Monday, December 13, 2010

Kinigi, Ruhangeri, Rwanda

Outside of the northern city of Ruhangeri, Rwanda, near the volcanoes and a cultural center, a host of villages sit amongst potato, corn and pyrethrum fields. The area is designated to grow these three crops. Their potatoes feed a good portion of Rwandan mouths but people in the area usually only eat potatoes once a month. Recently the price of a kilo of potatoes went from 120Rwf to 60Rwf – a travesty of a price plunge. Yet most of the famers are not even landowners themselves. Wealthier individuals own large plots of land where the crops grow and people actually living in the area are highly impoverished and largely food insecure. There is not enough land or the commitment to have strategic home gardens that can really produce enough to feed their families.
Community members referenced past projects and their failures. One Oxfam project gave them seeds but when they got the seeds it was the dry season and they didn’t grow. The farmers didn’t realize it would be dry season because in past years they had received rain during that time of year. They mentioned that it was probably due to industry that contributes to climate change. They have been planting according to the seasons for years, but now, with global climate change, the weather is less predictable and less consistent, making agriculture harder. They reported the problem to Oxfam when they came for a follow up visit, but the village never heard back, or again, from Oxfam.
There are two primary groups in the region who used to clash, but now intermarry and work together. One group admitted to living day to day by stealing crops from the potato and corn fields. The other group described some small businesses they are doing. Some women sell charcoal in town. It is a three hour walk to town where on a good day they can sell up to 1000Rwf (around $1.70) and they travel up to four days a week there. Then they buy food and return home exhausted. The other business that was presented was of a sorghum beer bar. This bar is the one of the only businesses actually in their town and men and women alike go there. Kids at the age of ten were asking for money to buy beer. This is not unique to this region. Local bars often make the best businesses, catching those who have no work and providing them a space to sit and drink the day away. Their buildings are often the biggest and strongest ones in villages with potential exception to churches. The group explained that even with these few income-generating projects, almost no one has the ability to buy the mandatory health insurance. They get pestered by government officials for not having it. They explained that they struggle to get food, cannot cover school fees for their kids, haven’t any seeds to plant, don’t attract development because of their poor roads, rarely have safe water and cannot find jobs.
They are proud of two projects; an association they have formed to save and pay for health insurance for members, and another group saving program that they have recently started. They proposed a number of projects they would like to achieve. These including starting an agricultural project, fixing their roads, getting animals or manure and fertilizer, build a nursery school or find a place to fetch water. They all agreed that the first priority is food security and over the next two weeks they will be gathering and recording ideas for how to do this. In early January we will post their ideas online.
Ernest Gasabo, a journalist student at University is helping to facilitate a MicroGrant for the community.

Goats for the Women of Ubutwale Bwo Kubaho

After long debates among the women leaders of Ubutwale Bwo Kubaho, over the pros and cons of two final projects, that were goat rearing and dorm building, the women came to a consensus that goat rearing is the better option. Although building a dorm would create much needed housing for students in the area, appreciate in value and generate jobs and income rather quickly, the women became worried about the real cost of building the dorm and the risks that go with it. Goats, however, are easy to raise and they claim can reach all 1701 members in three years. They will purchase 100 goats in multiple installments to kick off the project. If something goes wrong, such as a goat getting sick and dying, it doesn’t put the whole project at risk – as the dorm project could.
The women are setting up a governance system for the project. A group of managers will organize the order of who gets goats when (those who are poorest will get them first) and will be responsible for collecting the first born of each goat and redistributing it. They will also take care of their group bank account where the women can save money for emergencies or starting new projects.
The goats will be used for meat (income generation and nutrition), milk (nutrition, especially for children) and manure (fertilizer for their crops).
The women are really excited and the ones who have done the most work writing proposals and meeting with our facilitator, Moses, are not even going to be benefiting directly from the project until a few years down the line. The head of the association volunteers her time for the women and only makes money through her work at a near by parish. She takes care of her own children along with orphans that she has adopted. She has been incredibly grateful and supportive of the entire MicroGrant process. Another woman who leads a sub group within the association was fighting for the goat project because there were some women in her group that are so poor that they cannot wait or risk the chance for development on a dorm when a goat could be given directly to the person and help turn around her life.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Karambi Village now has a water pump and water storage tank!

Karambi Village, Rwanda now has a storage tank and water pump so everyone can access clean water. The water tank connects to a pipeline that frequently runs dry. With the tank they can store water for the families there throughout the dry spells. The community members voluntarily helped construct the project and provide $19 for a tap that measures the quantity of water released. Charges can be made per collection that will go to the company supplying the water. A few kilometers away, on the other side of the hill, a water pump dug by Karambi village members and installed and donated by Living Water was completed on Wednesday. A huge thank you goes to Living Water for providing the materials and installation! The pump is on land donated by Fred, our facilitator for the project. It will be used by families who currently collect water from a valley, which was clean until a few years ago when development started taking place and has since become quite polluted and not safe to drink. Many people don’t even boil their water; leaving their families in great danger of parasites and disease. Both the water tank and pump will have clean water, good for humans and agriculture and it wont impose such a hassle to collect now that it is closer and reliable to gather.
The village and its leaders thank Spark for supporting the project and noted that it is their first time an NGO or donor has been there. They are proud of the project and held a meeting on Friday to discuss security of the project and fund collection for the upkeep of it.
In the same village a few men received goats as part of a nanogrant. Their goats are all pregnant! The individuals who helped lead the MicroGrant project within the village and have shown their dedication to its success are now forming a group to try and gain support to start economic activity to bring them out of poverty. They have written a proposal to have a meeting with us about how to do this and inquired about where to find start up money. It is this kind of proactive energy that is wonderful to see after each project is complete. Many members see the MicroGrant project as a time to show off their capabilities and hard work which seems to be something good to support! Hopefully as we develop as an organization we will be better positioned to connect our villages to other NGOs, banks and opportunities.