Meet an SOS Children’s Village Housemother: Odette’s Story

This profile is one in a series of stories commissioned by SOS Children’s Village – Kigali in 2015 to highlight their impact and work. SOS Children’s Village – Kigali includes direct care to children who are not able to live with their families, a Family Strengthening Program (FSP), a primary school and vocational training centre. 

Though Odette Uwera has just one biological daughter, she is a mother to many – a role she embraced long before becoming a housemother at SOS Children’s Villages Kigali in 2006.

“I became a housemother because I like children, and it was not my first time to do that job,” she said. “Before the war, I worked at an orphanage.”

In the northern province of Rwanda, Odette worked in a Belgium Red Cross orphanage for nine years where she taught primary-aged students. Not long after, she was married and gave birth to her own daughter, Cindy, now 22.

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Mama Odette stands outside her home at SOS Children’s Village Kigali. Photo by Meagan Doll.

However no one was untouched by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which claimed the lives of an estimated one million people. Odette lost her husband in the killings.

Though Odette and her daughter were unharmed physically, they were forced to rebuild their lives after the conflict.

“Remarrying is not common in our culture,” she said. “When I heard there were places for mothers at SOS, I applied for the job.”

It is no wonder Odette received the position – her day-to-day life in the SOS Village testifies to her dedication and care.

Her day begins at 5:30 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, Odette’s seven children in the house – ages seven to 14 – are up and preparing for a day of studies.

“I help the children to bathe, to make their beds, put clothes on and take breakfast,” she said. “They are out by 6:45 a.m.”

But Odette’s morning work does not stop there.

“I clean the house, prepare the food for lunch,” she said. “We take lunch, wash dishes and clean the dining room.”

The children then return to the school – only a few minutes’ walk up the dirt road – for the remainder of the afternoon.

Not only does Mama Odette work hard to help the children off to school, she also takes the children’s’ studies seriously when they return.

“When they come back, it is time to do their homework,” she said.

The family finishes with supper around 8:00 p.m., and they children begin preparing for bed shortly after.

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Mama Odette helps her youngest child at SOS prepare for a spelling test. Photo by Meagan Doll.

Though Odette says this daily routine usually flows smoothly, she has a system for conflict resolution.

“I have a conversation with the children,” she said. “I make the solutions with them.”

Odette hopes that this kind of conflict management will prepare the children to lead successful lives after their time in the SOS Village has passed.

“We want the children themselves to work hard to have a good life in the SOS Villages,” she said. “And these environments are important because we want the children to work hard to have a nice home and life in the future.”

Each of the 15 housemothers at the SOS Children’s Village Kigali work similarly to create family-based environments in an effort to achieve stability for the children, many of whom come from very unstable backgrounds.

“The children have a hard life, and we want the children to have security,” Odette said. “We want to see a change in their life.”

It is this attitude that had sustained Odette as a biological mother, a Red Cross mother and an SOS Village mother.

And while the issue of abandoned or orphaned children may seem like a large problem to tackle, Odette loves her children as if they were the only one in the world.

“I show love for them by understanding them,” she said. “When they have a problem, I take time to be with the child and give advice. They are good children.”

Supporting Mothers Beyond Birth: Alphonsine’s Story

I visited Rwanda in 2013 to partner with teachers and students at the SOS Children’s Village primary and tech schools in Kigali. I’m again staying at SOS, and it has been priceless to see my colleagues and friends again.

Professionally, I am continuing to follow-up on Save the Mothers work, though I agreed to complete a few communications projects for Kigali’s SOS Children’s Village over the course of my short, one-week stay.

Continue reading “Supporting Mothers Beyond Birth: Alphonsine’s Story”