Espérance Mutoniwase: The Kind of Place I Want My Children to Grow Up In

“I want my children to grow up in a place where people are not driven by the fear of scarcity, are aware that life is not to be lived individually, and genuinely care about each other.”

~ Espérance Mutoniwase, University of Chicago Class of 2019

When I was growing up, I used to see many young children in the street in Kigali; they were different from me in that they wore dirty clothes, they didn’t have a parent holding their hands when crossing the road, and worst of all they were begging. At times, those poor kids used to come and knock on every house in my neighborhood, including my home, asking for food. The response of the grownups wasn’t always positive: “There is nothing for you here, go away,” said most of the people to those poor souls.

I remember one day when I opened the front gate and invited the young boy who had knocked to come in. He had asked me for something to eat, and thinking that there was only one right thing to do, I invited him inside and went to ask my aunt who was at home that time where the remaining food was kept. “Are you hungry?” she asked me. I said no and told her that I was taking the food to a street boy outside. My aunt’s face immediately changed, and suddenly she was angry. She told me that I should never let strangers inside the house again. I replied, “But they are just hungry children,” but she refused to help, and I could say nothing more.

This incident saddened me — seeing the poor boy about my age leaving our house with an empty stomach, while there was food inside the house he was walking away from. But it was just one of many cases of injustice that I would witness in my life. As I was getting older, I realized that even when those orphans were simply begging in the road, no parent would allow his child to get near them. Sadly, there were many children who would grow up thinking that they had nothing in common with the street boys, and that the way things are occurring is the way they should be.

If we did not learn any better as children, we would accept that we shouldn’t get near children who were homeless, beggars or orphans, that we shouldn’t open our gates for them without even asking what was the reason. One day, I asked my parents why those children lived differently than we did, and why they were not welcomed in most of the homes, yet they were just children longing for someone to take care of them or give them some food. What I got as an answer was that some people thought that they were thieves, or that they were youngsters wanting just to wander everywhere! I was shocked by that answer because in my country there is saying that “A child is a king,” but it seemed like too many children were not treated well, at all.

I grew up in a place where children are not always treated as kings, but it should not remain like this. My children and grandchildren should not be rebuked if they open the door to a poor child who just needs a plate of food. No children should grow up in a place like that, a place where people don’t trust each other to the point of seeing a hungry boy and only thinking that he might be a thief, instead of a precious treasure that all children are. I want my children to grow up in a place where people are not driven by the fear of scarcity, are aware that life is not to be lived individually, and genuinely care about each other. I want our next generation of global citizens to grow up in a place where no child has to worry about what she is going to eat that night, or what her family is going to eat, because adults will have taken care of everything. Most of all, I want to always be one of those adults!

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