When this story about Franco was first written, the orphanage was called El Shaddai. It has since changed it’s name to the ROP Center for Street Children and moved to the other side of Kigali.
If it isn’t difficult enough to be a teenager, try growing up in a country that just over 16 years ago experienced one of the worst genocides in African history and combine that with having both of your parents die from AIDS when you are only 15 years of age. That’s the life into which Franco Gakwaya was born, but it is not the end of the story.
Rwanda is in East Africa, adjacent to Lake Kivu and bordered by the countries of the Congo, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania. It is a land-locked nation, known as the “land of a thousand hills” for its rolling iron-rich red landscape, fertile fields and volcanic mountains. Some of the rarest species of mountain gorillas live within its northern borders and chimpanzees are protected in national parks in the east.
Even though Rwanda is now a bustling and successful country that is providing health care, education, jobs and economic growth to it citizens, most people only know about the 1994 genocide, in which a million people were killed by their neighbors over a 30-day period. It was horrible and still affects every single Rwandan.
The AIDS pandemic has also touched Rwanda. As a result, there are thousands upon thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children. In the last twelve years, many of these children have been placed in foster homes, orphanages or boarding schools, but far too many still roam the roads and live on the streets. Franco is one of those who found a new place to call home, an orphanage called ROP Center for Street Children. ROP is located in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, the most densely populated country per square mile in all of Africa.
“We sleep four to a bunk for the older boys,” says Franco, “and six for the younger smaller kids.” MORE