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Rwanda Orphan Gets Another Year in School Thanks to Local Students

Dec. 25, 2007 — Sonya Melescu believes in miracles; she believes things happen for a reason, no coincidences. Call it what you like, but she thinks 11 Ivana Eurora Kean High School seniors sending one Rwandan orphan to school is a miracle.
It started a few weeks ago when Melescu, a local photographer, read an email from Peace Ruzage. Melescu met Ruzage earlier this year in Rwanda, where Melescu had traveled to meet the women she was sponsoring through Women for Women International. The organization supports women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid and job-skills training.
Melescu spent two months in Rwanda working with Ruzage.
"Peace needed help for a child she is caring for, and I had to say I couldn't help right now, because I had just sent tuition for a girl I sponsor there," Melescu says. (See "On Island Profile: Sonya Melescu.")
But that wasn't the end of it.
"I had no sooner hit the send button when Barbara Young — who teaches English and photography at Kean — called to get information about sponsoring someone in Rwanda," Melescu says.
Young is advisor to the newly formed Ivanna Eudora Kean High School World Religion Club, which was holding a raffle to raise funds for an unspecified Rwanda project.
"That was not a coincidence," Melescu says. "Put it out to the universe and miracles happen."
This minor miracle will help Victoria Umuhoza, who turned 9 last week. She is one of three children Ruzage has cared for since their mother — Ruzage's sister Irene Humura — died in 2003 of HIV/AIDS. She was infected through rape in the 1994 genocide. Victoria has two brothers: Maurice Ruzindana is in his first year at Rwanda University, while Babu Junior just finished his third year at secondary school.
After hearing Umhoza would be helped for another year of school through the Kean students' efforts, Ruzage wrote Melescu:
"I just had to shed a few tears. Now, a few words about Vicky. Luckily, Vicky has tested negative for HIV/AIDS. Vicky was old enough to see her mother die slowly and painfully. She is very talkative, a very funny kid, but behind all that I know she misses her mum terribly. She is now in Sonrise Primary Boarding School north of Kigali. I know she is too young to be in boarding school, but I work out of town sometimes and she needs someone to care for her and help with homework."
The school is run by the Anglican Church, Ruzage says. It caters to about 75 percent orphans and 25 percent paying pupils. The cost is about $420 a year.
"You have given Vicky the most wonderful birthday gift," Ruzage wrote Melescu. "When I told Vicky she had a really nice present from young people who would like to help her stay in school, she wondered how they heard about her and why they would want to help her 'from so far away.'"
Student Sandy Bellot had some answers for Vicky, emailing Ruzage recently: "… I was very appalled to learn about Vicky, and even more enthusiastic to help her. I had read a book about the Rwanda genocide, and the country has had a very special place in my heart ever since. When I heard of the opportunity to help this young girl, I was very happy because it is nice to do something for someone other than myself."
Bellot thanks Ruzage for "opening my mind that things happen other places in the world than the United States." She continues, "I am happy to help raise every dollar that I can to help Vicky continue her education."
Ruzage answered Bellot, describing the chilling reality of the aftereffects of the genocide.
"Rwanda went through a very tragic experience," Ruzage wrote. "Rape was used as a war weapon. The result is we have widows who are also HIV positives. The majority have died, leaving behind child-headed families. So, you see, there are so many Vickys."
The club met last week and talked about its project and how the new club came to be.
"We were always arguing about religion," says Juanita Paul, president. "So we decided to make it a weekly discussion in a club form. We got Miss Young for an advisor. It's really hard to find a teacher who will take the time to spend with you."
Adds Dujnana Grell, "We're just a couple months old. We're studying Christianity, Rastafarianism, Muslim, Judaism, Hinduism, and — let's see — Buddhism."
That's quite a handful right there, but she seems undaunted.
"In February, we plan to take a field trip to the synagogue, the Buddhist temple and there's so many Christian churches," Grell says.
The youngsters discussed the recent debacle where an English teacher in Sudan was jailed for allowing her class to name a Teddy Bear Mohammed.
"It's just so hard to believe," Grell says, adding that a basket of Teddy Bears is one of the raffle prizes.
Young, who has taught at Kean for 24 years, expresses as much enthusiasm as the youngsters.
"We raised about $440 in two-dollar raffle tickets," she said Friday morning after the drawing. Prizes are a basket of Teddy Bears and an photo package of prints that Young, a professional photographer, will shoot in her studio or on a location.
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