An accident when she was just seven condemned Lorette to a lonely childhood in a series of Rwandan orphanages. The last of these was the Gahanga institution for children with disabilities in Kigali, which Hope and Homes for Children is now working to close. Lorette spent 12 years surviving in appalling conditions there, but today she is free. With our support Lorette is now studying at University and building an independent life for herself. This is her story.
My mother is a farmworker in a rural part of Rwanda. My father died when I was young but I was in the orphanage by then and I couldn’t go to his funeral. I have ten brothers and sisters and five still live with my mother. She is still very poor today.
When I was little, before my accident, my life was happy enough even though we didn’t have much. I went to the local school and I was free to play outside with my siblings and other children in the neighbourhood. I was a noisy little girl!
Then one day a tree fell on me and damaged my leg. My family tried to treat the injury with traditional medicines but that didn’t work. I was hospitalised for a long time and eventually the doctors had to amputate the lower part of my leg.
My family said it would be difficult to care for me at home and they couldn’t afford to pay for a false leg or a brace. They were desperate and didn’t know where to turn.
My brother knew some religious sisters who owned an orphanage. He honestly believed that I would have a better chance of care and education in the institution and so he took me there. There were many children in the orphanage and I felt sad to be left in a strange place where I didn’t know anyone else.
It was hard to go to school because it was a long way to walk and the sisters made me do lots of chores like cleaning floors and looking after the babies in the orphanage. It made me very tired but they threatened to expel me if I refused.
When I was 12, I was moved to the Gahanga institution. Life there was difficult for different reasons. Most of the other children had very severe disabilities including learning difficulties. We all shared one big dormitory, regardless of our gender, our age or our disability. This was something I didn’t like. I had no friends there I could talk to because most of the children couldn’t communicate.
As I got older, I couldn’t ask for the things I needed, for example to buy clothes or go to the hairdresser. There were lots of different staff so there was no single person to talk to or to be a role model for me. It was very confusing and distressing. My family did visit occasionally but it was a long, expensive journey for them. Sometimes I was allowed to go home in the holidays. I really missed my Mum and my brothers and sisters.
Being in an institution was like being in prison where you don’t know what’s happening outside, you don’t know other places, you don’t have the possibility to meet other people of your age and talk with them. I always felt like other people were better than me because I thought they understand life better than me, they have gone to different places and met different people and I haven’t.
When I was a child living in my family, I remember feeling free. I was an extrovert but now after living in the institution, I always feel anxious about anything, I don’t trust myself to be able to do things like other people. I am a quiet person, not like other people who know many things to say.
Today, I’m studying Enterprise Management at university. I’m working hard to finish the course so that I can get a job and be independent. What I enjoy most about my life now is that I have friends who understand me, who walk with me from my home to the university, even though I walk slowly. I worry about my family because they are very poor but now I hope in the future I will be able to do something to help them.
Hope and Homes for Children is working hard to close the Gahanga institution and find family or communitybased care for all the children and young adults who currently live there. This is the first closure programme for an institution specifically for children with disabilities in Rwanda, made possible with your support for our End the Silence campaign, matched by funds from UK Aid.
“When I first met Lorette, she seemed withdrawn and depressed. She was desperate to leave the Gahanga institution and study but had given up hope of ever finding the support she needed to make this possible. We were able to fund her accommodation and course fees and at the same time give her moral and psychological support to cope with her new life. Now, when I speak to Lorette, she is motivated, confident and busy. I know that closing the Gahanga institution will be hard work and take time but I believe we can recruit and train the foster families we need. When I visit the children with disabilities from other institutions that we have already placed with families, I see a remarkable improvement. This gives me faith and confidence.”
Paradis Dukoshe District Project Officer, Hope and Homes for Children, Kigali, Rwanda
It takes the dedication and tenacity of our teams to close institutions like the Gahanga orphanage in Rwanda, and help children to live in families and young adults to live independently. Please consider joining our committed community of supporters who give a regular gift, to ensure we can tell many more of these stories of hope: hopeandhomes.org/donate