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    Home Alone in Rwanda: The child-headed household I met after the genocide

     

    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Jon Warren, photo director for non-profit World Vision, spent from dawn til dusk with five orphaned siblings in the outskirts of Gikongoro, Rwanda, in summer 1998. Their father died during the 1994 genocide and their mother died soon after, Warren said. “They acted the way I might of, as a kids, if there were no parents around. They were naughty and energetic and irresponsible. But they were also trying to do a few grownup things, like working in their garden.”

    The family he photographed was one of the 64,000 child-run households living in Rwanda at the time, according to UNICEF. “Mostly I worried about what would become of them, who would protect them and provide for them,” Warren said. “The bigger picture seemed bleak of where the country was going and how it would recover.”

    Warren has been to Rwanda about 10 times now and he’s visited the orphans once more, but he regrets not staying in contact. When he returned to the village six months ago, he couldn’t retrace the path to their home. “My style of photography is to simply observe and document, and not interfere with the action, but it was impossible not to bond closely, even in such a short time,” said the photographer. “I'd really like to know if they've made it.”
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    Jon Warren, of World Vision, was a photographer in Rwanda documenting the genocide. He has been back many times since. But it's this family that he met in 1999 of children whose parents were killed in the genocide and the aftermath that sticks with him to this day. He says:

     

    "Ayirwanda was born the year of the genocide. His name means, “What’s happening in Rwanda?” His father was killed in the fighting and his mother died soon afterwards, poisoned in a dispute over land. Five years after the genocide, I spent several days with Ayirwanda and his siblings, documenting their struggle to live without parents. At the time, there were an estimated 65,000 child-headed households and 300,000 orphaned children. I fell in love with the kids in that house. The 13 year-old girl who was the "mom" was trying desperately to earn a little money from selling charcoal remnants, so she was gone most of the day. The boys were typically naughty boys, with no father or parent to guide them. They goofed off, cut down their protective hedge to make big fires, made fake cigarettes, fought -- but I really wanted to take them home. The second youngest was smart and alert. We joked with him that he would become mayor of the city nearby someday. At the time, even with their tough life, I still felt hope for these kids because they had such a spark.

     

    Here is a series of photos of their life."

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