Megan Swanson
View the photos full screen or see the Flickr set to get a closer look at Megan Swanson. Photos by Nick Onken.

When Megan Swanson arrived in the dusty town of Kigali, Rwanda,

she had no idea she’d leave with the well-being of 11 Rwandan street boys on her shoulders.

Megan Swanson ’09 holds Africa close to her heart — literally: She wears a silver charm around her neck in the shape of the continent. “Ever since I was a little girl, I loved hearing stories about Africa,” says Megan. Then Africa became a reality through the required internship for her global and urban ministry minor at Seattle Pacific University. The charm serves as a reminder of her summer in Rwanda, and the remarkable thing that came out of that trip.

During Megan’s junior year at SPU, she was selected for an internship with Breakthrough Partners, a Washington-based Christian organization. She left that summer along with Hilliary Anderson, a fellow intern from her hometown of Lynnwood, Washington. They were assigned to work with a small, impoverished church in Kigali, Rwanda.

Upon touching down in the country, Megan thought about how the president of Rwanda was assassinated on that very runway in 1994. The murder sparked a genocide that killed hundreds of thousands of people. It was a chilling thought, a stark contrast to her reception.

The first night, Megan and Hilliary fought to stay awake as about 15 church members —roughly half the church — came to greet them at the pastor’s house where they stayed. “We both fell asleep while people were talking to us, so they finally sent us to bed,” says Megan. The incident earned her the nickname “baby.”

Every morning, Megan woke to the sound of water being heated for bathing. Breakfast consisted of bread similar to hot dog buns, and the occasional sardines. Next, they walked the red-dirt road into Kigali, a town of dilapidated shacks and lush banana trees, to teach English to 25–30 students for five long hours. Afterward, Megan and Hilliary split their time between making crafts with women of the church — almost all of them former prostitutes –– playing games with children, or hanging out with the youth group.

But a month into the trip, everything changed.

The Silent Cry

As the girls walked home from teaching one day, they noticed a small group of boys playing in a mound of dirt. “Hilliary gave them a bag of leftover bread from our lunch,” Megan says. “It wasn’t until I saw how quickly they scarfed it down that I took a second look.” She took in the boys’ features: torn clothing, malnourished bellies, scrapes, and bruises.

Hilliary felt skeptical of the boys at first, since beggars were such a common sight. But Megan opened herself to them immediately. “She has a very big heart,” Hilliary explains. “So much compassion … and a drive to give herself up for others.”

Soon Megan and Hillary visited the boys every day, bringing soccer balls, clothes, and coloring books. They also helped them wash their clothes. “I don’t even know how we communicated, but it worked,” Megan says.

As days went by, the women witnessed the boys’ dangerous lives. Megan remembers walking home with the smallest boy, Nsabiri. He begged her not to leave him, because he didn’t want to sleep in the streets anymore.

Fears heightened when Megan took two boys to the doctor on separate occasions — one had malaria, and another was injured in a fight. The fact that their poverty kept them from seeking medical assistance on their own shed a harsh light on the situation. “I was really scared for them,” Megan remembers.

Once Megan saw a 15-year-old go into the doctor’s office but never come out. He died from malaria. “I found out later from the doctor that the meds he needed were $10, but neither he nor his family could afford them.”

Though the circumstances were difficult, Megan experienced joy with the boys. Daniel, an 8-year-old who lived alone with his three younger siblings, invited her over to play Bingo and drink Fanta. One of her favorite boys was Pacifique, who got people to laugh by making funny faces, and got into trouble by harassing drivers. The students held impromptu picnics with Veterine, a crippled boy who begged at the taxi station.

Time for Hope

With the time for her departure drawing near, Megan had an overwhelming sense that she couldn’t just leave the boys without doing something. As street kids, they were in constant danger of being arrested. In fact, 12-year-old Dukundi was arrested the day before Megan left.

Once back in Seattle, Megan teamed up with Breakthrough Partners to start Hope for Life Ministry, with the sole purpose of helping street children in Kigali. They purchased a home where the boys now live and learn under the supervision of two Rwandan women whom Megan met at the church.

Megan hopes the boys will gain new identities. “It’s been good to see them dream and realize ‘I don’t have to be a street kid,’” she says. Their dreams for the future include becoming a doctor, policeman, gospel artist, and even the president of Rwanda.

There is still much to be done: Monthly finances are always tight. Megan will be returning to Rwanda soon to train leaders and make sure everything is running smoothly. “I can’t forget those kids; just knowing they exist compels me to continue working on this,” she says. “This is what God calls us to do.”

By Allie Fraley

Check our archives for more stories with Heart & Soul.