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Growing up in Rwanda: A photo essay

Most six-year-olds in Cyete, Rwanda, eat once a day and cannot yet read and write. Enathe describes what sets apart her extraordinary daughter, who is blossoming in a household that despite being materially poor, is full of warmth, hope and faith.

"My name is Mukaserire Enathe. I have four daughters."

Woman in profile looks throw a window in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Enathe, watches at the window of her home in Cyete village. It is in Rusizi district in northwest Rwanda, where over a third of people live in poverty.

"Antoinette is the youngest. She is six years old." 

Antoinette child in Rwanda bedroom | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Antoinette, sitting on the bed she shares with her mother

"She goes to the nursery classes at Cyete school. A local church organisation helped me pay the fees to send her there."

Young girl and mother in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Antoinette's mother helps her get dressed for school.

"You see, we have very little. I work for others as a labourer. I can earn 1,000RWF (£1) per day.

"I also work on our own small plot where we have some crops – beans, maize, sweet potatoes and banana. But the amounts are too little to sell – it is for the family. Here in our family we eat once a day, in the evening."

Children eat a meal as part of a school feeding programme in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Antoinette and classmates now get a hot meal at school thanks to a school feeding programme instigated by VSO volunteers and parents. This makes these children relatively well off: the majority of families in Cyete eat only once a day. 

"I was married but my husband left the family when I was pregnant with Antoinette.

"He has since remarried another woman in this area who is very rich, but we do not see him. Antoinette has never known her father."

Antoinette helps her mum sweeping the house ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

After school, Antoinette changes out of her uniform and then goes to play with the other children. She then helps with household jobs like sweeping. The home is basic, but impeccably neat. Antoinette says, "I like to help my mum. But most of all I like singing"

"She is very happy. She is in school. The life of Antoinette is very great."

Early childhood education class in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

VSO is improving the quality of early childhood education, a recent development in Rwanda. Antoinette and her classmates aged 3-6 get a head start developing core skills like counting, social and fine motor skills. So far less than one in five eligible children is enrolled in these nursery classes.

"Since VSO volunteers at Cyete helped us to start school feeding, I have been working at the school cooking the food. All the parents contribute a small amount to pay me"

Woman cooking over a large pot in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Enathe cooking a hot midday snack for over a hundred children at Antoinette's school. It is part of a school feeding programme initiated by VSO volunteers. Around four in ten under-5s in Rwanda are stunted.

"Now that I have this income I am able to pay health insurance for the whole family. I pay my husband’s too – we are still married in law and the insurance must cover all the family members."

Woman holding health insurance certificates of her family in Rwanda ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Enathe shows certificates for the health insurance that she can now afford for the whole family - including her absent husband

"I pray for my daughters that they all go to school and finish their studies, and that they can find good jobs."

Mother and three daughters at home in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Enathe with three of her daughters: (L-R) Umuhoza Sarah, 15; Irakoze Antoinette, 6; and Izabayo Isaac, 13.

"I have good hopes for Antoinette. She is the first of my children to go to these nursery classes – I think this makes her advanced.

"You can see: she is more adventurous. She is bright and intelligent, more than others."

Antoinette shows her mother how she can write letters of the alphabet ©VSO/Alice Kayibanda

Antoinette shows her mother how she can write letters of the alphabet. Most other six-year-old children can not yet read and write like Antoinette, who can already count to 20. She says, "I like the letter A, for Antoinette, best." 

"I am very proud. She will have many chances in the future. She could even be a doctor. That is her wish."

Poster on the wall of a home in Rwanda | VSO ©VSO/Lucy Taylor

Anathe's walls are bare, save for a faded picture of President Paul Kagame and this poster, which reads ""Be patient. God has not forgotten about you"

"What it is in my power to do to help her, I will do. The rest is for God to decide."

Antoinette's school is supported by VSO and its volunteers through the Enhancing the Quality of Early Childhood Education in Rwanda (EQUECER) project.

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