By Nancy Okwengu
Gatoke village is one of the oldest and most crowded in the Gatsibo region of Rwanda. Full of small, shabby and tightly squeezed shanties and mud huts, the majority of residents are unemployed and spend their time wandering the streets. A few adults have menial jobs, such as working as casual labourers at construction sites and in small-scale farms; children play in the dirt and most do not go to school.
It is here that we find 81-year-old Zakaria Uwihore, and Evanice Mukandirimo, 26 years his junior. Like most people in the village, the couple suffered constantly from hygiene-related diseases. If they were not treating malaria, it was stomach pains or diarrhoea. But those days are now gone. Volunteers from the Rwanda Red Cross Society taught Zakaria and Evanice how to prevent malaria by clearing bushes and draining stagnant water around their home.
Zakaria has also taken it upon himself to clear his compound of bushes as often as possible. In addition, they learned how to clean and dry utensils properly. Instead of drying them on the grass and exposing them to various diseases, the utensils now dry in a raised dish rack. “The training the Red Cross volunteers gave us is the source of the positive change we have made in our lives,” says Zakaria.
Beyond hygiene education, the National Society is also involved in livelihoods support and provided the family with a with one cow which has given Zakaria enough milk to help him regain his strength so he can now work his farm again. The cow also provides Evanice with manure for her garden, and this has greatly improved their crop production.
“I used to harvest only 20 kilograms, but now I produce 120 kilograms twice per year,” says Evanice. “We divide some of the vegetables for our use and sell the rest at the local market.” From the income they earn, they buy clothes, soap and access medical care when necessary.
Before the Red Cross intervention, the couple had neglected their land, which they thought was unproductive, and would walk two hours to work a piece of land given to them by a relative which they thought would provide more food and surplus. But due to their poor health, this was a challenge and they often had to rely on well-wishers to support them. “Now I am back on my feet and I can work on my farm. I no longer depend on others,” says a proud Evanice.