Searching for a place to belong, and how one boy found it half a world away

Olivier Niyitegeka. Photo: Supplied

At five months old, Olivier Niyitegeka was found under a bed on an abandoned farm, a few Rwandan francs around him.

He was sent to the oldest orphanage in Rwanda, the Noel Orphanage, where he would spend the next fourteen years of his life.

Olivier was grateful for the opportunity to live, as he knew it could have been a lot worse, especially in a country wracked with civil war.

The orphanage housed 700 orphans, some of which Olivier would call his brothers. It was difficult for him to see them leave while he remained behind, struggling to find his place.

“I always used to feel I had no sense of belonging in the orphanage. I belonged to an institution,” he said.

Olivier’s life changed forever in 2014 when a sponsor offered him a home, a family and an education half a world away, in Auckland, New Zealand.

For two years, Olivier’s life was perfect. He got to experience all that New Zealand has to offer, including the Māori language and culture, which he finds very rewarding.

“I thought all of my problems were answered.”

Olivier’s new life hit a speed bump at the beginning of last year, when his sponsor informed him that she no longer had the funds to support his life in New Zealand.

Faced with the possibility of having their friend sent back to Rwanda, Olivier’s friends pooled together to fundraise money for him to stay.

They had no idea how much money was needed, but they knew it would be a lot, and that they needed it quickly.

A staggering $18,771.00 was ultimately raised – a great feat for a group of 17-year-old boys.

When asked how he felt about having friends who supported him like that, Olivier said it made him feel blessed and not alone.

With the money raised, Olivier is able to stay in New Zealand until he graduates high school at least.

Olivier is thankful for everything he has been given in life, and finally feels like he belongs somewhere.

“When I come back from school, I am going home, not to an orphanage.”