She stood on top of a hill, confidently attired in yellow. Yellow can merely be a color, situated between green and orange in the spectrum. But in color psychology, yellow symbolizes the mind and the intellect. A hunger for knowledge, inspiring thought and curiosity. Practical thinking about what will work and how it works. No wasted edges. No ambivalence regarding opportunity. The color of knowledge and achievement. All of this ran through my mind as I climbed the dusty, misshapen hill to meet this unique woman.
On a partly sunny, sultry Thursday morning in the hilly and terraced Cyeza section of Rwanda, we were high above valleys that the local mountains produce. Here, people have lived for centuries. At this moment of time, we had come see Global Communities’ work to build the food security and nutrition of vulnerable households. Led by staff who had spent a lifetime working to make a difference here, we passed several houses below and above us of different shapes and substance. Each had a little plot of land with crops covering every available inch, some with a cow or two along with several baying goats. The tilled land burst with growth. Through the iridescent green of the terraced hills, trees and plants sparkled and leapt out at you. The smiling eyes of the local children followed us.
After a mile of walking along the trail, an Eden of kitchen gardens appeared on a hill above a house. As we drew nearer, I could see that flowers bloomed along the woman’s bright yellow dress, her long blue earrings framing her stern, yet serene face. Her notes were written on a folded blue-lined paper, held in her left hand. But she didn’t need them -- the notes were a facade. Instead, she talked from her heart and her experience, sharing what she learned and how she had adapted the lessons for her family and neighbors.
Through diligence and study, she had taken the simple kitchen garden model and improved on it, creating multiple garden pods. Every inch of her small plot of land was planted, from coffee trees to kitchen gardens. Beans, cassava, soy, Irish potatoes, beets, and so on. Banana trees filled what space was left. These gardens spoke loudly on several levels. For another person, what she accomplished would be enough to have and hold. Not her. She made it clear several times that she still had plans for greater yields that would enable her to sell more products and support her extensive family.
She had a force of personality. Once she learned about how to plant a diversity of crops in the kitchen garden and cook a more balanced diet for her family, she was determined to teach the techniques to her neighbors. She proudly announced that through these efforts, malnutrition had been wiped out in her neighborhood. After an hour with her, I had the perception that this woman in yellow could wipe out malnutrition in all of East Africa, if she were given the chance. But that was for another time. Time to eat and see the program in action.
From the path by the gardens, with a wave of her hand, she invited us inside her home to learn how she combined her yields to feed her family a balanced diet. Each item of food was labeled, and she patiently explained the nutritional importance of each food group and the need for a balanced diet. She talked about how the neighbors gathered together to learn how to cook nutritious recipes for their families. Together, they learned to track the height and weight of family members to measure their body mass index. They became skilled in practicing proper sanitation habits to keep the food safe and prevent the spread of disease. She took to the training, thrived and evolved into a leader of the community, setting an example for the others.
She offered her guests beet or pineapple juice, and doughnuts made of vegetables from her kitchen gardens. She introduced her family. Her birth children, her adopted children and her husband, dressed in their best, stood with her with quiet smiles in defiance of the obstacles that face rural Rwandans. Here, at this time and place, one can see the difference that the Global Communities-led programs have had on their lives.
Life is hard for most Rwandans. In my visits, I noticed that women often hold the brunt of life, of earning a living and looking after dependents. In these genteel rural communities, people take on the responsibility of helping to remake and change their country. This involves making life better and helping others who are in need.
The visit winds down. It is time to leave and let the lady in yellow face the coming months and years. In its definition, she is the color yellow. She is not a dreamer; she is analytical and focused. One feel that her quest for knowledge was all-consuming. A better life for her family, her community, was her goal. The steps needed were constructed. The results were visual. She stood as we left, tough with a hint of what she knows she has accomplished and what she intends to achieve. A contented smile served as her goodbye. She has more work to do.
Through five years of implementation, the Higa Ubeho program in Rwanda assisted over 75,000 vulnerable households in 23 districts.
Meet a few of the youth who have benefited from the program -
A few years ago, Eric (22) led undesirable life on the streets of Kigali, Rwanda. Dropping out of school and without start-up capital to vend clothes and fruits, Eric was left with no option except to lead life as a street child. But luck was on his side. Eric is now a changed man. Sponsored through the Higa Ubeho Program, Eric completed secondary education and is about to earn a degree in medicine. He is well on his way to having a rewarding career in Orthopedics.
Donat is among the 6,500 that received one-year scholarship to gain valuable hospitality training to prepare him for the job market. He is now proudly employed as a waiter at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, a high-end tourist lodge in Musanze District, Northern Rwanda. Before that, Donat also gained from one of the 242 Abihizi youth clubs established in schools to offer leadership skills and mentorship to the youth.
Young Aisha is one hardworking woman. Only 22 years old, Aisha is already a renowned driver and mechanic in Rubavu, Gisenyi, Rwanda. Exceptional skills in auto-mechanics continue to open opportunities as Aisha becomes a young breadwinner for her family. She is one of the 7000 individuals supported by the Higa Ubeho Program to enter the job market with technical skills.
Like so many survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Catherine suffered unspeakable tragedies. But as survivor, Catherine resolved to keep a positive outlook on live and turn her bad experiences into something useful. She decided to dedicate her life to helping traumatized members of her community. Catherine lives in Ndera, a mostly rural village on the just on the outskirts of the capital, Kigali. Despite all her good intentions, Catherine knew she could not do much without training in counselling and handling trauma cases.
So she was very interested when Global Communities Rwanda and its partner organization Association of Rwandan Trauma Counselors (ARCT) - Ruhuka launched a program to train Community Psychosocial Workers (CPW). CPWs are volunteer counselors who work at the community level. Through the program they are trained to provide individual, group and family counseling and sensitize people on topics like grief, mourning, sexually-based gender violence (SBGV) and trauma. Catherine enrolled in the program and after finishing her training, immediately began working in her community. As CPW, Catherine's goal is to help those she counsels improve their communication and coping skills; reduce the impact of stressful events and situations; and improve their quality of life
Through the Higa Ubeho program (“Be determined and live” in Kinyarwanda) Catherine is now one of the 1355 CPWs trained in 20 districts of Rwanda to support their respective communities. According to Genevieve, a counselor at Global Communities, psycho-social services have also helped the CPWs reflect and improve on their own lives.
Through her work as a CPW, Catherine has also developed the skills and confidence to help resolve conflicts and unite broken families and is viewed as a respected leader within her community.
The land was aromatic with plant life – unique to the species and the particular season. The fragrance of the flowering plants and the threat of showers mingled with the vaporous effects of aging cabbage and the repetitive buzz of insect life. We climbed up a dirt road, then followed a narrow path towards a sloping mountainside. Around a kitchen garden, we met the staff from Global Communities and partner organizations along with women from the community, all eagerly waiting to show us what they had learned and accomplished.
For the families and farmers who lived in these hills, you learned from example. That was the way in this poor area of Rwanda. Here at the Farmer Field School, high above a lake, it was a school without walls. There were different types of gardens, planted with a variety of crops to determine the optimum yields and learn what will produce best for each individual farmer and family. The bygone sounds of the shovel and spade, and the industry that reaped results for future generations, echoed in the background.
He was wearing bright yellow pants and a beige polo shirt, the logo of the sponsoring organizations etched in the front. He was our guide, a local resident, trained by Global Communities to be an agronomist serving his neighbors and as a by-product, teaching the visitors about subsistence farming on the minuscule plots they lived on. He knew everyone associated with the program, from the staff to the local farmers and families. He showed me why certain crops grew better in one type of garden, with less pest infestation and more water retention than the other two garden types. Maize works well with the elevated kitchen gardens. Cabbage works better with sunken plots. He demonstrated the importance of judiciously using and reclaiming water which led to larger yields. Irish potatoes, greens, carrots and a variety of crops produced in enough numbers could improve each family’s diet.
Through his training and the implementation of the program, he gave his community the chance to grow healthier foods and improve nutrition. His style was based on simple experimentation – helping farmers further improve their understanding of the relationships between land, nature and crops. More output, more food and less hunger. Simple. He was trained and now he trained his neighbors throughout these valleys and hills. Despite the stark conditions of daily life, he knew he was making a change for the better.
With the hum of activity around us, he articulated a clear overview of the kitchen garden, sunken beds, container garden, zaypits, mandala gardens, double deck beds, and so forth. I went to the watering hole that fed the gardens and pulled out my camera. He asked if he could use it, and I gave it to him. He took dozens of snapshots of me talking with the local women, the staff and the representative of the Rwandan government. I never saw a hint of emotion until I softly mentioned to him that the land he worked was part of his spirit. Then, just the faint line of a smile appeared.
In my time with the gentle agronomist, I learned the benefits and limitations of each garden, the uses of water and nutrition through his common sense approach. No wasted moves or words. We had the opportunity to eat the produce that the gardens generated. We talked more and he took more pictures. The demands of time drifted in; I had to move on to my next destination. We shook hands. He was getting closer to his destination and his passion was on full display. He had to go. There was another local community to teach, to check on and more land to dig.
“Boaz was born prematurely, we couldn't afford to care for him,” explains his Aunt. For three months, he was kept in an incubator, while his mother remained in critical condition. When she died, the father was left with two children (including Boaz) and a large debt. “We were advised to feed him powdered milk which cost 8,500 RWF ($12.50 US) per tin. But we were unemployed. We couldn't afford this” explains the father.
At the time, the family sought help from the local authorities who gave them admission papers for the nearby orphanage, Orphelinat Noel de Nyundo (ONN). Seeing no other alternative, in 2011, the family placed the child in the institution. Though the family continued to visit Boaz and monitored his well-being. “We would visit him on weekends,” says his Aunt. “If I couldn’t go, then my mother would visit, or his father or other family member would.”
Boaz’ grandmother was quick to say “when Boaz was 18 months, I felt like coming to the orphanage to take him back home… but when I came to the orphanage the nurses advised me to wait until he was at least 2 years”. His family understood the negative impact of institutional care and wanted him to move out of the institution as soon as possible.
Following a series of assessments, preparatory meetings, and home visits, the team of Social Workers and Psychologists confirmed the readiness of the family to receive Boaz and helped to prepare him for reintegration. Boaz is now fully reintegrated with the Father and Aunt and enjoying the love and warmth of the family. The placement is rated as highly successful by the Social Workers and Psychologists.
The Ishema Mu Muryango (IMM) Program, implemented by Global Communities, is working to safely and sustainably reintegrate children like Boaz into families and communities. He is one of 160 children who have since been safely reunited with his birth family since the program began in April 2013.
 Not his real name.
 Orphelinat is the French term for orphanage.
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