Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From the Streets To Success

Today (Tuesday) was my second day at EDD. The boys just started school again, so Elena and I are trying to get an idea of what our roles will be for the duration of our stay. We spent some time speaking with Josianne and the other teachers about how we would be of most help that would sustain the center. After our meetings, we had some spare time. Our friend Willy, who visits the center often, was there.
Willy and Dariya in the Mango tree 
There is a mango tree that is popular to climb. Usually only the boys climb this tree. But today, I climbed the mango tree. Willy was the first to call me "monkey." Other boys also joined us in the tree, and we took pictures and laughed. After spending some time in the tree, most of the other boys had climbed down from the tree to join Elena in a memory game that we had worked on repairing the night and morning before. She was excited to see how the boys would take to the newly paperbacked and laminated cards where they could no longer rip pieces off the corners to tell what the matches are. Sure enough, it was a hit, and there was no more cheating (that we know of).


Once the boys were occupied with the game, Willy and I began what would end up being about a 2 hour conversation. The first question he asked me was, "What is your favorite color?" I replied "green, what is yours?" He pointed to his purple shirt. We moved on to talking about favorite foods and different kinds of food, and favorite sports, and work, and money, and government. Willy asked me if there were many street children in the U.S. as I was pondering the question, he added "I heard there are only old men on the street." I agreed, but added that the homeless people in the states is usually due to the economic change. People who once had sustaining jobs that paid enough for them to be able to sustain their families in a home, no longer have the same secure jobs, and not enough money to stay. I also explained the old men on the streets. Explaining to him that they may have had troubles with drugs and or alcohol and their families were maybe no longer willing to provide for them or put up with the misery. Willy said there are three reasons for street children in Rwanda. He said 40% of the children were beaten by a step father or family member, 50% of the children were not loved by their families, and 10% are poor. When I asked why he became a street child, he told me his story.

His mother is HIV positive. He was five at the time, and his mother was taken to the hospital. He was an only child, and his father was not around. He went to his grandfather and asked if he could stay for a month while his mother got well in the hospital. He was rejected. He moved on to other family members, all of whom shut him down and refused to allow him to stay with them. Neighbors also did not allow him to stay with them. So that night was his first night on the street. He was five years old, alone, and homeless. Two boys approached him that night and asked why he was crying. He told them he has no home, and no family that loves him. They invited him to come home with them. They brought him to a spot under a bridge. They showed him a cardboard square to sleep on and welcomed him into their home. That night he was scared and cold.

The next day he asked the boys how they stayed warm at night. That night was the first time he smoked marijuana. Willy was officially introduced to life on the street. Willy spent the next five years of his life begging for money, stealing radios out of cars he would unlock with wire, eating food from trash cans, and smoking and drinking anything he got his hands on. He was arrested a number of times as a child due to fighting, stealing, and begging. The only thing he feared was the police.

When WIlly was 10, he went to the gates of Les Enfants De Dieu. For two days he waited outside to be welcomed in. When Rafiki, the project manager, let him in they had a meeting. Rafiki asked him why he wants to come to the center. Willy said he wanted to learn. He wanted to go to school and learn english. Rafiki was reluctant to let him in because he knew of Willy's street habits. Nobody at the center thought he would last more than a week. They knew he was smoking a lot, and fighting, and getting into trouble. They had no idea he would surprise them.

That day, Willy joined the center. He started to take his life in a serious direction. He studied matter that he cared about. When he studied hard, he was always at the top of his class. He wanted to learn English very badly. He would pick five words a day to learn, and he would recite them all day in his head and at night he would put those words together with other words he had memorized. He was very responsible with his chores and very caring towards the other boys at the center. He eventually told himself he was never going to smoke or drink again.

Now Willy is 19 years old and he is awaiting the rest of the money for him to attend secondary school. He has had a number of jobs, and takes care of his mother. He speaks some of the best english I've heard any Rwandan speak. He understands cultural differences and some of the major problems Rwanda faces regarding gender and marital roles. He has done three documentaries about the stories of street children. He works as a DJ, and visits the center often to see how the boys are doing. For Christmas, Willy got children from around his neighborhood to donate clothing and toys they no longer used or needed to give to the street boys. He organized a meal and a gathering for all the local street boys and other children from around. All the street boys got a gift on christmas, and it was all because of Willy. This is a young man who is intelligent and extremely caring. You would never guess a street boy would have this bright future ahead of himself.

During my time here, I plan on joining Willy to visit other street boys around his neighborhood. I want to help him learn their stories and capture how a street boy survives. I want to learn of more reasons why they don't choose to go to a place like EDD where they always have a meal and a bed to sleep in. Willy wants to do this because he wants people to begin to care about street boys. He wants to give them a chance to succeed and to have others believe in them like he does.


  1. Nice post, Ally! Love the stories. I'm proud of Willy too! Love, Mom

  2. Wow, what a powerful story about Willy. I hope he continues on his successful journey. I'll be interested to hear more later about your work with him and the street boys.
    Karen Uhlendorf

  3. What a moving story! Thanks for sharing, Ally. Been thinking of you never cease to inspire! Peace.


  4. Great inspiring stories Ally. Thanks for all you do, and keep doing it! - David Goodman

  5. Ally Batailllleee!!!
    I'm so happy you are safe in Rwanda! =)
    The story above is moving and inspirational! I listened to Trevor Hall as I read it and it just reminds me of you and the life you live to the absolute fullest! You are truly inspiring with the choice of words from your heart! Best wishes with your adventures!