A letter from Nancy Collins, regional liaison for East Africa
A Story from Rwanda: Center Presbyterienne L’Amour de Gen (CPAG)
23-year-old Noel Twiringire quietly took a seat next to me and in halting English he began to tell me his story. When he was 12, Noel was rescued by CPAG staff workers from a nearby garbage dump where he was scavenging for food and anything that might conceivably have value. It seems during the 1994 genocide Noel’s mom took some of the children and fled to the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Noel remained in Kigali with his father and younger sister. At some point Noel’s father was imprisoned for crimes during the genocide and Noel ended up living on the street.
On the day in 2000 when CPAG staff workers came to the garbage dump to talk to the street children eking out an existence there, Noel and seven others came with them back to the Center. According to Noel, some of those who decided not to come are still living at the dump—poverty-stricken and illiterate. Noel, on the other hand, completed secondary school in 2011 and if he can find funds for university (a daunting $1,000 per year), Noel’s goal is to study journalism and communication. He dreams of starting a magazine for youth.
According to Noel, “I was given life in this Center, and I will be grateful my whole life for the people who rescued me. I received an education and I learned about God at this Center. I praise God for this. I received decent food every day, and on special occasions we had meat and chips and soda.”
Multiply Noel’s story by hundreds of children and you will have an idea of the impact CPAG has had on children in Rwanda. The Presbyterian Church of Rwanda founded CPAG in 1998 to assist the hundreds of street children separated from their families during the genocide. Director Cyprien Musabwa says the original concept for the Center was a place where boys would stay for short periods of time before being reunited with relatives. However, the chaos and displacement after the genocide was so great, it was impossible to locate families. Children like Noel ended up living at CPAG throughout primary and secondary school years, thankful for their new CPAG family.
Now in 2012 the situation is somewhat different. Children now on the streets in Kigali are there because they have fled poverty, abuse and family violence. They have come to Kigali from all over the country, expecting that somehow they would manage to live. The means of survival has not changed: the children end up scavenging at the garbage dump.
Currently 109 boys 12-18 years old live at CPAG and attend primary or secondary school. An additional 200 boys are in a secondary boarding school, supported by CPAG. CPAG makes a major effort to reunite the children with their families. However, sometimes the children refuse to return to their families because they are afraid of the poverty or violence awaiting them. Sometimes the parents refuse to accept the child. And sometimes family members cannot be located. Those children continue to live at the Center.
According to Cyprien, there are seven centers for street children in Kigali. Several of the other centers take girls living on the street.
Cyprien studied management and was working in the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda when CPAG came into being. He was asked to take the position of director. It was a big change, but looking back, Cyprien is glad he accepted the challenge. “The children come with no hope. But after two or three years they have new life. The work is difficult but it is such a blessing to see the positive impact of the Center on these children."
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 105