Daniel was 11 years old when he became the head of his household.
His mother unexpectedly passed away of a mysterious illness, and his father had died a couple of years before that. As the eldest of four siblings, Daniel acquired the role of caretaker.
Still a child himself, Daniel’s understanding of parenting could be distilled down to one word: Survival. He knew he needed to keep the family alive, which meant he needed to drop out of school to earn money to buy food.
Daniel took a job rearing cattle. But his siblings, ranging in ages 3-7 at the time, were too young to stay home alone, so he brought them along. Daniel’s boss didn’t care for this and eventually fired Daniel.
“It was the worst day of my life,” Daniel said. “I told my siblings that they had to stay home whenever I went into the community to search for a job.”
Daniel secured a new job selling roasted meats. But, like many orphaned and vulnerable children, he was paid poorly, often compensated with little money or food for a day’s work. It wasn’t enough to sustain his family, and Daniel had no choice but to begin stealing meat.
One day his boss caught him. He was beaten and chased out of a job. Word spread in the community that Daniel was a thief. Community members shunned the family and told them they didn’t have proper clothes to enter public spaces or socialize at gatherings.
The family became increasingly isolated. They lived like this for eight years before Zoe Empowers entered the picture. In February 2019, Daniel and his siblings joined the Ineza-Kansi empowerment group in Rwanda. By April 2019, Daniel had started his first business selling fresh fruits and vegetables.
Daniel quickly expanded his inventory with the profits to include cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, sorghum, arrowroot, Irish potatoes, and maize. He invested in goats, hens, and a pig and now dreams of buying a cow. The family went eating every three days to eating three meals per day.
Because Daniel had been so young when he took over as a caregiver, he lacked exposure to many basic hygienic practices. Through Zoe Empowers, he and his siblings learned to boil their water, wash their food and eating utensils, sleep under mosquito nets, and build a latrine and handwashing station.
These small changes produced powerful results for Daniel and his siblings. The illnesses—malaria, diarrhea, intestinal worms—that plagued their past were suddenly not factors. All three siblings were able to return to school within the first year of the empowerment program.
Daniel’s faith in God has also grown significantly. He said he used to believe God didn’t have time for him and his life. But, now, he feels differently. “With Zoe Empowers, I feel content with God’s kindness. I believe that even in sorrows, God was with me,” Daniel said. “Whenever I meet with vulnerable people, I feel that I have a big duty of saving others as I was saved.”
Daniel and his group have already initiated an incredible project to give back to their community. Together, they planted a large garden where they hold regular demonstrations on constructing, growing, and maintaining a garden. They give away the harvest to children suffering from malnutrition.
The community has responded positively to Daniel and his group’s work. “With Zoe, I feel respected, and I attend all community events whenever I am invited,” he said.
Nearly a decade after the death of his parents, Daniel still misses them dearly. Although he has grown into the role of father, he knows he will never fully take the place of his parents. Yet, he is proud of his effort. He knows his parents would be proud of him too.
380 million children are trapped in the cycle of poverty.
You can change this! Empower one orphan for only $8 a month over three years.
How many children like Daniel and his siblings can you give lasting sustainable change?