From Washed Out to Thriving

Published on
January 16, 2024 at 2:38:51 PM PST January 16, 2024 at 2:38:51 PM PSTth, January 16, 2024 at 2:38:51 PM PST

Jean farms for a living, but it isn’t easy. The soil in the Rwandan community of Ruhindage is acidic and the hilly landscape causes crops to wash away when it rains, making farming an unpredictable (and often unproductive) livelihood. And does it ever rain! Often resulting in dangerous landslides. In May 2023, more than 20 families in Ruhindage were evacuated from their homes under the threat of flooding and landslides. “Fifty per cent of my crops were ruined by heavy rain [that year],” Jean explains. “The harvest was low.”

Jean couldn’t rely on his farm to provide everything his wife and four sons needed. Sometimes his children missed school waiting for their dad to bring money home for school fees—something he couldn't do unless he found casual labour jobs. So, Jean often left home to look for work beyond the borders of his community.

Jean admits his motivations for leaving were mixed, “Because of these problems, I used to leave my family and go to another side of the country to work for money. But the main reason behind it was that I was overloaded with responsibilities, then decided to go for a while. During my absence, conflicts between me and my wife were too much.”

“Emotionally, neither myself nor my wife [Vestine] was happy, and we felt guilty before our children,” — Jean

Economic migration is a serious problem in Ruhindage. Because farming doesn’t always produce enough to live on and off-farm jobs are basically non-existent, some men leave the community and migrate to neighbouring cities like Muhanga. Other men find work in local mining and migrate to cities after they’ve earned enough money to leave the rural life. While Rwanda is one of the world’s largest producers of tin, tantalum (used in electronics), and tungsten, (and also exports gold and gemstones) this type of small-scale mining still accounts for around 80 per cent of the country’s mineral output.  

Men aren’t the only ones migrating for work—after finishing primary school, girls as young as 12 often leave their families for the cities to find domestic work, like house cleaning. Last year, around 20 men and 25 girls out of 800 households in Ruhindage migrated for economic reasons.  

In addition to limited livelihood options, families like Jean’s faced limited access to critical resources, like water. “There was no pipeline extension [in Ruhindage],” Jean explains. “My kids spent at least an hour fetching water in the morning before going to school and again in the evening.” Add another hour to walk to and from school, and that’s a lot of daylight and kilometres Jean’s kids had to burn every day, just for basic needs like education and water.

“Emotionally, neither myself nor my wife [Vestine] was happy, and we felt guilty before our children,” Jean says. 

After the new FH-funded water pipeline was installed, Jean’s wife and sons no longer have to spend hours fetching water.

New Dreams Planted

Through FH partnership, life in Ruhindage began to change. 

Jean and his neighbours took agricultural workshops, learning how to prevent erosion, make compost, and increase harvests. “By putting into practice the knowledge we got, our yield has increased and there is no hunger!” Jean exclaims. 

"We are happy today and have committed to work together for the better future of our children.” — Jean

With new food to feed his family and sell in the local market, Jean no longer has to leave his family to look for income—or to escape the overwhelming stress of his situation. “[Now] I have good collaboration with my wife,” he shares. “We are happy today and have committed to work together for the better future of our children.” Through FH training, Jean reports that “the majority of farmers in this community have gotten jobs.” That means reduced migration for men and girls, keeping families together and protecting vulnerable children.

A brand new FH-funded water pipeline dramatically reduced all that time Jean’s sons had to spend fetching water before and after school. Now they have more time and energy for their classwork!  

The pipeline also created new opportunities for Jean’s farm. “I can now irrigate my crops during the dry season which I had never done before,” Jean explains. “I decided to extend my agricultural activities. I irrigated my field, planted tree tomatoes, and used manure to fertilize them. I started out planting just 100, but today, I’ve increased to 400 trees.”

With the money he earned by helping with the pipeline construction, Jean bought a cow to provide manure for fertilizing his tree tomatoes, milk for his family, and additional income.

Jean applies homemade, organic pesticide to his tree tomatoes.

“My prayers to God were understood!”— Jean

Jean also joined a Savings and Loans group where he saves money and accesses loans to cover family needs, including school fees. “I am happy that my children are regularly attending school. Today, more than 33 savings groups are active in our community! As a result of the training provided and weekly meetings of group members, conflicts among neighbours have reduced.”

To further help their family thrive, and especially to support their growing children, Jean and Vestine also took FH nutrition workshops. As a result, Jean says, “Today, our children are healthy due to the nutritious food we eat.”

“My prayers to God were understood!” Jean exclaims. “I [now] have hope for the future, especially for my children.”

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