A decade ago, Clare Effiong met a group of homeless boys living at a garbage dump in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
She offered to help them, offered them food, shelter and a chance at an education. One of the boys, a 7-year-old orphan named Justus Uwayesu, approached her and accepted her help.
“He said, ‘I want to go to school,'” Effiong recalled, sitting in a sunlit corner of her New Rochelle office. “I didn’t care about the dirt, the smell, all I knew was this child was a treasure.”
This fall, Uwayesu arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, accompanied by Effiong, to begin his freshman year at Harvard.
“Every child has potential,” she said. “When I see any child, all I see is the future of that child.”
Effiong, a former diplomat, is the founder and director of Esther’s Aid, a non-profit organization, with field operations in Kigali that is part culinary school, part jobs-training and placement program. Over the last 15 years, she said, the organization has helped feed, clothe, shelter and educate more than 8,000 people across the board.
While Rwanda continues to recover from the brutal violence that tore the country apart in the mid-1990s, Esther’s Aid is helping young people build self-confidence, develop skills and prepare for careers.
She splits her time between New Rochelle and Rwanda, working to raise funds and awareness for her organization whenever she’s here. New Rochelle and the surrounding communities have been loyal supporters for years, she said.
“When the community recognizes what you do, it goes a long way,” she said. “It makes me stronger.”
On Oct. 20, the organization will hold its annual fundraiser at Riverside Church in New York City. Proceeds will go toward the construction of Village of Peace, a new campus in Kigali that will incorporate dormitories, classrooms, a library, clinic, place of worship, a computer lab and hands-on training facilities like a working restaurant for the students learning culinary arts and more.
Uwayesu, the Harvard freshman, will be at the fundraiser, if he can break himself away from his homework. Effiong said when she called him on a recent Saturday morning, he answered the phone in a whisper. He was in the library, studying.
“The work that we started on a grass-roots level will take care of people truly in need,” Effiong said. “We’re able to help them go from hopelessness to hope. We bring them from the dust to the palace.”