Last week we had the chance to visit our friend Celestin. Celestin works in southwest Rwanda (on the border of Tanzania), in a community of people who fled Rwanda between ’59 and ’94, and have come back at different times. There has been varying amounts of support from the government and foreign NGO’s, many lived in tents for many years before they received a more permanent mud hut. Celestin runs 2 preschools with about 25 children in each school. We visited to encourage him and remind him he is not forgotten out in the village.
While we were there, he took us to a refugee camp. Because of the situation in the Congo, Tanzania has kicked out many Rwandans who have been living there for upwards of 50 years. Many of the children we met, and even their parents, have never lived in Rwanda, and yet they were forced to leave their lives and everything they own (for a country they or their parents had been forced out of because of violence).
I’ve never been in a refugee camp before, and this was honestly better than I expected (each family had a space, and they had water & washroom facilities), and yet it would be unimaginable to find myself there. As soon as we arrived, a little boy of about 3 attached himself to me (a very, very cute boy). It was his family’s place that we ended up visiting, with his twin sister, older sister, mom, and 5-day-old baby sister. Once this family arrived at the camp, the father returned to Tanzania to retrieve some of their belongings and cattle, and was killed by thieves. So this newly-widowed young woman gave birth in a refugee camp.
We had no words.
So we prayed for her, and played with the little boy.
We came home and convinced the team that is leaving soon for outreach that they should spend some time there, talking with people, helping them carry water, doing whatever they can. There is no programs at all for the children yet, and so at least to do some kind of children’s program: they flocked to us while we were there, and were very excited when Celestin started an impromptu class. (Many of the parents were also entertained.)
We were there for 3 days, and oh, were we thankful to return to the relative comfort of Kigali. But we won’t forget those we met and those who, almost 20 years after the genocide ended, find their lives turned upside down again by the consequences.