From ROP Stories.
This is Emmanuel, a fiery, precocious 11 year old. Or maybe he’s 12. Probably though, he’s only ten years old, judging by his size. You see, Emmanuel doesn’t know how old he is. He doesn’t know the year he was born, and if you ask him which day, his answer will be January 1st. Coincidentally that is the same birthday as many of the children staying at the Rwandan Orphans Project Center. Actually it’s not a coincidence at all, because Emmanuel is not alone in not knowing his actual birthday, so like many others he simply tells people he was born on January 1st.
Not knowing his own birthday is low on the list of difficulties young Emmanuel has faced in his short life. You see, the fact that he lives at the ROP Center means that he comes from a difficult background. But for the boy with the irresistible grin life has been particularly cruel. When he was, in his words “much younger” – keep in mind his current age when you read that – he witnessed his father beat his own mother to death right in front of him. Emmanuel’s father – he doesn’t recall his name – was part of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. He doesn’t know if he was a survivor or a perpetrator, but he knows that it led him to a life of alcoholism and abuse. Often, his father would drink heavily and take out his aggression on Emmanuel, his mother and his young siblings. One day, in an alcohol fueled rage, his father beat his mother so badly with his walking stick that she died, right in front of little Emmanuel. To this day he doesn’t know what caused him to do it.
His father, being a cripple, was quickly apprehended by the police and subsequently given a life sentence in jail for his vicious crime. Emmanuel and his siblings had no relatives who could care for them, so they were left to fend for themselves. So Emmanuel did what so many children in Rwanda are forced to, he turned to the streets to survive. There his life became about just making it to the next day by any means possible. Begging for food and change was a necessity, but with gangs of street kids controlling the most profitable locales, it was not easy for a lone child to get anything for himself. If he did, usually the gangs would corner him and beat him until he surrendered it to them.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire. MORE