According to a national statistics report about child care in America there are 10.9 million children under the age of five who are in some type of child care while their parents work. I have been inside multiple day cares in Colorado and the rooms are always filled with toys, books, snacks, and cots for afternoon naps. In rural Rwanda there is no such thing as day care. Children as young as three or four years old can be left in charge of infants and babies spend a majority of their infancy swaddled on their caregiver’s back. When I take the bus from my village to Kigali I see mothers who work in the fields and when the babies are small enough they leave them sleeping under umbrellas, sometimes with a toddler or small child to watch over them, but many times they are alone. It never ceases to amaze me how many young children I see that are burdened with raising their siblings, but I have yet to discover if they see it as a burden. In some aspects it is all they have known, but on the other hand there are other children their age who run the streets and play football without needing to pause to tie a baby to their back.
When I see a small girl climbing a hill with buckets of water in hand, firewood balanced on her head, and a baby on her back, it absolutely breaks my heart. I want this child I see to have a real childhood. I want her to play and be carefree like all children should be. And yet I see in her eyes, in her posture and demeanor, that she is not a child. Her body is young and agile but her mind is already overwhelmed with adult decisions like how to care for her brothers and sisters, how to wash laundry when the water pump runs dry, and how to find her next meal when their family’s money runs out.
Seeing children who I can do nothing to help is so awful. I like to think that a smile and a handshake adds some small excitement to their day, but in reality they just have really hard lives and short of giving their family tons of money there is nothing I can do. My role in the village is not to give handouts and usually I am ok with this, but sometimes I just really want to give them something to make their childhood a little better, something to give them a few moments of innocent bliss that lifts some of the responsibility from their little shoulders.
All this responsibility at a young age but in many ways they are still children- happy to run and play and smile at crazy foreigners taking their picture! 🙂