Aimé de Jesus is a remarkable young man. This week, he’ll be speaking to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about his experiences of orphanages and alternative care. And this isn’t even the first time he’s taken on the role of human rights defender on the world’s biggest stage.
In June 2021, Rwandan care leaver Aimé became one of just 30 speakers invited to share their experiences of care with the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. But it’s been a long journey from his lonely cot in Wikwiheba Mwana orphanage, in the Eastern province of Rwanda.
Aimé started off very loved. His parents, both teachers, cherished their newborn son like any new parents. But it wasn’t long before they noticed that something wasn’t right. Aimé wasn’t reaching those longed-for milestones; his little hands weren’t starting to grasp their fingers, and his tiny feet didn’t push down when they held him up.
Concerned, they took him to different hospitals, looking for some help, or some hope. They wanted to know why Aimé wasn’t able to stand or walk. But receiving no answers, they brought him home again to care for him themselves.
After eight long years, Aimé’s parents finally heard of an institution some distance from their home, that promised to look after disabled children and provide proper treatment. The manager pledged that Aimé would receive an education – something that as teachers, they fervently wished for their child.
By now, with two other children and still no support to care for Aimé, his parents made the heart-rending decision to send him to the orphanage, in return for the promise of his medical care.
Although Aimé did start at a local primary school while he was in the orphanage, he missed his parents desperately. Aime recalls that his father would spend evenings sharing stories with his children, and he passed on this love of storytelling. Despite being an incredibly bright child, with no one to share his stories with, Aimé grew frustrated and lonely, finding it difficult to speak.
The journey home
Our social workers met Aimé while working to close Wikwiheba Mwana orphanage. They connected with his parents, who missed him terribly. Seeing that they still visited and brought him home for the holidays, we knew that with the right support, Aimé could return home where he belonged. By linking his parents to local authorities and disability groups, we ensured that Aimé could access physiotherapy services where he lived. And we helped his family to make updates to their bathroom, so their home was more accessible for Aimé.
In 2019, when Aimé was 13, he joyfully returned home from the orphanage, looking forward to spending time with his parents and younger siblings. With support from the school and all his new friends, he was able to join in with lessons, and helped by our professionals, his parents advocated for his entrance to the national exam with the Rwanda Education Board.
Onwards to the global stage
Long term support for the families we work with means we kept in touch with Aimé. And his father’s love of sharing stories inspired him to take part in our calls for young people with lived experience of care.
Now Aimé’s sharing his story with policy makers, politicians, governments, child rights organisations and more over the two days of the UN Day of General Discussion on Children’s Rights and Alternative Care. These UN bodies, in charge of human rights, have the power to promote change by speaking directly to governments around the world. This year, hundreds of people from very many diverse backgrounds will have the pleasure and the privilege of hearing from those most qualified to discuss their care – young people themselves.