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Chores

A mere 20 kilometers from the Burundi border, 16 year-old Nzirorera sits quietly on the dirt floor in the shell of his family's partially completed new home. Huddled together next to him are Muhawenimana and Mukeshimana, his two younger sisters, and Siborurema, their younger brother. All of them have been awake and working since 5:00 a.m. They are tired. A respite in the shade is a welcome change from the punishing early-afternoon heat.

Nzirorera's parents were killed in the 1994 genocide. In the blink of an eye he became the man of the house. To the 11 year-old the thought of raising a family seemed insurmountable. He was left with no choice. "Working to feed all of us is a full time job," the tall and slender boy declares. "Well before the sun rises to well after it sets, the chores we have to do keep us busy."

The family lives in the remote village of Dihiro in southern Gashora commune, one of Rwanda's hottest regions. Nzirorera does his best to schedule the chores around the weather, but it is not easy. They are divided evenly among the children, yet at the end of the day, in spite of the weather, all that has been assigned is not always accomplished.

In charge of collecting water are eight year-old Mukeshimana and ten year-old Siborurema. When the well at the primary school, one kilometer from their home, is dry, as it often is, they hike to the nearest river, a two-hour round trip. "Sometimes we only return with a few liters of water," Mukeshimana offers. "On the way home we drink most of what we collect."

Thirteen year-old Muhawenimana is responsible for cultivating the one-hectare plot of land on which the family lives. The cassava and sweet potato plants are well tended. Due to an extended drought, however, they have yielded little. Regardless, she spends most of her day weeding and planting.

Four times a week Nzirorera departs home early in the morning to fish. He meets friends at the river and together they try their luck with shredded and hole-ridden nets. "There are times I spend the whole day in the water only to come home with no fish," he admits. Returning to find many chores unfinished is common. "When the girls are hungry and have no energy to work… what can I say?"

Both his sisters shrug their shoulders. "We truly try our best," Muhawenimana adds. "Especially when we know we will probably go without eating."

With or without dinner, the family is asleep every night no later than 7:30. Awaiting them in the morning is another uncertain day of fishing, cultivating and collecting water.

Captions: Mukeshimana and Siborurema returning from collecting water. Nzirorera untangling his fishing net.