The are around 4,757,000 children living in Rwanda and they live in three main tribal groups, the Hutu (84%), Tutsi (15%) and Twa or pygmy (1%). Nearly all of them are scarred by the genocide and aftermath of 1994 when around a tenth of the country's entire population was massacred including 300,000 children and young people. Many children in Rwanda were left as orphans following the conflict. Today it is estimated that one out of every five children in Rwanda is either an orphan or has been abandoned, one of the world's highest percentages of orphans. That figure include the 220,000 children orphaned through the HIV/AIDS virus. These Rwanda orphans did not just lose their families, but have life long scars with 96% of children interviewed stating that they had witnessed violence and a troubling 60% stating that they did not care if they ever grew up. Compounding this is the half million girls who were systematically raped pushing up levels of AIDS infection cascading down to their children.
Today there are an estimated 400,000 orphans in Rwanda (some put the figure much higher at 1,000,000) with just 5000 of them living in orphanages, the rest living in vulnerable conditions on the streets or as the head of households barely surviving to feed themselves let along younger siblings. It is difficult to imagine how a desperately poor country with just over 9 million people could possibly care for its overwhelming number of orphans, and the reality is, it can't without outside help however that aid is now drying up from donor countries in light of the ongoing allegations of support by Rwanda of rebel groups operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most children in Rwanda live in poverty and suffer from malnutrition with an estimated 44% of children having stunted growth. Traditionally their home, a 'rugo', consists of a number of bee hive-shaped houses within a larger, fenced compound on one of the country's many hillsides. Electricity and running water are unknown. The household or 'inzu' normally consists of a husband and wife and children, sometimes with close relatives. Large families are common with an average women having 4.9 children, although many do not make it to their fifth birthday.
For most children in Rwanda its time to get up at the crack of dawn to undertake chores including taking the chickens from the house and putting them in their mud enclosures and boiling water on an open fire ready for the first meal of the day, with breakfast often consisting of sweet potatoes and sorghum, corn and millet and milk porridge. Then its off to school, which can often be some miles away. The school day is often marked by singing the Rwandan National anthem, "Rwanda Nziza" ("Beautiful Rwanda") followed by prayers in a country that is over 80% Christian with a much smaller Muslim population (4.6%). (Roman Catholic missionaries established themselves in Rwanda in the late 1880s and taught that Tutsi were a superior race ~ not least because they were easier to convert to Christianity ~ and this contributed to the seething ethnic tensions over the generations)
Whilst most children are eager to attend school in Rwanda, many schools are under resourced with no running water nor electricity, although the government is attempting to get those schools too far from the national grid installed with solar panels to get over some of these difficulties. Government spending on education is quite high, currently at 12.25% of all expenditure, but some idea of the resource shortfall can be ascertained by the fact that in a country with a child population of some 4,757,000, there are just 1,197 school library books. There are 2172 primary schools in Rwanda catering for 1,636,563 pupils who are taught in English or French (after starting their education in Kinyarwanda). After primary school education is no longer compulsory for the 179,153 pupils who go on to attend Rwanda's 405 secondary schools where the number of qualified teachers drops from over 80% to under 50%. Illiteracy remains stubbornly high at around 50% of the over 15yrs population.
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