When Caring For Siblings Comes At A Cost

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Mariam Nyirasafari, 20. Photo: Tiffany Hines/Youth Radio

This is part two of our three-part series, “Sibling Stories,” in which Youth Radio reporter Tiffany Hines interviews teens who helped raise younger siblings about what it is like to balance adolescence and childcare. Today’s story comes from 20-year-old Mariam Nyirasafari, who cared for her stepsiblings.

I’m from Rwanda, it’s in East Africa. I lost my parents when I was very young and I grew up with my stepmom, who forced me to take care of her kids.

The hardest part about raising them was I was doing a lot of stuff, knowing I wasn’t appreciated for it. I had to wash their clothes, make sure they were clean, cook for them, even take care of the cows and goats, all before I went to school. And if I missed something, or if I didn’t do what I was told, there would be consequences. I basically had to do whatever I could to protect myself. I was always worried something bad would happen to me; like maybe I wouldn’t have a place to sleep at the end of the night, or I’d get beaten to death — stuff like that.

A daily routine for me was, I’d wake up at 5:00 in the morning, take the goats outside because they’d sleep in the same house we slept in. I’d have to go fetch water for the house then make breakfast, wake the kids, make sure they were washed, dressed, and fed, and then send them off to school. After I was finished with the kids, I’d take the cows and goats to eat, and then I’d come back and get ready to go to school myself. By the time I was done with everything, I’d have only two hours to go to school. Because I arrived late, I’d get in trouble, and it was very hard for me to focus. Eventually, I ended up having to drop out of school.

I had no choice at all in raising my stepsiblings as a teen — I was forced to. If I had the choice, I wouldn’t have taken on so many responsibilities around the house so young. I would have focused more on keeping my grades up at school and just being a kid.

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