that presence with people in my daily life, but here I was giving life lessons to people that really needed me. It was this conversation that made me first realise I was a parent. A distant parent but a parent all the same.
They sought my support and my advice. After reading Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly” I realised why the above experience held so much emotion and purpose for me. “We are hard- wired for connection – it is what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives”. Here, this group of young people taught me the importance of vulnerability and connection. They showed me their vulnerable selves and it was this vulnerability that made me realise my role in their lives and their need for connection. These are children who have never had parents or even families and therefore have never experienced connections we all long for; support and love. It made me feel sad but more importantly proud. Proud that I am a parent to special, loving and whole hearted children.
Realising the importance of my role in their lives gave me another sense of purpose in mine. I promised myself and promised them that whatever their hardships, I wanted them to share them with me. Even if I was not able to help them practically I would listen. We love children for their vulnerability yet to be an adult and be vulnerable is a sign of “weakness”. Vulnerability is not weakness. Its courageous and it is true.
“What we know matters, but who we are matters more.” – Brene Brown