I interviewed Dalphin through a translator under a tree just outside her school. She was so shy it was difficult to connect at first, but she spoke easily and eloquently about hunger. The highlight was the visit to her home, which really opened her up. Betty and I had to distract what felt like the entire village so that Esther could get shots of just the family. We played head and shoulders knees and toes with the kids, which it turns out gets old after ten renditions. Photos by Esther Havens.
With wide-set eyes and a shy smile identical to those of her mother and sisters, Dalphin is one of six children. She lives in the rural community of Kageyo in a simple red mud compound of two rooms connected by an open courtyard for cooking. Her parents farm beans, sorghum and maize and keep chickens and goats. Even though they grow food, hunger is a familiar feeling to Dalphin.
Hunger makes her feel like her body isn’t functioning well, and she can’t perform tasks at the same rate. She does not eat breakfast before school and dinner at home is manioc porridge.
It’s difficult to understand how people who farm land can be hungry. Rwandan earth is beautiful and green, seemingly rich with possibility. While almost 75% of Rwandans are employed by agriculture, most farm at a subsistence level.
Dalphin’s family’s yield is dependent on weather cycles and their income dependent on prices. She works with her parents in the field a few times a week and also helps sell surplus at the local market, but, still, they don’t always have enough food for three meals a day for everyone in the house. The family joined a farming co-op in hopes of pooling resources and guarding against hunger.
At her school, students get a meal of nutritionally fortified porridge a day, enhanced with vitamins and minerals. The child sponsorship coordinator at her school, Grace Murerwa, has noticed a change in the students since they started feeding them meals at school.
Students line up under the jacaranda trees every day for a cup of steaming hot cereal, swirling it around to get the last drops. The school also has gleaming water faucets dripping with clean water pulled up from under the ground by solar power. School is a place of nourishment, both mental and physical, for children.
For Dalphin and other students at Kageyo, food at school is essential to learning because there is probably not enough food at home. Food makes the education experience complete; kids can’t learn without it. Dalphin’s sponsorship includes the tools she needs for learning: shoes, uniform, pencils. To Dalphin, food is courage, perhaps the most important tool of all.