Posts Tagged With: Rwanda

Remembering Rwanda.

boy me & Lu Rwanda was one of my favorite trips last year — not least because it was the one time my daughter Lulu accompanied me. She’d turned 21 in May, and I decided the best birthday present I could give her would be to share some of what I’d seen on my trips around the world with Heifer International.

Well, eye-opening doesn’t begin to describe it.

memoryRwanda is a fascinating, haunting country – tiny (about the size of Maryland), one of the most densely populated in Africa (with 11 million folks), and scorched with a past marked by holocaust, horror and hatred. But Rwanda today, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, has moved along the hopey-changey spectrum at a clip no one could have anticipated or imagined. lovelyChild mortality is down 70%. Malarial deaths have plummeted 85%. Kigali, the capital, has become one of the cleanest, safest cities in Africa. Literacy of the population is almost 75%. The infrastructure is efficient and new. And the economy, unburdened by corruption, is one of the fastest-growing on the African continent, despite Rwanda having no ports, virtually no natural resources, and 90% of its population raising crops on an acre or less of land.

Everywhere you look, tidy little plots of land are cultivated, mile after mile.

Everywhere you look, families are eking out a living on tiny plots of land.

Rwanda is a remarkably neat, tidy country – with the brilliant insight to ban plastic bags almost ten years ago (makes me feel like we’re the developing ones). There has been a lot of criticism of Kagame’s strongman rule http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/magazine/paul-kagame-rwanda.html?pagewanted=all  but it’s difficult to imagine any scenario after the genocide of 1994 that could have predicted a resolution as peaceful and progressive as this.boysHeifer’s role in the country has been consistently progressive, inspirational and positive – working with AIDS families to provide income, creating a model for enabling poor families to use a cow to fuel economic prosperity, and of course, always, Passing on the Gift.

A hug after Passing on the Gift -- a Heifer tradition.

A hug after Passing on the Gift — a Heifer tradition.

To see communities which two decades ago erupted in genocidal atrocity now be focused on giving to the least blessed a huge asset like a cow is nothing short of inspirational.proud

I’m so happy I got to see it. I’m beyond grateful that my daughter did, too.serious girl

And just because I’m good at sharing, here are my blogs from the journey:

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/16/a-country-with-a-past-and-a-future/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/20/what-it-means-to-give/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/23/goats-an-anti-viral-agent/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/27/stop-making-me-cry/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/08/30/cows-r-us/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/09/03/a-woman-named-constance/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/09/07/wild-rwanda/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/09/11/lulus-view/

zebra

Categories: Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Rwanda, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

A bittersweet goodbye.

DAWN

My year as the volunteer Global Blogging Ambassador for Heifer International is officially over (that’s the sound of me sobbing).

schedule  A look back at the numbers makes me feel simultaneously exhilarated and a tiny bit exhausted. I traveled to 14 countries (15 if you count my test run to Uganda in October, 2011), and spent at least 280 hours on airplanes and another 390 hours (but who’s counting??) bouncing around in trucks.

It’s been an unbelievable year … and I’ve got more than 10,000 photos to prove it.listening pig

I’ve written 113 posts and my blog was viewed about 84,000 times by people from 164 countries. Thuli Maya Lama

Along the way I was also voted Volunteer of the Year from the South by the Classy Awards (thanks for voting for me, y’all!!). But my biggest joy was meeting people (and Heifer staffers!) in these developing countries and getting to see their homes, their children, and their farms & animals — and how incredibly hard they work every day.family Ecuador

oh mama

llama roundup

What I’ve learned along the way is that our Earth is a staggeringly beautiful place… landscape Ecuador

cactus

island

cosmos

That people everywhere have a lot more that unites us than separates us….

rwanda

Leidy

cambodia girlsThat when we reach out to help others, we gain more than we give…woman & cow

POG…and we invest in our own happiness.Laughing girl

Thanks a million to Heifer (and especially CEO Pierre Ferrari) for trusting me to convey these incredible stories of inspiration and vision.

Thanks to my husband and family for their unwavering support, and to Michelle B. for her stupendous travel counsel.

And thanks to YOU for coming along on the journey!NEPAL GIRL

Feel free to come back and troll through the archives anytime! (If you click on “The Countries” navigation button, you can pull down all posts from whichever country you’d like.)sunset

Happy 2013!!

(And if you miss me, please subscribe to my new/old blog What Gives 365 where I’ll be freshly posting!

Categories: Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 89 Comments

A woman named Constance.

18 ½ years ago, Constance Bangire was working as a primary school teacher in the town of Masoro, east of Kigali, teaching second grade. She and her husband, who worked as an executive in a nearby mining company, had two young daughters and a baby son at home and two sons, aged 14 and 16, in secondary school. And then the genocide happened.

In those 100 days of horror, Constance’s husband and two sons were murdered. Her house was burned to the ground. And she and 24 genocide survivors took refuge in the school where she’d taught children to do their letters and color happy pictures.

The orphans’ records in the boulangerie.

I’m not sure what I would have done under those circumstances (my mind won’t even go there), but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have done what Constance did. Once the school reopened, she and 7 other women survivors decided to share their teaching salaries with other widows and orphans of the genocide, who literally had nothing to sustain themselves or their families—no homes, no livestock, no food.

Orphans waiting for bread outside the boulangerie in Masoro.

Each woman contributed $30/month to that fund and Constance came up with the idea of getting local women to make tablecloths and dresses they could sell. Then she went to the Minister of the Family and asked for goats and sheep to replace the slaughtered livestock, and she started writing proposals to international donor organizations, hoping they might support her efforts.

Genocide survivor, sewing since 1996…

In 1995, the Swiss-Italian NGO Insieme Per La Pace stepped in to help and L’Association Dushyigikirane was born. In its first 4 years, Constance focused on helping genocide survivors, but then she said she started feeling bad about only helping people from her tribe. “I received some trainings, I went to my Catholic church, I prayed a lot, and I learned to forgive.”

Orphan girls waiting for bread.

“Everyone was having problems, not just the survivors. All the animals had been killed, our bananas were taken, our land and crops were gone, and our husbands were either dead or in prison.”

“Before the genocide, Hutus and Tutsis were always together. But afterwards, people feared each other and were scared to be together. So I just brought them in the same room to work.”

Today, Constance’s organization employs almost 100 people (mostly women) and has built most of the town’s center.

The pretty new community center of Masoro.

There’s a thriving village bank that provides microfinance loans at 2% interest; new meeting hall; a boulangerie that distributes 2 loaves of bread twice a week to 961 orphans and pays their school fees with sales of its delicious corn cakes; a dress-making operation; local handicrafts cooperative; retail store; tilapia fish pond; fabric shop; sugar cane café; apiculture co-op; classes in literacy, finance, and adult education; a home-building project for 67 homeless people; basic provisions supplied to 82 old people – and of course, a Heifer project.

Once Constance heard in 2004 that Heifer might give her neighbors cows, she was on it. Because her local organization was so strong, L’Association Dushyigikirane received 32 cows over the past few years, and will be getting 36 additional pregnant heifers before the end of the year.

Agnes Akayezu has been working with Constance’s handicrafts organization for 10 years.

A Heifer-paid vet works with the village, as does an animal health care worker, to keep the animals healthy and producing milk. Constance is a big fan of Heifer but thinks her village should be getting a lot more animals. I’d be the last one to disagree.

Gabrielle Mjyonjyoh, one of Constance’s first village bank customers, with her savings passbook.

“I’m the Mother to everyone in Masoro,” Constance says matter-of-factly. “I try to see those who are in need and do something about it.”

Categories: Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Rwanda, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Cows R Us

Rwandans love cows. They have songs about cows, they have dances, their whole culture is based on the love of the cow.

The beautiful umushagiriro (cow dance) — I guess those are their horns.

And Rwandans are infinitely patient and gentle with their cows — even when they are being kind of .. pushy.

This Heifer heifer walked right into the ceremony, butted the speaker, went for the drinks & nobody batted an eye.

Kirehe, Eastern Province

So it makes sense that the Rwandan government would partner with Heifer, an organization named after its favorite animal, to help 6,382 families in the poor rural district of Kirehe earn a living, improve their land, and feed themselves. It’s part of the government’s national initiative called A Cow for Every Poor Family — that remarkably (well, not really) is based on Heifer‘s beautiful training/giving/passing on model.

Why a cow? I asked Kirehe veterinarian Dr. Jean de Dieu Niyitanga that question and he had this succinct answer, “Cows mean milk and money.” Then he waxed poetic and scientific about what cows need to thrive. For someone like me who thinks a cat requires far too much attention, raising a cow sounds like an inconceivable amount of work. So I asked him to elaborate.

“First you have to love your cow, because if you love your animal, you’ll treat it well, feed it well, and keep it clean and healthy.” Okay, but what does that exactly mean?

The cows Heifer gives to poor farmers in Rwanda are pure breeds, either Jersey cows (brown) or Friesians (black & white). They produce a lot of milk (up to 30 liters a day) but they also demand a lot of food– about 1/10th of their weight in food a day in grass, cereals and legumes that the farmers must grow and harvest. Cows also need a salt lick to provide calcium, potassium and sodium to replace the minerals lost when they are producing milk.

Like any nursing mother, heifers drink a lot: 50-80 liters of water a day, depending on their weight, and that also has to be carried on somebody’s head back to the home.

Cows are big, gentle animals but they require shelter from the elements. So before getting a cow, every participant has to build a shed with 6 bags of cement (@$16/bag) provided by Heifer for a concrete floor to keep the cow’s feet out of dung, wet mud, and to facilitate manure-collection. They’re also given aluminum sheets for roofing – and required to pass on the same cement & aluminum when they pass on the gift of the cow to another poor farmer.

Veneranda Mukagakwandi & her cow & her cow sheds.

Alfred’s son digging the fields.

Then there’s the issue of keeping the cow clean: the shed needs to be shoveled out at least once a day, and the animal washed with soap and water twice a week (more water to carry). Cows must also be sprayed to protect against flies and ticks that can give them theileriosis, a tickborne disease that can kill them if left untreated. And the heifers are always watched closely for mastitis – or they can permanently lose use of a teat.

My brain was whirling with the possibilities for bovine disaster, but to Rwandans a cow simply means milk, money and manure. One cow will produce 3 tons of manure a year – and that is hugely important to the farmers planting their crops in the over-cultivated, poorly producing soil in Kirehe. Farmers report a 75-100% increase in ag productivity with the addition of cow dung– and that’s no small potatoes.

So, how has a cow specifically changed the life of somebody like Alfred Nsengimana? After Alfred had a home visit and was designated as able to raise a cow, (if you don’t have enough land or strength to take care of a cow, you’ll first be given goats or pigs), he built his shed and received the 182 hours of training that Heifer gives all participants – to make sure they know how to breed, lead, raise and take care of the animal.

After those six months of training, Alfred received a pregnant Friesian heifer, it gave birth to a female that he’s passed on to a neighbor, and now Alfred is earning $50/month from the cow’s milk – in a country where 60% of the population earns under $1/day. With that milk money (I love this entrepreneurial spirit so much!) he bought more goats and rabbits that are easier to raise and quicker to sell than cows, if the family needs money for school fees or health emergencies.

Then, Alfred dug a cistern in his back yard and he is also harvesting rainwater from the roof –so his family can make fewer trips to the town well to carry water back on their heads.

Water harvesting with a plastic-lined tank — how clever!

With milk to drink, meat to eat, and money in the bank, Alfred & his wife put a new cement floor & walls in their house—a real luxury. He would like to keep at least two cows, because then he’ll have enough manure to qualify for a bio-gas unit (half paid for by the government) that will mean they don’t have to collect and burn firewood and can cook in half the time.

Biogas – a giant leap for woman-kind: no collecting wood/cooks in half the time!

Alfred’s neighbor Jean de Dieu Habayarimana is 24 years old and an orphan responsible for raising his two younger brothers. He doesn’t have land to grow forage for a cow, so he received the gift of 2 pigs from Heifer last December and proved himself so good at raising them, he was given the stud pig for the community – which means that he’ll get 1 piglet from every brood his pig sires.

If you’ve got no land for a cow, take the pig!

This Kirehe Project is a massive undertaking, requiring a daunting amount of work from Heifer (home-visiting every prospective family and giving 182 hours of training to each beneficiary), the government, and all the local organizations across five pilot zones in 12 sectors of the Eastern Province. But 1,000 heifers have been already given in 2011 (and 360 passed along), with 1,145 more to be given this year (plus 2,000 South African Boer goats and 562 purebred pigs). That means that families like Alfred’s will be given the chance to take this opportunity and leverage it to feed their families, earn a living, double their agricultural productivity, and climb out of poverty.

The real beneficiaries of Kirehe’s big project.

Makes me feel like hollering Oyee! Amata Iwau Kuruhimbi, which means something like Let us always have milk in our homes!

Yes indeedy.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Inspiration, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 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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