During my first couple of weeks In Rwanda I stayed at Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel, run by the Aegis Foundation. Aegis also runs Kigali Memorial Centre and is engaged in educational work as a preventive method to prevent racism. And any kind of genocidal acts.
In its reception ‘Discover Rwanda’ sells a range of cards, neatly made through methods and materials of handicrafts. Cards from Africa. They come in A5 sizes and in different colours with a wide range of motives on front. Greeting cards in the event of birthdays, Christmas, Easter, or baptism. And African motives of animals or landscapes. On the back page of each card it says “This card was handcrafted for you by young people in Rwanda who have lost their parents to conflict or disease.” In my task of learning about how orphans were able to continue their lives in post-Genocide Rwanda I visited them to find out more.
Here you can read the stories of some of the orphans:
Cards from Africa
All of their greeting cards are made from waste paper, received from various companies. Jean Paul showed me first how paper is soaked and rinsed in water. Afterwards it is placed in food processors (yes, indeed!) in which it is blended into a porridge looking mixture. Then layers of the mixture is laid in A4-sized frames to make layer of papers. The frames are laid on glass and left to dry in the sun. The glass panes are smeared with petroleum jelly before the sheets are put on top. During sunny season the paper sheets will dry in two-three hours. On days in rainy season, like now in March-April, it takes two-three days.
In order to get different coloured sheets of paper coloured powder is added to the water used for the rinsing process. Jean Paul explained that in order to make the colour bright green, the colours light blue, purple and yellow are added to the water. And to make dark green, the colours of black, blue and yellow are added. He showed me shelves of different coloured sheets of paper. From these paper sheets Cards from Africa produce their cards. They employ 70 card makers, who use card models to make the real cards. Each card is signed by the person who made it. The designers of the cards come from the United Kingdom.
I asked Jean Paul how long he has worked for the business. He started as a card maker in 2005 and continued for three years. In 2009 he began in administration, where he works now. He looks after a younger brother and sister, who both go to school. In 2005 he was 20 years old. In 1994 lhe would have been about six years old. I assume that he lost both of his parents that year, but I didn’t want to ask. It is still a sensitive issue for many, understandably.
After talking with Jean Paul I met the director, Bukuru, of Cards from Africa. He explained the process of identifying and locating vulnerable and orphaned children. Many of the staff have previously earned money by selling fruit from baskets. Officially, it is now an illegal trade in Rwanda, due to the risk of spreading cholera. Moreover, it is an unstable form of income. I was told that some orphans have had to travel 20-30 km in order to buy fruit, and then go to a market place to sell them. Some have not had the credit to be able to invest in buying fruit and subsequently selling them, with the end goal of making a profit. Others have received pay for fetching water. Carrying water is a heavy burden, and one might have to walk kilometres to access water. For a little amount of wages.
The initiative of Cards from Africa was set up in order to help vulnerable children who, due to having lost their parents in conflict or disease, are struggling to get by in their daily lives. Bukuru said that 10% of the child population of Rwanda became orphans during the Genocide. Many became heads of households, meaning that they are looking after themselves as well as younger siblings. Mama Esther is employed as a social worker and travels around in Rwanda to meet children who they are told are vulnerable. Having identified children who need help they will go to Kigali for settlement, and subsequently begin training with the business.
The training period lasts for one month, during which they do not get paid. It lasts from morning till noon. It gives them time and space to adapt to their new lives, while learning their new trade. During this period they will learn everything from scratch – how to make paper, how to draw, and how to cut. And finishing off a card by placing it inside cellophane in a clean manner. Following the training period the novices will begin to work, and get paid. For the wages that they received they are able to pay for school fees for their siblings, as well as food, clothing, and other necessities.