Preface: In addition to teaching English to the boys at Les Enfants de Dieu (EDD), part of my time is spent with the social workers as the ultimate goal of the project is to support and foster family structure in Rwanda. The aim is to eventually place boys back with family, if there is family, and nurture healthy relationships. I spend time in the field where we try and start the rebuilding process. Here is one story...
Alex is 17 years old and has never met his father. He is a quiet boy who has a calm demeanor. I am unsure what exactly prompted him to leave home and take refuge on the streets but he made his way to EDD 4 years ago and now the time had come to find Alex's father.
In the States when someone decides to reunite with an estranged sister or biological parent, many turn to private investigators who scour public records and spend hours making phone calls. Here, when the journey for a lost relative begins you go knocking on doors, on drives around towns and villages, and talk to countless strangers. For Alex, we began at his sister's home, down a bumpy dirt road built into the hillside, asking if she knew where to look. All she could tell us was that her mother should know. So, with the help of a neighbor we made our way to Rwanda Coffee where she worked.
Rwanda Coffee is an operation unlike anything I've ever seen. A hill of buildings and warehouses and semi-trucks. Women wander the property as they take breaks from sorting beans. The warehouse, where we eventually located Alex's mom, was astounding! Hundreds of women line the floor sitting in front of piles two feet high of coffee beans. One hundred kilo bag of coffee make barriers between the groups of women. I felt sort of sick as I stood and watched the women sift through millions of beans. On one hand they are employed and making some sort of income but I could not imagine sitting day after day on a concrete floor picking through small bits of caffeine.
Alex's mom took us to town where she thought the father might be; an area of small shops, random hardware stores and people sitting around socializing. We began asking if anyone knew him. Door to door we went, every time the answer was no, with the one exception of the local drunk who knew a boxer by that name. We were told maybe we should find a phone number. Hmmm, we hadn't though of that one! I just felt really discouraged and every time I looked at Alex I just felt sad. Seventeen years and he has never know half of who he is.
The only other thing his mother could think of was a motor bike driver who knew where he lived. But when a motorbike driver can be anywhere in a fifteen mile radius, and this particular one is phone-less, finding him is about as easy as finding the needle in the haystack. Maybe it goes without saying that at the end of it all, Alex would spend another day without his father.
He turned to me as we drove away, not much closer than we were hours before, and said, "It's very hard." I hastily replied, "I know. Trying to find your father is not going to be easy, it is very difficult." But what I think he really meant was that having spent 17 years not knowing his father was very hard. I could see it in his eyes.