When I grow up

A three-meter high bland red brick wall surrounds the compound of Apaper Primary School. Buildings made of similar brick dot the perimeter of the sprawling dusty dirt courtyard, beaten asphalt hard over the years by the feet of Apaper's past and current students. Within the school's framed but windowless buildings, sit attentive children, four or five to the narrow wooden benches lining each classroom.

The majority of the students are brothers, sisters and neighbours from families with mothers and fathers. Several, however, are orphans and members of child families. Unless you ask, it is impossible to tell a child's family status.

Like children the world wide, all of Apaper's students have unique aspirations and individual dreams. Aspirations shaped by experiences from the past and dreams shaped by the promise of tomorrow.

"I wish to be a teacher when I grow up," Ilizerwa smiles. "It is through teaching and learning that Rwanda will again become strong." The eleven-year old student has a special fondness for her primary-five teacher. She reminds her of her late mother. In 1996, both of Ilizerwa's parents died. Her older brother is the last family member she has.

Memories of her mother are present every day at school. "My teacher reminds me of my mother," she whispers. "Both of them like children very much." Upon graduation Ilizerwa plans to attend Butare University and study to become a teacher.

"When I grow up I want to be Rwanda's first female President," Solange proudly states. "Helping my country's vulnerable citizens would be my number one priority." Solange's parents and two brothers were victims of the 1994 genocide. Revealing what she recalls of the death of her mother and father is too much for the twelve-year old. Tears well in her soft brown eyes as she remembers. Ten minutes pass before she is able to continue talking about her dreams.

"As President, I would everyday drive around our country to see exactly what Rwandans need," Solange states. "If the roads are damaged, I would have them repaired right away. If people are collecting polluted water, I would find them a clean source to drink."

Her best friend and primary-five classmate, thirteen-year old Denyse, would be a member of Solange's Cabinet. But not because of their close relationship. "Denyse is smart and could be a good Minister of Education," Solange smiles. "I would ask Rwanda if they mind my appointing her. If they say yes, she and I would make sure each Rwandan is very educated."

"I want to be a military leader when I grow up," Gatete affirms. "As a high-ranking disciplined solider, I would make Rwanda the best and safest country in the world." The intelligent thirteen-year old knows much about being unsafe. During the first days of the 1994 genocide, he and his family sought refuge in Uganda. They found anything but.

Within six months, his grandfather, father and mother were dead. His uncle, a Lieutenant in the Rwandan Patriotic Army, brought Gatete, his two sisters and brother back to Rwanda after the genocide had ended. Never again does he want to leave his place of birth.

"There is too much injustice and no order in East Africa," he announces. "People are constantly killing each other for no reason. As a solider, bringing peace to Rwanda and the countries on our borders would be my goal."

Gatete knows this will not be easy. In order to achieve the rank of major or general, the primary-six student must obtain a well-rounded education. "The harder I study the higher rank I will earn," he understands. "Rwandans are very poor people. As my rank grows, I will have the authority to keep peace and put poverty behind us."

"What I want to be when I grow up is a Catholic priest," Ndahiro nods. "When a priest, I will help poor people pray and together we will improve our souls." During one of the many dark days of the 1994 genocide, Ndahiro's parents and both his sisters were killed. Left an orphan, the gentle fourteen-year old put his fate in the hands of God.

"When I was reunited with my uncle, who is a priest, we had long talks about what had happened to my family," Ndahiro remembers. "I read the Bible every day and I am still looking for answers."

In April of this year, Ndahiro plans to sit for a test to enter the seminary. The primary-six student is confident that he will pass and looks forward to realizing his dream. "I hope to meet the Pope and be ordained a bishop," he smiles. "Helping people develop a peaceful way of living is going to be my mission."