Posts Tagged With: Kibungo

Goats … an anti-viral agent.

If you’re a woman in Rwanda, you’re almost twice as likely to be infected with HIV as a man. That seems hideously unfair, particularly after rape was used as a weapon during the genocide of 1994, resulting in a huge swell in the numbers of infected women. Still, even today it is a reality.

Cluadine Uwamaiya, mother of six and HIV+ in Kibungo.

So Heifer International has teamed up with my second most favorite organization, Partners in Health, to improve the health, nutrition and income of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Province, who make up 2.5% of the population there.

Partners in Health, which grew out of Dr. Paul Farmer’s pioneering community health work in Haiti in the 1980s, is the first responder. Since 2005, PIH has been providing crucial medicine and health care to HIV patients, as well as food packages for 10 months, in order to strengthen and stabilize these weak, poor and malnourished folks and get them on the road to recovery. But after that immediate intervention, patients still needed a way to provide themselves and their families with sustainable income and food security. And that’s where goats (and Heifer) come in.

Goats are quick to reproduce (they can be bred in the first year), their milk is highly nutritious (reportedly it really helps bolster one’s white blood cells that fight off infection) and with easily available forage (old banana peels, kitchen waste and some grasses) goats will produce a lot of poop to fertilize vegetable gardens that the people are encouraged and trained to plant. So Heifer has given away hundreds of South African dairy goats to people like Charlotte, who has used that gift to transform her life.

Charlotte found out she was HIV+ in 2003, after she had four heartbreaking miscarriages in a row and went in for a test. But her husband, from whom she got the infection, argued that she was not infected and so she got thinner and sicker until 2005, when she visited PIH (or Inshuti Mu Buzima as it’s known in Kinyarwanda) and was put on life-saving medications. In 2009,  Charlotte received a goat from Heifer, passed on its first female offspring to another family, and now has two more female offspring that provide her with so much milk, she has plenty to sell.

Nobody in Rwanda would ever drink goat milk before .. but they love it now!

With her goat milk income, Charlotte bought a pig that is now pregnant, and she can sell those piglets for about $120/each (if healthy and fat, a pig can have two litters a year of about 8-12 piglets each). Charlotte also bought a heifer and is eager to raise more goats, sell more milk, plant more vegetables and bananas, and buy more land. In a big kitchen garden that surrounds her house, she also grows carrots, beets, and maize that she sells, but she’s really famous for her excellent bananas (thanks to copious amounts of manure).  

Her 13-year old son is tall and handsome, and she’ll have the money to send him to the best secondary school –although in Rwanda it’s considered quite a tragedy to have just one child (a fact my only-child Lulu found ironic). When she talked about her four missing children, Charlotte looked bereft, but she quickly said, “I don’t think about being sick, I think about the future. It’s only when I talk about being sick that I get sad.”

Leaving Kibungo…

As we pulled away from her house, I was thinking of how Charlotte had stood up in front of the whole town meeting and told her story, and the courage that must have taken. Then I thought of the song the people were singing at the meeting (it only rhymes in Kinyarwanda, folks): “People say if you have HIV/AIDS you are going to die, but we are not prepared to die… We are going to live!”

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

A country with a past. And a future.

Rwandan boy popping in front of a genocide mass grave in Kigungo, Eastern Province.

It’s hard to know where to begin writing about Rwanda, and after a mere ten days there, terribly presumptuous. But since I’m not getting paid to do this, I’ll give it my best shot. Rwanda is a beautiful country that’s best known for the apocalypse of its genocide in 1994 and the nation is still defined by it. To survive, Rwanda has had to simultaneously remember and honor that past and move beyond it… in a country where people who murdered 800,000 of their friends and neighbors still live alongside the victims’ families and survivors.

That’s an almost inconceivable situation. On every level, you have to respect these people who have somehow managed to not only hold their country together for the past 18 years, but avoid another war and move forward.

Can you find Rwanda?

Rwanda is small (about the size of Maryland) and it’s home to a lot of people—over 11 million who have cultivated almost every square inch of it. The country is predominantly rural, with 90% of working Rwandans farming plots that average only about an acre, they have big families, and competition for land can certainly be seen as one cause of the genocide.

One bewildering fact is that, unlike many African nations, Rwandans are a unified people: they speak one language (Kinyarwanda), are from just one ethnic and linguistic group, the Banyarwanda and are overwhelmingly Christian. The country is remarkably clean (once a month they have a clean-up day — my kind of place!!), the government of President Kagame is largely free of corruption, and despite the poverty, you get a definite feeling of progress and forward momentum.

Children carrying 20-liter jerricans of water back up to their village.

The 2 million refugees who fled the genocide are mostly back home. Infant mortality rates have dropped by a third, literacy has increased to 71% of the population, and access to safe drinking water has doubled in just 3 years. The people are incredibly hard-working and industrious, yet when I asked my daughter Lulu who came with me on this trip what she thought of Rwandans, she mulled it over and replied, “They seem happy. Happier than Americans.”

Village boys thrilled with our empty plastic water bottles: a big treat for taking to school.

Despite an initial wariness that you often feel up close, it’s hard not to like people who literally run out of their homes to wave at you.

And it’s hard not to cheer for people who are working so hard to make their way back from catastrophe. Here’s hoping they keep on rising.

Categories: Africa, Farming, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

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