Somehow surviving: A story of chronic need, hope and despair

By Sulah Nuwamanya-Partnership Development and Communications Manager for Actionaid Rwanda

Rwanda (Kigali) Bernadite Nyitogwiza of Muganza Village in Muganza Sector, Gisagara District, Southern Province has survived to the age of 88 despite a life of permanent challenge to meet her basic needs and those of her family.

Born in 1923 in the same community where she now lives, she and her husband had four children. All of them have since passed on, along with her husband, who died of natural causes about 20 years ago. She lives with her four grandchildren, the only immediate family members she has left. At 15 years of age, the eldest of these grandchildren is the primary income-earner for the household.

Bernadite and her family have depended on subsistence agriculture to survive, growing sorghum, maize and beans on such a small scale that they usually hardly have enough to eat or anything left over to sell for an income. In addition to farming their own land, the eldest boy works on other people’s farms to earn cash to purchase food and other necessities.

The most recent problem for Bernadite and her family is that their farmland of 1 hectare was taken over by the government in January 2011, in order to build communal houses. Local authorities promised compensation of 120,000 FRW, but 9 months later she has yet to receive any of the money. This devastating development has left the family with just their section of a banana plantation and the plot of land that is occupied by their house, as well as one pig that was donated through the sector local government.

The support that Bernadite and her family received from ActionAid has become all the more vital with the loss of their farmland. In 2010, she received stems and fertilizers for the planting ofapproximately 100 improved variety banana trees. Bernadite says that this support for the banana plantation has helped her to change her life. In addition to serving as a crucial source of nourishment for her and her grandchildren, the new trees have provided her with 10 bunches of bananas for sale, earning a total of Rwf10,000. With this money, she has been able to buy basic household items, such as soap and clothing. The next crop of bananas should be ripe for harvest in January, and Bernadite hopes to be able to sell 10 bunches again.

Despite the progress of the banana plantation, the life of the household remains very difficult. They still do not have enough to eat, and with the occupation of their farmland, the bananas have become their only crop. They have prepared land next to the house for a vegetable garden, but are still waiting for the sector authorities to distribute seeds for planting as promised. The grandchildren have been in and out of school, and the eldest has dropped out entirely to dedicate himself to doing the farming and earning money for the family, which they use to buy Irish potatoes when possible.

Bernadite’s hope for the future is that the eldest of her grandchildren will continue to do a good job of taking care of the rest of the family. She is also welcoming of any support she can receive from the government, and feels that the most helpful thing would be to receive livestock or money to rent land.

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