A House for Janine
by Katrin Piazza
May 2011: The two mud houses are visible from the narrow dirt road. Outside one of them, a boy sits on the ground, handling some wooden slats. His name is Charles and he is the second eldest of four siblings who live here by themselves.
Eric, the eldest, is a carpenter. He teaches Charles everything he has learned in the past few years. When their mother died in 2000, leaving three-year-old Janine and three boys between seven and thirteen years of age behind, AVSI, an NGO supported by UNICEF took the four youngsters under its wings. It ensured that the boys went to school and helped them cope with daily life, including looking after little Janine. A few years later, AVSI encouraged Eric to train as a carpenter, thus laying the foundation for the reasonable income the little family enjoys today.
Eric has not only built his small workshop with its brick latrine, he has also set up the modest mud house next to it. It sits in the corner of the family plot. “I have built this new house because one day I want to get married”, says Eric who guesses his age to be about 22. At the time of his birth, birth registration was not obligatory and he has no birth certificate or other personal document. The well-kept main house with its generous yard and two small side buildings will be for his half-sister Janine, Eric explains. Janine's father is unknown.
According to social worker Céline who looks after ten year old Janine, this is not unusual. The father of Eric, Charles and Grazian was killed in the genocide and his widow had to raise their children without male support. Women in such a situation were very vulnerable at the time and easily became victims of sexual violence and exploitation.
Janine sits outside the cooking hut behind the main house, peeling plantains. Her main responsibility within the family is the preparation of meals, she says. But she also has to fetch water and look after the goats. “With school and housework, Janine has very little time to play”, explains Céline. “Usually children get together to play and chat for about half an hour just before nightfall, which is all they can afford". Janine tells us that she likes school very much: “I want to be a teacher when I grow up”, she says.
Grazian is still at school, but Charles is already old enough to help his brother Eric in the workshop. Eric proudly shows us photos of the furniture he has made: chests of drawers, chairs, tables and shelves. He is well-known in the district as a gifted craftsman.
This is why through its child protection programme, UNICEF supports NGOs like AVSI, to promote a model of care that can then be standardised for all NGOS working with such children. After the genocide in 1994, Rwanda was home to the highest proportion of orphans in the world. Today, an estimate of 101,000 children lives in households by themselves and is at higher risk of abuse and exploitation.