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From Garbage Dump In Rwanda to Harvard

October 23rd, 2014

Photo credit: via Huffington Post

When he was just 7 years old, Justus Uwayesu, was an orphan living at a garbage dump in Rwanda. He would compete with other orphaned children, and even herds of pigs, for food. Sundays were the worst because the delivery trucks that dumped restaurants’ throwaways didn’t come that day so there would often be nothing to eat.

He lived with others kids in an abandoned car with smashed windows. He had no family. His father was killed during Rwanda’s genocide — one of the worst and most violent events in modern history. In 1994, approximately 800,000 Rwandans were killed in this tiny country in a conflict between Rwanda’s two main ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. Most experts say that the international community — other countries and the United Nations — should have done a lot more to help lessen this tragedy.

Justus’s mother is believed to have died during this time too. Thousands of children no longer had parents.

A few years later, Clare Effiong, who works with a group that helps children, Esther’s Aid , showed up at the dump offering to help.

Justus was the only one who accepted it. He hadn’t had a bath in over a year. It was a Sunday, so he hadn’t eaten. And, most of all,  when Ms. Effiong asked why he wanted to get out there, he said, “I want to go to school.”

Ms. Effiong took him in, got him cleaned up, and enrolled him in school. He was so hungry to learn that he was at the top of his class by 1st grade. He now speaks five languages. And he has since started a youth movement to help other kids who are in the same situation he was in. You can also see an interview with Justus and Ms. Effiong  here .

The happy (and amazing) ending to this story?  He started college this Fall on a full scholarship … at Harvard University! He hopes to study science.

Michael Wines in today’s New York Times  writes, “He is an example of the potential buried in even humanity’s most hopeless haunts, and a sobering reminder of how seldom it is mined.”  It is a wonderful story … but also a reminder that so many more children deserve this chance. And that we can all play a role in helping that happen.

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