(CNN) — It’s a sunny April afternoon at the University of Rwanda College of Education in Kigali. Some students huddle in groups conversing in hushed voices; others hurry between buildings carrying books. Exams begin in a week.
On a grassy knoll behind an office block, Jean Claude Nkusi is giving his 24 children a talking to. “Study hard everyone,” he says. “If you work hard you can improve your life and make it better.”
This isn’t your typical family. Nkusi is 23. None of his “children” share his DNA. In fact, the only thing linking them is that they’re all genocide survivors — ethnic Rwandan Tutsis who lost their families in the 1994 violence that killed 800,000 people.
‘It’s because of history’
Creating “artificial families” to help young genocide survivors cope is the brainchild of an organization called the Association for Student Genocide Survivors (AERG). Originally founded by 12 University of Rwanda students in 1996, they’ve expanded to 43,397 university and high school students from across the tiny east-central African country today.
AERG initially creates families from members based on the secondary school or university they attend, after which the newly-formed family meet to democratically elect a willing father and mother from among their ranks. Though they don’t all live together, they do help each other out financially and attempt to pool their resources.
In the University of Rwanda’s College of Education alone there are 21 such families, with hundreds more being set up across the country.
“(We) Rwandans, we used to have big families but during the genocide many people were killed,” says Daniel Tuyizere, AERG’s second vice coordinator at the University of Rwanda.
Read the rest at CNN.com, April 24, 2014