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Siblings face the future without parents in eastern Rwanda

© UNICEF Rwanda/2011
In Rwanda, orphaned twins Monique and Denise, 17, and their brother Charles, 14, have to fend for their future as both of their parents have died.

By Katrin Piazza

GATSIBO REGION, Rwanda, 27 July 2011 – Just like siblings in any other family, each of the 17-year-old twin girls and their 14-year-old brother has a particular task. Monique, the more outgoing of the girls, welcomes a group of visitors, while her shy and quiet sister, Denise, attends to some chores behind the house. Brother Charles chops some rough grass and feeds it to the family’s goat.

Monique, Denise and Charles have lived by themselves in eastern Rwanda since their mother died eight years ago. Their isolated mud hut is perched on a steep slope and only accessible by foot. It consists of two small, modestly furnished rooms. In the living room are three chairs and a little table. A small cross on the wall and a faded calendar on the door are the only items of decoration. There is no electricity.

Outside, there is an open fireplace where the children cook their meals. Chickens run around in the yard, where the goat is tethered to one side. A few steps away from the house is a makeshift latrine that consists of a few branches covering a simple hole in the ground. Water has to be fetched from a well some 500 metres away, in the valley below.

Child-headed household

The siblings don’t know the cause of their mother’s death.

“She might have died of sheer exhaustion,” says Dinah, a social worker with AVSI, a UNICEF-supported organization that links hundreds of vulnerable children in the Gatsibo Region of Rwanda with local authorities to ensure that their situation is monitored.

Dinah began visiting Monique, Denise and Charles when their mother died; their father had died earlier. The children were all under 10 when they had to start cultivating the small plot around their house. They also helped their neighbours whenever they could in order to get hold of a little cash.

“All three of them work hard in school and they get good grades," Dinah says, adding that they even attend voluntary additional classes offered by a school located half an hour away. Studying at home, however, is difficult because the house is so small.

Hopes for the future

Dinah tells the children everything they need to know, including “women’s topics” that she discusses with the girls. Charles, on the other hand, prefers to talk with the school’s headmaster, who serves as his role model.

Everybody in the neighbourhood knows and likes the three. An elderly neighbour has been visiting and helping them regularly since their mother died.

Monique tells a visitor she wants to become a doctor. Denise says she dreams of a career as a singer. Charles hardly speaks a word during the conversation, but has his own agenda and knows exactly what he wants to become: Minister of Defence.



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