14 November 2012

Rwanda: Hope Among the Historically Marginalised in Nyaruguru

Many years ago, families of those categorised as historically marginalised made a living through rudimental pottery, hunting and entertaining people in ceremonies through their exceptional dance moves.

But as time went by, those past activities lost their appeal thus compelling them to resort to farming and animal husbandry in a society where land was scarce and precious.

Due to limited access to land coupled with societal negligence, the historically marginalised found themselves between a rock and a hard place forcing many to sink deeper into poverty.

"Lack of enough cultivable land is complicating our conditions," says Celestin Nzeyimana, a resident of Raranzige Cell of Rusenge Sector in Nyaruguru district.

"I make my living as a potter which earns me little money that is insufficient to meet my family's needs. Lack of land and domestic animals is affecting my quest to improved living conditions."

Members of the formerly marginalised communities claim that poverty affected society's perception of them.

"People disrespected and chastised us because of poverty," said Philippe Ruzindana, adding that at times others declined to share meals with them.

However, today, there is political will to open up opportunities for the historically marginalised by facilitating them to start up income-generating activities, access to education and skills development.

According to the Nyaruguru vice-Mayor in charge of social affairs, Angélique Nireberaho, there are various initiatives to alleviate poverty among vulnerable individuals.

"We support them like any other vulnerable individuals," she says.

There are over 600 families categorised as historically marginalised in Nyaruguru District. According to officials, the most vulnerable amongst them have benefited from various support programmes like the One Cow Per Poor Family (Gir'Inka) and the Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), among others.

"We have helped them to acquire decent housing and donated animals to the most vulnerable in a bid to help them improve their livelihoods," the district Mayor, Francois Habitegeko, noted.

"Others have received direct cash support through the Vision 2020 Umurenge programme".

Statistics to determine the actual number of beneficiaries were not available by press time. A month ago, one of the beneficiaries, Josephine Nyiramisigaro, 50, received a cow under the Gir'inka programme and expressed optimism about a better future.

"I believe this is the beginning of a long journey towards a transformed life," she says.

"I believe it's (cow) output will be critical in changing my life," she adds, referring to various cattle products like manure and milk.

To have a more sustainable impact, the district is in the process of unveiling a 'long term' project to assist the historically marginalised.

"The idea is to modernise their activities starting with pottery, their traditional art," says Nireberaho.

Dubbed Gitara Project, the name of the village where majority of the historically marginalised live, the project targets about 94 families.

It is due to start off in January with the setting up of basic infrastructure in the village, including a market, an entertainment hall and electricity connection, among others.

The five-year project will cost Rwf 56 million, according to district officials.

"We want to equip them with skills which will enable them to shift from making pots worth the paltry Rwf 200 to more lucrative handicrafts," Nireberaho says.

"We want to put much focus on making of bowls and other modern vessels that can earn them enough revenues rather than the current cooking pots".

The New Times understands that some of the products produced through the programme will be sold to tourists and pilgrims at the Holy Lands of Kibeho, an area which has become famous after the reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three young school girls in the early 1980s.

Apart from modernising the ceramic craft, the project also seeks to valorise the cultural talents of the historically marginalised including dance and music.

Under the project, a cultural troupe will be formed. Its members will then receive training from a skilled trainer to perfect their skills, according to the officials.

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