I am going to Rwanda. This upcoming trip came about through my work with an organization everyone ought to know about–Women’s Equity in Access to Care & Treatment, or WE-ACTx for short.
It’s an unwieldy name for an organization that manages to run an unwieldy number of incredible projects that aim to improve the lives of women and children in Rwanda. There are income generation collectives employing women who are disabled, physically and mentally, and are otherwise unemployable. Clinics staffed with physicians who provide critically needed health care. Yogis that run programs for the patients. And attorneys who counsel, advocate, and educate on the behalf of otherwise voiceless souls. This is where I come in.
We’ve been writing a book on children’s legal rights that’s now in its final phases. Rather than creating a theoretical book for academics and policy wonks destined to die as a doorstop, we tried to take a different tack and write the book for children. So, it starts with the story of a little frog who loses her mother and learns about her rights under the law to her father’s support. More substantive sections on topics such as inheritance rights, filing for assistance for school fees, and reporting abuse follow.
The question is, how do you make something like a book useful in circumstances like these? In Rwanda, children without a mother and father make up nearly 9 percent of the total population. That’s nearly 900,000 children cooking for themselves, working, learning how to pay for health care, fighting neighbors for the right to live in the house their parents left for them, and telling stories about their mother to siblings before turning out the light. Child-headed households in rural areas face bleaker prospects still. How do you explain all the things that their parents were supposed to have been able to teach? How do you urge them to recognize rights that exist only on paper? How much is fair to ask of a nation that was only just reborn? I keep reminding myself, if this book offers comfort to someone who picks it up, that would be something. It would be something where there had been nothing.