Meet Pauline: A Day in the Life of a Child in Rwanda

By Tom Sabella, Peace Corps

Pauline wakes up early every morning and bathes with water her mother has warmed on the charcoal stove before cooking. Although Rwanda is close to the equator, the mornings are cool due to the high elevation. She eats sorghum porridge for breakfast, a traditional food for children, and a piece of bread. She then brushes her teeth before she walks alone 20 minutes across town to school, hurrying so she will not be late.


Over 60 students are in Pauline’s 1st-grade class. They line up for assembly with the whole school each morning, where they sing the national anthem and say prayers together. Pauline’s favorite class is Kinyarwanda, her mother language, but she also studies English every day. This helps her to prepare for grade 4, when all of her classes—math, science, social studies, and religion—will be taught in English, the primary language of instruction in Rwanda. Her mother helps her practice English, even though she did all of her own studies in French, which was Rwanda's language of education until 2008.

Pauline’s mother teaches at the school, but she doesn’t accompany Pauline because she must clean up from breakfast and get Pauline’s 2-year-old brother Patrick ready to spend the day with their neighbor, who cares for him. Pauline returns home with her mother for lunch and a short visit with her brother every day, before they return to the school for the afternoon. Most students come to primary school for only half of the day; since her mother must return to teach a second shift in the afternoons, Pauline attends both the morning and afternoon sessions. Following this routine, she is not home alone and she benefits from more time studying.


In the evening, Pauline plays ball with her brother or watches videos on her mother's phone while her mother is cooking dinner. Bananas are Pauline's favorite food, which is fortunate, since her father farms them beside their house. She eats beans every day with rice or potatoes or ubugari, a traditional dough made from cassava flour.

Pauline likes to plays house with her stuffed rabbit named Gakwavu, which means “little rabbit” in Kinyarwanda. Pauline washes her school uniform every day and, because wearing clean shoes is important in Rwanda, she cleans her shoes often and helps to clean her brother's shoes as well.

She wants to be a police woman when she grows up, so she can direct traffic in the city. Alternatively, she would like to be a dentist. Since she lives in a small rural town, she must walk up the hill to the highway and take a 20-minute bus ride to the regional capital to visit the dentist; she is careful to brush her teeth three times a day, after every meal. Whatever she decides about her future goals, she has five more years to study in primary school before she will choose a secondary school, probably a boarding school (common in Rwanda) with a focus to fit her future plans.


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Photography credit

Photos courtesy of author