From refugee to auto mechanic

Surrounded by two-dozen teenage boys, 17 year-old Bazirete loosens a bolt from the diesel engine she is dismantling. The small classroom, in which she and her fellow students, all members of child families, are studying to become auto mechanics, is situated in a hidden corner of the sprawling ETO Muhima technical school campus in the center of Kigali. A long, but not forgotten way from the refugee camp in Zaire where she once lived.

While fleeing Rwanda during the late and very confusing days of the 1994 genocide, Bazirete and her two sisters became separated from their parents and youngest sister. She soon learned, from others who also escaped to Zaire, that her mother and father had been killed. "When I finally realized that my parents were dead I was very sad," Bazirete quietly shares. "Locating our sister, if she had survived, was all we wanted to do."

As luck would have it, among countless thousands of wandering refugees, the sisters were reunited. Conditions in the camp worsened to the point that the four girls decided to leave. They searched for two weeks before finding their mother's brother whom they remembered lived in eastern Zaire. "Although he had just enough food and blankets for his own family, our uncle was happy for us to stay with him," Bazirete recalls.

A year of uncertainty quickly passed. Told by the Zairean government to go back to Rwanda, the girls returned home.

Late in 1997, a list of over 1,000 child families in his hand, given him by local government authorities, Francois Rwabidadi, a World Vision social worker, set out to offer assistance. Bazirete and her sisters were on Francois' list. He eventually located the four hungry girls struggling to survive in their family's war-destroyed home.

Months later, their house repaired and the girls regaining their health and strength, Francois helped them plan for the future. "Muzayi Francois asked if school was an option," Bazirete softly smiles. "Immediately I said yes."

Her sister's well being in mind, Bazirete chose the profession of auto mechanic, traditionally a man's trade. Completing the one-year course will allow her to earn a respectable RWF45,000 (approximately NZ$265) annually. A major consideration in her decision to enroll. "I am learning a skill," she proudly states. "Not working for one year is a small sacrifice to make for my family. When I graduate I will be able to right away start earning a salary."

An income is greatly needed as the number of mouths to feed has grown. A cousin and two orphans have moved in with Bazirete and her sisters. All of the money she earns upon graduation will be used to feed, clothe and purchase medicine for the seven children. "In a way we are fortunate," Bazirete reflects. "I know of many children like us who are suffering, but few are ever helped."