18 October 2017

Rwanda: Model Villages - How Economy is Growing Along With Fortunes of Vulnerable Households

Photo: Faustin Niyigena/New Times
The front view of the housing units that make up Gikomero model village.
opinion

It's a few minutes past 11am. Thonis Uwamurera, 48, a single mother of four, is walking from her garden. It has drizzled, the sky is about to open-a perfect time for potato farmers like her to plant.

Uwamurera is rushing home to save washed clothes from the rain before she could settle to prepare lunch.

And here, she ushers us into her house for what turned out to be an insightful conversation. Painted orange, with wooden ceiling and a five-seater couch, we are in Uwamurera's home.

She switches on power and quickly turns it off, "oh power is on... I need to charge my phone," she says.

"Would you mind if I light the stove first to prepare you lunch before we can settle down for the interview?" Uwamurera, wearing a face of a lonely but happy woman, asks.

Before sitting, she dashes to one of the rooms and returns carrying two cups of milk. She offers me one, and she asks us to humble ourselves for a prayer.

"...thank you God that you have not only provided shelter but food for our bodies... Amen!"

Uwamurera shifted to Gikomero model village, in Gikomero Sector, Gasabo Sector, about two weeks ago. It is such a short time for one to gauge a change in any usual circumstances, but for her it has been sort of a lifetime.

She stops the long sip halfway, wipes her lips and says, "Life has completely changed for me. Only those who saw me while I was still in Gatsata would testify to this, but I promise you, this is a 360 degree shift of life. I don't have anyone here but the fact that I am in a fully furnished house without worrying about the rain sweeping away my shelter is unimaginable."

Uwamurera's children are still in school and she had to leave them in Gatsata, a city suburb of Gasabo District, at a former neighbour's home to first finish school before they can join her in their new home.

"See, we moved here during rainy season. Back in Gatsata, whenever it rained, my children and I wouldn't sleep. The house leaked and it was right next to a trench in a scary high-risk zone. We had to stay awake just in case our house is washed away so we could find a way to scape," she says.

In the same boat...

Uwamurera's story might be unusual to many but not to the 63 families who were relocated to the Gikomero model settlement. Each one of her new neighbours has a captivating story about their previous life and another of where they are today.

Thomas Ndagijimana, 44, was a homeless father of seven and grandfather of three. Similar to Uwamurera, Ndagijimana, who is physically impaired, lived in a high-risk zone in Kinyinya Sector, Gasabo District.

"I am an artist and I tried so much to provide for my family but it was so difficult because what I earned was not enough for me to afford food and rent a decent home. You would say that we were homeless. Having a home to call ours is the best thing that has ever happened to my life," Ndagijimana says.

Ndagijimana can now afford to ride his wheelchair to the land allocated to these new members of the community for farming.

"I thank God that I have a home. I have a big house to accommodate my family and food in the house. The life I lived before was hard to say the least. I consider this as yet a foundation, given to us by the government, to build a new life. My family is truly grateful," he says.

On September 29, a total of 63 most vulnerable families, some of them disadvantaged Genocide survivors, were relocated to Munini Cell, Gikomero Sector, in the new model settlement.

Faustin Shumbusho, the executive secretary of Munini Cell, said there are 16 houses constructed in four-in-one format, totaling to 64 housing units. A unit is yet to be occupied as the designated occupant was yet to move in at the time of our visit.

The three-hectare piece of land on which the structures sit was initially a farmland but after identifying a number of residents living difficult conditions, Gasabo District administration thought that the area should be turned into a home for the homeless, hence setting it aside for settlement site.

"This model settlement is not only benefiting occupants but all the people of our Cell because it comes with a new market, school, police post, health centre, recreational facilities among other infrastructures like clean water and electricity," Shumbusho said.

Each housing unit cost the district Rwf36 million, excluding a storey administration building that houses a police post that is worth Rwf100 million, according to Luis de Gonzague Rwamucyo, the executive secretary of Gikomero Sector.

Rwamucyo said the district is planning to build more five raised houses, this time eight-in-one that will accommodate more vulnerable families in Gasabo.

The project is being implemented under the rural settlement policy, that seeks to have residents living in rural areas to live in well planned settlements.

The Integrated Development Programme (IDP model village) was initiated in 2010 to promote proper human settlement in rural areas, and all the thirty districts of the country will have an urban community settlement, commonly known as 'model village,' by the end of this financial year.

The Government has allocated Rwf15 billion to the project during the current fiscal year, according to the Rwanda Housing Authority.

Augustin Kampayana, the head of human settlement, planning, and development at Rwanda Housing Authority, told The New Times recently that the money will be used to boost districts' efforts to resettle at least 30,000 households that are currently set up in scattered settlements and high risk zones.

He said some 40,000 households from such areas were relocated and properly settled during the last fiscal year.

Development experts say that Rwanda is developing "rapidly" and this raises the need to align its development with organised settlement.

In view of this, the Government has set targets to have 70 per cent of Rwandans residing in rural model villages and 35 per cent living in urban areas by 2020.

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