In the exact center of Africa, midst mountainous jungle from where are found the origins of the Nile and the Amazon Rivers, sits Rwanda. It is the fourth smallest country on the continent yet it is the most densely populated. In 1994 it was the site of a horrific genocide yet it is now regarded to be the safest country among all its neighbors. It ranks in Africa the second lowest on the corruption scale as well as second best in the “ease of doing business.” Its diligent – and in the last 8 years highly successful – efforts to expand prosperity have not yet lifted the rural poor. It is in the poorest yet arguably the most beautiful District of Rwanda that our initiative put down roots in 2009.
Having read that Rwanda had defied all odds after genocide and rebuilt a peaceful society based on justice and good governance, ICO’s John Jordan wanted to be part of that. Despite a desperate lack of opportunity and knowledge, the people of Rwanda are hard working and good spirited. Through collaboration with several young men and community support, this initiative has brought support for a better life to over 1,000 families.
Of all the people in need we chose to support the widows raising kids. Of all the pressing needs, we chose better health as our goal. “If these mothers have their health, they work miracles to improve life for their kids” the Clinic Director told us. To achieve that we focus on bringing simple technology to their dilapidated houses and secondary education to their children.
- Metal roofs replace the leaking grass and keep them dry in the cold and rainy nights.
- Efficient and smoke free stoves reduce chronic respiratory sickness.
- Water catchment systems off clean roofs eliminate the use of parasite-borne spring water.
- Intensive gardening on their small plots plus breeding animals bring more protein.
- Provide families health insurance from nearby clinics to increase prevention.
- And lastly, we put one child into secondary boarding school to create a sustainable economic lift to the family.
The technologies we introduced have spread throughout the District and the increased capacity of families and students to seize opportunity.
Rwandan Clay Stove
We have created 10 community factories over the last 6 years and trained hundreds of youth to make “rocket stoves” from river clay. Those centers produced over 10,000 stoves, each one sparing a family the scourge of a smoke filled house and saving 5 hours a week of hauling wood. It also cuts carbon release equal to half the output of a gas fueled car. Mothers no longer need to fear toddlers will be burned by the old open fire or spilled pots. Cost of the stove installed is $6.
A secure roof puts an end to the wet, shivering nights and the constant colds. The 100 liter tank saves the daily, arduous trip to a stream for contaminated water. We install a stove, fix the doors, upgrade the latrine, provide rabbits, a goat or pig. The raised bed garden at the door ensures there are always vegetables. We have left almost 600 widowed families with a more sustainable household.
Latrines of the poor are dangerous, unhygienic and undignified. In 2015 we began testing designs that would fix those issues and also provide poor families with fertilizer they need but can little afford. It requires creating a new mindset as well as an efficient and low cost design. After installing 50 toilets, we’re increasing education and efficiency but cost is still too high at about $150 each. This year we’re determined to bring cost closer $75 and hope to open a business. Consider: if a family put their green waste and their urine (which has 85% of nutrients from human waste) back into their gardens they would replace almost everything taken up by the food they grew there.
Empowerment through Education
The most highly leveraged investment we make in Rwanda is the $250/yr for room, board, and tuition for a boy or girl to attend boarding school or trade school. Without our support our beneficiaries would have little chance for any future other than working the fields or carrying heavy loads on their backs for $1-$2/day. With it they graduate with knowledge, sophistication, and skills that will keep them and their family above subsistence from now on. In fact, 9 of our 185 kids have earned National Merit Scholarships in the last 4 years and moved from dirt floor shacks to the National University in Science and Teaching. Our mentoring program is dynamic, moving graduates into internships in sewing, baking, construction, mechanics, driving, and farming at rates 4-5 times that of other grads.
A Wellspring for the Community
Our grassroots approach to problems of endemic poverty means we plant seeds of all sorts that people will draw fruit from after they have worked and watered those seeds for a year, two, or three. And they will feel they own it. What we bring them is the missing capital investment and models for how to plan, implement, assess and plan again. We follow the wise policies of ICO and of Rotary, a steadfast supporter. Invest in Rwanda and you will see your seeds grow – for the good of the whole world.