With over 11 million people, the small, land-locked country of Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa. It is also one of the poorest, with 57% of the people living in poverty. An estimated 37% are living in what is termed “extreme poverty”, not able to provide enough food for adequate nutrition, for themselves or their children. People suffering from hunger are extremely susceptible to sickness. When children are malnourished, their immune systems suffer and the normal childhood diseases, or a case of malaria can be fatal!
Partnering with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, ADRA Canada is implementing a program in the Kayonza District of Rwanda. Located in Eastern Provence, Kayonza District has suffered long periods of severe drought. Rains are sporadic and are usually not enough to bring crops and vegetables to harvest, using traditional methods of agriculture.
This region of Rwanda has seen a large spike in population due to the return of refugees. With very little funds, people returning from refugee camps are forced to settle in the least hospitable lands in the country. With years of failed harvests, people are in desperate need of help. The Ndego Sector of the Kayonza District is an extremely remote region that has not benefited from the poverty reduction programs offered by the government or Non-Governmental Organizations. Currently, ADRA is the only NGO that is working in the region.
When ADRA works in a community like this, it starts with a “needs assessment”. Families selected to participate in the program are those where the children are at the highest risk of acute malnutrition. ADRA workers that perform the survey are especially looking for families with at least one child under five years of age that are malnourished or has stunted growth. They also look for pregnant or lactating mothers that are malnourished. For this program, over 2000 of the most vulnerable households in the region will be helped.
Once selected, members form form “Community Care Groups”, where they will have many learning opportunities provided by ADRA. Here is how it works…to get a program like this started, and to implement it in the most efficient way possible, experienced ADRA staff provide training to carefully selected members of the community. In this “Training of Trainers” program, people learn important principles of health, nutrition and food production that they can then take back to their own villages. Equipped with new knowledge, tools and supplies, these students now become teachers and facilitators of the Community Care Groups.
Sessions start with basic health education. Mothers learn important principles that will help them prevent disease from spreading through their home and village. They also learn how to properly care for their children when they do get sick.
This is followed up with specialized training that demonstrates how families can grow nutritious food in their own back yard kitchen gardens, even on the dry marginal land that they live on. They are shown methods of rainwater harvesting, as well as alternative techniques of irrigation and moisture preservation, such as “wicking beds” and by using clay pots.
As part of the training, whole communities learn the importance of hygiene, sanitation and latrines as a way to reduce disease in the village.
While food distribution programs are necessary in times of disaster, it is never intended to be a long term solution. Through this type of educational approach to hunger, people learn skills that will help them feed themselves and their children for the rest of their lives.
Even families that are not selected for the program benefit indirectly from this type of community development. As they see their neighbors successfully harvesting nutritious food from their gardens, they become motivated to learn the new methods themselves, and the food security of the whole district is improved!