Born in rural eastern Rwanda, Mr. Uwayesu was only 3 when his parents, both illiterate farmers, died in a politically driven slaughter that killed some 800,000 people in 100 days. RED CROSS workers rescued him with a brother and two sisters — four other children survived elsewhere — and cared for them until 1998, when the growing tide of parentless children forced workers to return them to their village.
In 2000, young Justus and his brother walked to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital and a city of about one million, in search of food and help. Instead, they wound up at Ruviri, a sprawling garbage dump on the city’s outskirts that was home to hundreds of orphans and herds of pigs.
Justus found a home with two other children in an abandoned car, its smashed-out windows and floor covered with cardboard. For the next year and a half, he said, all but the search for food and shelter fell by the wayside. “There was no shower, no bathing at all,” he said. “The only thing was to keep something warm for the night, something really warm.”
The charity that Ms. Effiong founded, in New Rochelle, N.Y., Esther’s Aid, decided in 2000 to center its efforts on helping Rwanda’s throngs of orphans. One Sunday in 2001, after delivering a shipping container of food and clothing, she took a taxi to the dump, spotted a scrum of orphans and, after some conversation, offered to take them to a safe place.
When Clare Effiong visited the dump other children scattered. Filthy and hungry, Justus Uwayesu stayed put, and she asked him why.
“ I want to go to school,” he replied.
Well, he got his wish.
This autumn, Mr. Uwayesu enrolled as a freshman at Harvard University on a full-scholarship, studying math, economics and human rights, and aiming for an advanced science degree. Now about 22 — his birthday is unknown — he could be, in jeans, a sweater and sneakers, just another of the 1,667 first-year students here.
But of course, he is not. He is an example of the potential buried even in humanity’s most hopeless haunts, and a sobering reminder of how seldom it is mined.
Over the 13 years since his escape from the smoldering trash heap that was his home, Mr. Uwayesu did not simply rise through his nation’s top academic ranks. As a student in Rwanda, he learned English, French, Swahili and Lingala. He oversaw his high school’s student tutoring program. And he helped found a youth charity that spread to high schools nationwide, buying health insurance for poor students and giving medical and scholastic aid to others.
He is nonetheless amazed and amused by the habits and quirks of a strange land.
¨I tried lobster, and I thought it was a big fight,” he said. “You have to work for it to get to the meat.” And the taste? “I’m not sure I like it,” he said.
1.illiterate-a person who has no studies
2.slaughter-many people killed at once
3.to scatter-running on distinct directions
5.to aim-trying to achieve a high target