I interviewed Emmanuel on two separate occasions in the school cafeteria and in the office. He speaks great English. The thing I remember most is that he was just EAGER. He was eager for life, eager to advocate for his family, eager to tell his story so that it might encourage others to give. He wanted to help, to please and, most desperately, you could tell he was ready to take his education and turn it into a career so that he could help others.
On a we-are-idiot-foreigners note, we were mortified to learn during the food shoot (“Put the food in your mouth!” “Eat your lunch please!”) that he was fasting. Sometimes you should ask questions or not make assumptions. Thanks, Emma, for putting up with our idiocy. And the Food Is Campaign raised over $1mm! Photos by Esther Havens.
You can easily imagine Emmanuel as a high school quarterback and a leader on his team. He is someone you want to root for. He’s right at the intersection of adulthood – muscles and a slight mustache -- but he still has an easy smile and childlike curiosity. His energy and enthusiasm is all the more remarkable for a 16 year-old whose life has seen such hardship.
“God is transforming me. Many years ago, I used to live in a family that was not saved. These days, God is working through my family. Then I moved here and I found pastors, teachers – all of them are like my parents. Many years ago I used to take drugs because life was too hard for me. I started when I was 12 years old, three years after the death of my mom. Then I lived here and they told me how God is good, how God can change lives."
Emmanuel readily shares his story and how his family’s lives have been marked by poverty and loss, but, more importantly, how they’ve been redeemed. You can tell that he is eager for a solution, and that he wants to be a change agent for his community and his country.
Hunger and malnutrition cost the Rwandan economy $820 million in lost productivity every year. Hunger cost Emmanuel three years of his life without attending school. His family couldn’t afford food, let alone school fees. He once spent three entire days without food, which still haunts him. When he wasn’t in school, he was isolated and lonely. Two years ago, Africa New Life matched him with a sponsor and he moved into the Umucyo Home on campus, which allowed him to attend school and eat regularly for the first time in years.
Emmanuel now has a best friend and roommate, Dan, whom he studies with every night. He went on a class field trip to Akagera National Park and saw an elephant, which was the highlight of his young life so far. His life is filling up with the kinds of things that kids should be doing – studying, playing, growing – and he’s no longer alone.
Emmanuel now fasts regularly as a discipline; it reminds him of his life without food and how far he’s come. Even though he was behind several grades, he recently tested as fourth best in the eastern province on the national exam. He works hard in school to help himself and his family attain a food-secure future.
Emmanuel has become an advocate for himself, his family and his community through opportunities at his Africa New Life school. His education, which includes both spiritual and physical sustenance, has allowed him to grow into a young man who can dream, and that’s something worth cheering. To Emmanuel, food is a future.