A Genocide Survivor's fight against Poverty

Vestina Uwicyeza cradling a chick (Photo: UNDP/Elena Ganan)
“My family and I lived in abject poverty. We had nothing but a grass thatched house where we were subject to isolation”, says 44 year old Vestina Uwicyeza. Vestina lives with 2 of her children and 3 others belonging to her late sister who died in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As the sole breadwinner of a family of 7, she is a proud example of the success story behind the integrated One UN development project in Nyagatovu model village.

“My family and I lived in abject poverty. We had nothing but a grass thatched house where we were subject to isolation”, says 44 year old Vestina Uwicyeza. Vestina lives with 2 of her children and 3 others belonging to her late sister who died in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As the sole breadwinner of a family of 7, she is a proud example of the success story behind the integrated One UN development project in Nyagatovu model village.

The village is part of an integrated initiative implemented by the ministry of local government with financial and technical support from UNDP and other UN agencies. The project was designed following lessons learnt from the Songhai agricultural model in Benin to re-settle Rwandans in a more conducive community environment taking into account environmental management and local governance enhancement.

Consequently this village has been able to support 85 households such that every family in the village has a house of 3 bed rooms, a sitting room and a kitchen. The kitchens are equipped with a biogas cooker and improved wood stove which doesn’t require much firewood. Every household has a green kitchen garden fertilized by the waste from the biogas digester.

Integrated Development Project's Highlights

  • The Government motivates the population to gain ownership of the project, in particular by encouraging villagers high participation during the planning and implementation processes of the project
  • By 2017, every Rwandan district will have at least 1 IDP village (there are 30 district in total)
  • In the long-term, all Rwandan rural areas will be organized in a similar manner as IDP villages

The families living in this village include widows, orphans and PLHIV/AIDS and upon resettlement, they are encouraged to form cooperatives depending on the type of economic activity to be undertaken. Those that could keep the cows given by this project were identified with the help of a vet doctor.  

The project then constructed a cow-shed with the capacity to accommodate 150 cows. Today the cowshed holds 70 cows. With the cooperative formed by the cow owners, each member is equally responsible for the cows. The members also support each other. The milk is shared among the residents and the extra is sold. The cowshed has 2 tanks one for collection of rainwater and another for the cow dung and urine used to make biogas. This cow waste is feed into the Biogas digester constructed by the project.

The model village also has a greenhouse for tomatoes managed by the women’s cooperative. These tomatoes are sold and the profits shared amongst the members. The women have a common saving scheme. This green house feeds into the framework of food security alongside sustainable income for the families.

With an infectious smile, Vestina recounts how her life has changed since the start of the project. “When we were told about the resettlement plans, we were very excited because we were joining a larger community where we could belong and have access to our leaders unlike before,” she says.

Looking around Vestina’s compound, it is easy to understand her excitement. It is difficult to compare the compound she lives in now with the idea of her in a grass thatched house with nothing.  She not only has the house with 3 bed rooms and a sitting room but also has electricity, a TV set and a modern cooking stove which does not use firewood as a measure to protect the environment. Asked how she amassed these things, with a touch of pride in her voice, she says she took a bold step to join all the cooperatives where many ideas were shared.

Enock Byabashaija, Coordinator of the project confirms the same. According to him, Vestina is the most agile woman in the community which explains why she has excelled thus far.  She has 3 cows whose waste she uses as fertilizer, 91 chicken layers with a modern incubator to hatch the egg and has managed to supply 740 chicks to her fellow co-operative members in the village.

She uses the remaining land in her compound productively by planting fruit trees including mangoes and avocados. She also has a vegetable garden and is part of the green house co-operative of tomato growers where she is the chairperson.

With the proceeds of these initiatives, Vestina has been able to not only provide for her family but has also seen her children through school. Her 2daughters, Devota and Emeline are at the University. “It gives me pride that my mother, a genocide survivor has achieved so much”, says Emeline, a student at the National University. Pursuing Biotechnology, Emeline Kamanzi maintains she is encouraged to study even harder because of her mother’s achievements. “The knowledge that my mother is self-sufficient and doing well back home gives me comfort” she says.

A few exchanges with this soft spoken mother, and it is clear why she is a success story and embodies the difference the UN, particularly UNDP’s support is making in Rwanda towards enhancing sustainable development and fostering a resilient people. It is indeed no surprise that her story has brought her visitors from a far including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose leadership she credits these initiatives.