BOSTON — Nine years old and orphaned by ethnic genocide, he was living in a burned-out car in a Rwandan garbage dump where he scavenged for food and clothes. Daytimes, he was a street beggar. He had not bathed in more than a year.
When an American charity worker, Clare Effiong, visited the dump one Sunday, other children scattered. Filthy and hungry, Justus Uwayesu stayed put, and she asked him why.
“I want to go to school,” he replied.
Well, he got his wish.
This autumn, Mr. Uwayesu enrolled as a freshman at Harvard University on a full-scholarship, studying math, economics and human rights, and aiming for an advanced science degree. Now about 22 — his birthday is unknown — he could be, in jeans, a sweater and sneakers, just another of the 1,667 first-year students here.
But of course, he is not. He is an example of the potential buried even in humanity’s most hopeless haunts, and a sobering reminder of how seldom it is mined.
Over the 13 years since his escape from the smoldering trash heap that was his home, Mr. Uwayesu did not simply rise through his nation’s top academic ranks. As a student in Rwanda, he learned English, French, Swahili and Lingala. He oversaw his high school’s student tutoring program. And he helped found a youth charity that spread to high schools nationwide, buying health insurance for poor students and giving medical and scholastic aid to others.
He is nonetheless amazed and amused by the habits and quirks of a strange land.
“I tried lobster, and I thought it was a big fight,” he said. “You have to work for it to get to the meat.” And the taste? “I’m not sure I like it,” he said. [Read the rest of Justus’ story HERE.]
Photo Credit: CreditIan Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times