Inflammation and stories on Rwanda

COVID-19 response
While the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to come under control, many countries around the world have taken steps to economic recovery. African nations in particular, although prone to severe economic impacts, have shown significant progress in their COVID-19 response. According to the World Bank’s October 2020 Africa’s Pulse issue, GDP growth projections in all regions of Africa are positive for 2021 and 2022 following GDP growth decrease in 2020. This article highlights three countries that are demonstrating optimistic economic growth after COVID-19.

Rwanda

COVID-19 Response Measures: Rwanda has received recognition for its efforts to contain initial outbreaks. This is likely due to the country’s aggressive measures combining public health mandates and innovative utilization of technologies. What separates Rwanda’s response is its reliance on scientific guidance and a high-tech approach to health and social service policies. For example, treatment centers are using human-sized robots for temperature checks and supply deliveries. National enforcement also deployed drones to monitor and ensure compliance with lockdown measures.

Fiscal Policy: The December 2020 update on fiscal policy in Rwanda includes $314 million in economic stimulus, corporate tax exemptions and subsidies, cash transfers to citizens (unemployment benefits) and food assistance. Rwanda’s financial capacity proved beyond national resources but international support was able to expand it. UNDP Rwanda and the World Bank are currently working closely with the Rwanda Ministry of Finance to discern how much the COVID-19 response plan will need for operation.

Monetary Policy: The National Bank of Rwanda reduced the policy interest rate to 4.5%. It has further plans to establish liquidity and digital payment support measures. In Africa’s Pulse, the World Bank classifies Rwanda as the only country established in the Growth Taxonomy in sub-Saharan Africa. The taxonomy compares pre-pandemic performance to mid-pandemic growth. Expectations have determined that Rwanda will achieve the highest post-pandemic recovery with a GDP growth of 7%. With economic drivers like vaccine campaigns and investment and trade boosts, countries like Rwanda and Tanzania expect GDP increases. East Africa in general is expected to reach 5.1% GDP growth as opposed to the continental average at 3.2%.

Kenya

COVID-19 Response Measures: Kenya adopted many of the common direct response measures, such as a widespread lockdown. Additionally, the U.N. praised Kenya’s maintenance of well-equipped emergency treatment hospitals to best accommodate not only Kenyan patients but also U.N. personnel and partners. Kenya’s hospitals can also potentially play an important role in regional humanitarian development.

Fiscal Policy: Kenya announced a $534 million economic stimulus, a $377 million COVID-19 health expenditure, corporate tax exemptions and subsidies, cash transfers to citizens and food assistance. Like other African countries, Kenya is receiving financial assistance from major international entities such as the World Bank and the E.U. With 86 different donors, Kenya received Ksh 194,663,072,350 ($177,3769,915.25) for COVID-19 response plans.

Monetary Policy: The Central Bank of Kenya reduced the policy interest rate to 7% and planned liquidity support measures. Additionally, the government launched the National Hygiene Program (Kazi Mtaani) to reduce pandemic-induced unemployment. It offers employment with daily wages to the hardest-hit communities. Jobs include street cleaning, garbage collection and disinfection. Kenya’s trade activities also indicate promising economic recovery. According to the World Bank’s Africa’s Pulse, Kenyan exports have already recovered rapidly and have surpassed pre-pandemic highs.

Senegal

COVID-19 Response Measures: The World Bank highlighted Senegal as demonstrating a successful health response to COVID-19. Swift responses were key, particularly in regards to test capacity, quarantine facilities and ventilators. Preventative measures also included temperature checks and hand sanitizer distribution. By September 2020, 80% of confirmed cases had recovered.

Fiscal Policy: Senegal has an $801 million economic stimulus, a $130 million COVID-19 health expenditure, corporate tax exemptions and subsidies, cash transfers to citizens and food assistance. Some participating entities for Senegal’s financing include the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. For instance, AfDB contributed €88 million to support Senegal’s measures to provide relief to vulnerable households, businesses and job security initiatives.

Monetary Policy: Senegal’s monetary policy is in collaboration with other West African countries, including Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger and Togo. These countries work with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), which has made FCFA 4.750 billion ($8,383,750) available to banks and has reduced policy interest rates to 4%. In Africa’s Pulse Growth Taxonomy, Senegal is one of five countries in the top tercile of growth performers. It has a classification of “improved.” Improved GDP growth can indicate the first signs of economic recovery.

The Road to Recovery

As a result of early preventative policy measures, fiscal and monetary policies, international financing and trade initiatives, many African countries have paved a road to post-pandemic recovery. Rwanda, Kenya and Senegal are merely three of the African countries benefiting from smart policy measures and quick COVID-19 responses. In many cases, these countries are experiencing even higher levels of growth than they did before the pandemic. The steps that these countries and others took can serve as a model for how to navigate the economic hurdles of a global pandemic.

– Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda. 1994. 100 days. This was all it took for a band of Hutu extremists to commit the Rwandan Genocide, killing just under a million civilians. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda has prompted yearly remarks around the world. The United Nations sponsors these, discussing the horrific implications of the event. Survivors have come forth to tell their stories as they work to make impacts to prevent genocides in the future.

What Was The Rwandan Genocide?

Two neighboring castes lead Rwanda; the Tutsis and the Hutus. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi was a power struggle between these dividing castes. Although the Hutus largely outnumbered the Tutsis, with “about 85% of Rwandans,” the Tutsi had been in power for a long time. In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and civilians fled to neighboring countries. Rwanda remained under the Hutu dictatorship for many years following.

Long thereafter, a group of Tutsi exiles formed a rebel group known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They stormed Rwanda in 1990 and fought until 1993 when both parties agreed upon a peace deal.

However, the peace agreement broke on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a known Hutu, was shot down. Hutu extremists blamed the RPF for the killing. Soon thereafter started the mass genocide that resulted in the killing of over 800,000 people. Government troops backed up the Hutus, many of whom forced civilians and youths to fight and to exercise the slaughters. The RPF stormed the capital, Kigali, on July 4, 1994, to gain back power.

Help from The World Food Programme

The Rwandan genocide forced many civilians into starvation, often unable to provide for themselves or their families. The World Food Programme provided emergency food assistance to those in need, targeting the “fundamental role food plays for vulnerable communities fleeing from conflict.” One Rwandan that the WFP helped is Liberee Kayumba. A survivor of the genocide, she was only 12 when she lost both of her parents and brother, experiencing starvation following the conflict. Now working as a monitoring officer for the Mahama Refugee Camp organization, she helps others suffering from food insecurity.

On the WFP’s Website, Liberee tells her story. She says that the memories from the genocide helped motivate her to want to help people in need. Liberee remembers how food availability was the main problem after the genocide for her and other survivors. Therefore, she has exact memories of the meals the WFP distributed, which she thinks saved her life.

The United Nations Conducts The International Day of Reflection

The U.N. has mandated an information and educational outreach programme to help survivors and others cope with the ramifications of the Rwandan Genocide and their resulting losses. This program emerged in 2005 with the main themes of preventing genocide and supporting survivors. Around the world, events such as “roundtable discussions, film screenings, exhibits and debates” occur yearly.

The slogan of 2020’s event was International Day of Reflection. It marked the 26th anniversary of the genocide, with a virtual observance for all to join in on. Multiple officials and survivors made sure to show up, including Jacqueline Murekatete. She is a lawyer, human rights activist and founder of the nonprofit organization Genocide Survivors Foundation. Murekatete lost her entire family in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide when she was only 9 years old.

The U.N.’s yearly observance reminds us to reflect on past events and recount what we can do to promote resilience and growth among countries facing hardships. Those this horrific event impacted have the chance to mourn and reflect, looking toward the greater good as individuals strive to create a better future for all.

– Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Rwanda
In 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide that resulted in the death of approximately 1 million people and the displacement of millions more. Many are still feeling the results of this genocide to this day, just 27 years later. Studies have shown that 94% of the population witnessed at least one traumatic event during the genocide, including the death of a loved one, the destruction of their home or a threat to their lives. As a result, approximately 25% of the population meets the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Every April, during the annual commemoration of the events, there is a spike in people experiencing symptoms of PTSD and anxiety. The burden of mental health in Rwanda is a pressing concern for the country and it has made great strides to tackle this challenge.

The State of Mental Health Care Globally

Mental health services are often the last health service that undergoes establishment or receives funding. Globally, mental health professionals account for just 1% of the workforce worldwide. Meanwhile, 45% of the world’s population has access to just one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, even though over 10% of the global population has a mental health disorder. These numbers are even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average rate of mental illness is about 12%. There are only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Rwanda.

What the Rwandan Government is Doing

Despite these grim statistics, the Rwandan government recognized the need for large-scale mental health services in the wake of the genocide. In 1995, it established a national mental health service with the goal of providing services within the context of the community.

Since then, mental healthcare has featured in many of Rwanda’s health goals, including Rwanda’s Fourth Sector Strategic Plan, which the country passed in 2018. This plan set goals and strategies for the nation’s health care for six years since its implementation (until 2024). It sets up several strategies for the future of care for mental health in Rwanda. These include having mental health intervention in all health centers and community units, defining the mental health package for each level, scaling up the surveillance and reporting system for following up with patients and expanding services for the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

Another strategy is the construction of a National Mental Health Care Center. The plan considers mental health alongside physical health issues such as malaria. It even includes a section ensuring people with disabilities, who are often cannot access mental health plans, have access to care.

The Rwanda Ministry of Health also teamed up with Johnson & Johnson in 2018 to establish a five-year three-pronged approach to understand the burden of mental disorders, decentralize care and increase access to affordable, quality medicine. These two plans, if implemented successfully, will provide access to mental health services for much of the country and ensure a healthier, happier population.

The Future of Mental Health Care

These plans are especially vital right now, as, due to the inherent trauma of living through a global pandemic, the burden of mental health in Rwanda and throughout the world is sure to rise. Governments need to be willing and able to commit to ensuring the continued mental health of their people. Rwanda has become an example in sub-Saharan Africa and much of the world for how to integrate mental healthcare into a national health plan. Hopefully, these plans will continue to improve the state of mental health care in the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

– Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Pixabay

The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda is a small but population-dense nation in Africa neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 1994, Rwanda’s Hutu ethnic majority slaughtered an estimated 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority in the Rwandan Genocide. Today, many people regard it as one of the most brutal genocides in history.

When the revolution ended the killing, communities had to pick up the pieces amidst trauma and broken trust. Though much healing still has to occur, Rwandans have been working tirelessly to repair the emotional scars the genocide left 25 years ago using restorative justice practices. Neighbors who so recently slaughtered each other’s families set an example for the world by making amends and living side by side in the new peace they found.

How the Rwandan Genocide Happened

Until 1959, Rwanda was a colony of Belgium, and Belgian leaders favored the Tutsi racial minority. After the Hutu revolution that established Rwanda as an independent nation in 1962, many Tutsis fled the country and took refuge in Uganda and formed the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda in 1990. The Hutu leaders increased racial profiling and accused many citizen Tutsis of being part of the RPF.

In 1994, when the Rwandan president died by assassination, Hutu militias took charge and began slaughtering Tutsis and anti-violence Hutus. Extremists blasting messages encouraging Hutus to murder their Tutsi neighbors took over government radio stations. When the RPF took power later that year, the Tutsi population had undergone decimation, and refugee camps in neighboring countries experienced overcrowding.

The RPF did not seek revenge. It established a coalition government including a constitution with no ethnic mentions which underwent ratification in 2003. The killing had stopped, but the emotional scars ran deep through Hutus and Tutsis alike. Significant measures would be necessary to repair the psychological harm that participating in and witnessing such brutal violence caused.

Addressing Trauma Through Restorative Justice

Violence occurs neither spontaneously nor in a vacuum. Experiencing trauma without opportunities to process it is a big predictor of violent behavior. Elaine Barge, director of Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience at Eastern Mennonite University, uses the term “cycles of violence” to describe the perpetuation of violence in a community whereby victims become likely offenders due to experiencing trauma. Racial tensions beginning in colonization leading up to the Rwandan Genocide were likely sources of trauma for all ethnic groups.

Restorative Justice is an evidence-based model with a design to break these cycles. The main element in Restorative Justice is victim-offender mediation. In this process, both the victim and offender start by meeting with a mediator separately in order to prepare for the mediation. Then, if both parties are willing, they can meet in a formal conference, oftentimes including other community members. This simple act of seeing and acknowledging the other causes an empathic response for both victim and offender that can alleviate negative feelings about the traumatic event.

Everyone present shares their experiences during and after the transgression. The offender has an opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness. If the discussion is going well, all parties work together to agree on what the offender can do for retribution.

Though some risk of deepening emotional wounds exists during such a discussion, in most cases the offender is grateful for the opportunity to apologize and offer retribution, and the victim has an easier time moving past the traumatic experience. The empathic response in the brain of the offender is a crucial component reducing the chance they will re-offend.

Reconciliation

Though an International Criminal Tribunal tried high-level planners of the Rwandan Genocide, many low-level offenders participated in Gacaca courts, primarily with sponsorship from the NGO Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and oftentimes after serving many years in prison. Tutsis who watched their families die met with those murders voluntarily to restore peace in the nation. After these meetings, many Hutus and Tutsis built new homes together with communal structures such as wells. These new villages all around the country can be home to hundreds of Rwandans sharing food and caring for each other.

Mass violence like that of the Rwandan Genocide can be devastating to the well-being of communities as well as mental health on an individual level. The success of Gacaca courts lends support to the effectiveness of restorative justice for addressing trauma and rebuilding the relationships necessary to keep communities running smoothly.

– Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

 Mental Health in Rwanda Rwanda is a small country in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda has struggled to become a stable country economically and politically since it became independent in 1962. As a developing country, Rwanda is still trying to develop its healthcare system. With years of conflict and instability, people especially struggle with mental health in Rwanda.

5 Facts About Mental Health in Rwanda

  1. The Rwandan Genocide plays a significant role. Roughly 25% of Rwandan citizens struggle with PTSD and one in six people suffer from depression. The reason why so many Rwandans have mental health conditions can be explained by one key event in Rwandan history. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. The mass genocide caused severe trauma to survivors who still suffer from mental health issues 26 years after the event.
  2. Rwanda has very few resources. According to the World Health Organization, Rwanda has only two mental health hospitals, zero child psychiatrists, and only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. With a large amount of the population plagued by mental health issues, Rwanda needs more resources to help the mentally ill.
  3. Suicide rates have greatly decreased in Rwanda. In 2016, the suicide rate in Rwanda was 11 deaths per 100,000 people. This is a great improvement compared to the 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2000. An increase in mental health resources contributes to the lowering of the suicide rate in Rwanda.
  4. Increased mental health funding is essential. The average mental health expenditure per person in Rwanda is 84.08 Rwandan francs. Most citizens of Rwanda do not have the financial resources to afford mental healthcare. The government currently uses 10% of its healthcare budget on mental health services. Considering how large the mental health crisis is, the government should increase its expenditure to address the crisis. Since citizens cannot afford to pay for mental health resources, the government will need to help provide more free or affordable resources.
  5. The Rwandan Government is updating policies to address mental health. In 2018, Rwanda’s updated strategic plan for its health sector set new targets for expanding mental health care services. Its purpose is to help increase access to mental health resources by decentralizing mental health and integrating it into primary care. Also, this plan calls for a decrease in the cost of mental healthcare and an increase in the quality of care. The plan hopes to accomplish strategic goals by 2024. If successful, this plan may be used as a method to help other countries establish a quality mental health plan.

The Road Ahead for Rwanda

Considering Rwanda’s violent history, it is no surprise that the population struggles with mental health. Over the years, progress has been made with regard to mental health in Rwanda. However, many more resources are needed to help address the mental health crisis in Rwanda. With Rwanda’s updated strategic plan to address the issue and an increase in expenditure, the well-being of Rwandan’s will be positively impacted.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr

Impact Investing in RwandaImpact investing is a growing industry with huge potential for combatting poverty around the world. The practice consists of firms and individuals directing capital to businesses and enterprises that have the capacity to generate social or environmental benefits. Traditional businesses tend to avoid such investments due to the high level of risk, low liquidity and general difficulty to exit if returns are not satisfactory. Most impact investing is done by particularly adventurous capitalists as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that aim to create social change. Impact investing in Rwanda, in particular, has yielded positive results.

AgDevCo

AgDevCo is an example of a social impact investing firm that aims to invest with the intention of reducing poverty and increasing opportunity in developing regions. Based in the United Kingdom, AgDevCo was incorporated in 2009 and has engaged in numerous projects since.

The firm’s specific area of investment is in African agriculture, where it believes that impactful investments have the potential to be a significant force in reducing poverty. The firm is currently investing in eight different African countries. Its portfolio includes $135 million worth of funds in 50 different companies. These investments have engaged more than 526,000 customers and have created or sustained more than 15,000 different jobs.

Uzima Chicken Limited

One of its investment projects is a partnership with the East African poultry company, Uzima Chicken Limited. Uzima Chicken produces and distributes the Sasso breed of chickens. Sasso chickens are resistant to disease and can feed through scavenging. These beneficial traits make Sasso chickens particularly useful in the struggle to reduce poverty in East Africa.

In 2017, AgDevCo invested $3 million to support Uzima’s establishment in Rwanda. As a result of the investment, Uzima gained funds necessary for rapid operational growth as a domestic producer of poultry. This is in line with the government of Rwanda’s strategy to achieve poultry self-sufficiency in two to three years. Uzima has also been able to expand into Uganda, where its business is rapidly scaling upwards.

The Uzima Business Model

The Uzima model of business involves the employment of company agents who raise the chicks for six to eight weeks before selling them to low-income households in rural areas. Such a model provides benefits to farmers, who can increase income through the sale of the more valuable Sasso chickens, as well as the agents.

Agents typically make a 25% profit from selling chickens. A survey of Uzima agents found that, on average, 27% of household income came from selling Sasso chickens. By providing a reliable source of extra income for employed agents, Uzima helps to alleviate the burdens of poverty for these people. As of 2017, the efforts had created 150 new jobs, 40% of which are held by women. Rwandan women have benefitted significantly from Uzima’s employment with 64% of women agents reporting that the income they earned from selling Sasso chickens led to a positive change in the decision-making power they had in their households.

Impact Investments for Poverty Reduction

Uzima’s Sasso chickens grow faster, live longer, produce more eggs and have higher market prices. They are disease-resistant and thrive in local, rural conditions. Out of all the customers buying these chickens, 54% live below the $2.50 poverty line. AgDevCo investment gave Uzima the capital necessary for operational expansion, and as a result, a greater quantity of impoverished people in East Africa could buy superior chickens and increase income. Uzima’s business also has clear potential for women’s empowerment, making it a great tool in the effort to reduce poverty and inequality in the region.

The impact investments made by firms like AgDevCo have clearly measurable impacts in impoverished regions, particularly noting the success of impact investing in Rwanda. This makes impact investment firms an important part of the global effort to reduce all poverty.

Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

Sugira MuryangoAround the world, the effects of poverty negatively impact childhood development in more than 200 million children. Child development outcomes play a key part in a country’s advancement and the state of the economy. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “Children living in compounded adversity face increased risks of poor child development outcomes and emotional and behavioral problems that can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and violence.” However, in 2016, the implementation of an innovative home-visiting intervention program in Rwanda called Sugira Muryango is fighting to break these cycles.

Violence and Intergenerational Poverty

In past studies, social programs aimed toward child development have been more focused on mothers of the households. However, the developers of Sugira Muryango (researchers at Boston College’s School of Social Work and the nonprofit FXB Rwanda) chose to implement this program to focus more on the father’s role within the household and child’s life.

Rwanda is a key place to evaluate this program due to the persistent household violence and gender roles within Rwandan society. Traditionally, Rwandan society has held few expectations for fathers within the household. However, a positive male figure plays an important role in a child’s developmental outcomes.

The data of some surveys taken in Rwanda by Promundo and the Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre on masculinity and gender-based violence convey shocking truths. The surveys reported that 73% of men and 82% of women agreed with the statement, “a woman’s most important role is to take care of her home” and 44% of men and 54% of women agreed that “a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together.” Lastly, 45% of men saw their dads beat their moms in childhood and 38% of those men became violent toward their own partners in adulthood. Men who witnessed violence at home as children were more likely to perpetuate it, indicating that children emulate behavior, both positive and negative.

Methods Used in the Sugira Muryango Program

As a response to this violence, Sugira Muryango was implemented as a home-visiting intervention program that targets the poorest households with young children (aged between 6 months and 26 months) in Rwanda. The program offers coaching to caregivers of the household in order to teach parents, specifically fathers, positive caregiving practices, nutrition skills, hygiene skills and basic involvement.

The program uses methods of home visits and caregiving coaching in order to improve family relations. The family-based model aims to encourage responsive and positive interactions as well as discourage violence and harsh punishment. In providing this coaching through these methods, it is possible to improve not only parent-child relations but also child development outcomes. With these improved outcomes, Rwanda should see improvements as the children reach adulthood and in breaking the cyclical poverty which should then improve Rwanda’s general development as a country. 

The Impacts of the Program in Rwanda

Not only did the results of the program aid in the decrease of violence within Rwandan homes but it also helped improve mental health rates among Rwandan fathers. Furthermore, reports indicate changes in parents’ behaviors towards the child, including responsive care and play, dietary diversity, care-seeking for child health problems and reduced family violence.

Potential Global Impacts

The Sugira Muryango program is playing an important role in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty within Rwanda. Although the lasting effects of this program need to be studied as the children grow, the immediate effects have aided in reducing violence and improving family relationships. If integrated into other low to middle-income communities and countries, the overall effects should be promising in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty on a global scale.

– Caroline Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Rwanda
Rwanda, the land of mille collines as the French would say, harbors countless picturesque hills. Unfortunately, the breath-taking landscapes of the Central African country are also witnesses of major crimes against humanity. Human trafficking in Rwanda consists of one of the most disquieting concerns for human dignity.

The Situation

Over the years, there has been substantial economic growth in the landlocked Sub-Saharan country. However, Rwanda has still not ceased to be a destination country for human traffickers taking advantage of high rates of unemployment, homelessness and gender inequalities.

Umutesi is one of the many girls who fell victim to human trafficking in Rwanda. In 2018, an elderly woman approached her and offered a job that seemed like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Desperate for a job, she accepted the offer and traffickers sent her to Nairobi, Kenya under strict orders to hide her passport. Instead of the job at a supermarket she expected to find, she found herself in a slave market, called the office, where prospective buyers browsed.

“We were sold off like mere commodities,” is how she described what had happened to her at the office.

She ended up working in heavy labor, experiencing sexual and physical abuse and surviving in inhuman conditions. Additionally, she changed homes three times with each worse than the one before. When she succeeded in reaching a Rwandan diplomat via a phone she kept discretely, she made an escape plan that required patience and incredible endurance.

Finally, with the help of her government, she escaped and was able to fly back to Rwanda. Like many other victims, she also received free access to health care services and a little funding. Now, she manages a local grocery market and always expresses her gratitude for the second chance she got in life.

Unemployment in Rwanda

Umutesi’s story is very common in Rwanda. Men, women and children, especially those who are vulnerable due to unemployment and homelessness, frequently become targets of sexual exploitation and forced labor.

According to the 2020 data, the number of unemployed Rwandans surpassed 900,000 in May 2020. In fact, unemployment numbers were below 550,000 in February 2020. On top of the overall rates, 20.6% of the youth in Rwanda remain unemployed. Needless to say, this situation is likely to only exacerbate human trafficking in Rwanda.

Never Again Rwanda (NAR)

Never Again Rwanda (NAR) emerged in 2002 in Kigali in response to the 1994 Tutsi genocide. The NGO that initially aimed to establish a safe environment for youth expanded its scope to address its current core pillars: peacebuilding, governance & rights, research & advocacy, sustainable livelihood, education and youth engagement. The organization cooperates with USAID, the Global Fund for Children, the E.U. and other counterpart organizations. Recent research that the organization conducted showed that around 77.67% of human trafficking victims in Rwanda are female. Despite employment being higher among women than men in Rwanda, women are still more likely to become targets due to lower rates of education among them and the demand for sexual slavery.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, human trafficking in underdeveloped countries like Rwanda may experience an increase. While many countries are pushing for a digital transformation, human traffickers use aggravated unemployment as an opportunity to pick the most vulnerable. According to the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, the increasing rates of unemployment, malnourishment and school closures will result in increased human trafficking.

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted the RECOVR Survey in July 2020 to provide data and evidence to decision-makers to reduce the detrimental effects of COVID-19. The survey found that 74% of the households in Rwanda consider themselves at high risk during the pandemic, showing the highest rate among other surveyed Sub-Saharan countries. Additionally, 70% of the agriculture-workers reported suffering from altered harvests and sales.

Human Trafficking in Rwanda increased to 96 cases in 2019, whereas there were reports of only 33 cases in 2018. Considering the aggravated unemployment and declined social standards with the arrival of the pandemic, 2020 likely give way to increased human trafficking in Rwanda.

The Rwandan Government

Though there is light at the end of the tunnel for girls like Umutesi, the Rwandan government has assumed a plan called Vision 2020 to tackle poverty through strategies to boost sustainable economic growth. Additionally, Rwanda aims to boost its knowledge-based economy, investments in the private sector, agriculture and infrastructure development. The Government of Rwanda adopted policies to make labor recruitment companies register for a license from the Ministry of Labour and submit monthly reports. The anti-trafficking law that Rwanda introduced in 2018 penalizes sex and labor trafficking with up to 15 years of imprisonment, although the President of Rwanda is yet to sign the legislation for it to undergo full enactment.

There have been notable constructive developments to combat unemployment and human trafficking in Rwanda, yet scarce resources, lack of testimonies, capacity and cooperation continue to complicate the situation. As such, there are still several commitments that the Rwandan government ought to strengthen to reach the minimum standards in eliminating human trafficking. These include:

  • Participation and communication with international communities to increase awareness campaigns and information sharing.
  • The development of a more centralized systematic screening mechanism to identify victims.
  • The provision of training to anti-trafficking units and divisions.
  • Cooperation with the international community to boost education and employment opportunities.
  • Work to ensure gender equality in access to education.

Currently, Rwanda remains at Tier 2 status according to the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report for 2020. This shows that Rwanda has still not fully complied with the minimum standards to reduce trafficking, though it has implemented positive efforts. Through increased commitment and consistent assistance from the international community, the risks of Rwandan girls like Umutesi should reduce so that they do not become victims of human trafficking in Rwanda.

– Berrak Rasool
Photo: Flickr

Geographical Information Systems
Technology is an important tool in every facet of society. It revolutionizes the idea of progress and allows the world to interconnect. The usage of technology to benefit humanitarian aid has been no exception, such as revolutionizing the ability to transport supplies to provide urban communities with the tools necessary to ensure clean water access. Technology, such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), is a prominent tool in the fight against global poverty.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has solidified itself as a major inhibitor to global health in 2020. Many countries do not have the supplies, technology or economic safety nets to ensure that their people receive what they need throughout the pandemic. Many organizations are doing what they can to provide countries with the tools they need to combat COVID-19 in their communities. One of the largest Geographical Information Systems technology companies is Esri. It has been utilizing GIS technology in the context of humanitarian work for decades. Jack and Laura Dangermond founded Esri in 1969 in a Harvard lab. Since then, Esri has expanded and utilized this technology in a variety of sectors. For example, Esri used GIS technology to map the spread of Ebola in 2013.

Geographical Information Systems Mapping and COVID-19

As it became apparent that COVID-19 would become a pandemic, Johns Hopkins University began creating a virtual dashboard to depict concentrations of the virus in an attempt to stifle its spread. Johns Hopkins researchers utilized technology from Esri in order to do this. Throughout the pandemic, Esri has prioritized the lives of those in our international communities over monetary gain. As a result, Esri made all of its software and training modules available to international organizations for free. Additionally, Esri’s Disaster Response Program helps its international partners utilize its technology.

Transparency in regard to information is crucial in order to prevent the continued spread of the current pandemic. In order to properly combat the virus, community leaders must consider all societal factors. It is impossible to do this without access to all of the information relating to various communities. One can utilize Esri’s geographic information system technology to visualize the spread of diseases. It can also map disease response centers and the availability of medical supplies. For example, some have used GIS technology to show both hospitals and the availability of medicine, as well as preventative resources such as testing locations and isolation areas.

The usage of this technology for humanitarian coronavirus assistance does not stop there. GIS technology has also been useful in determining which international communities are the most at risk of coronavirus-related illness and community degradation. For instance, the geographical information system can map which communities contain the highest concentration of those at risk of the disease. It can also map the communities that have the highest GDP allocation to economic assistance and communities that have access to affordable medical care.

Rwanda as an Example

Rwanda is one country that has been utilizing GIS technology to its advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. The country uses geographic information system technology to effectively trace contact between people in their communities, enabling them to follow and contain the virus. This contact tracing has also helped allocate funds within Rwandan communities in efficient ways. With case and death numbers very low, it is possible that Rwanda’s use of GIS technology helped the country fight the virus.

While technology can bring about new problems, it can also bring about new answers. Knowledge is power, especially when combating an international pandemic. Additionally, geographic information system technology has been providing helpful information to international communities. The coronavirus pandemic threatens those in global poverty in many ways, both in terms of global health and economic prosperity. Accurate mapping of who is the most at risk is crucial to ensuring that nobody is forgotten throughout the pandemic.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: Flickr

Engineers Without Borders
Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is a foundation that partners with poor communities to help provide them with basic human needs. Its mission is to build a better world with engineering projects that will help solve the world’s most urgent problems. It builds to save lives.

Building Safe Structures

Many people are without a home in poverty-ridden countries, often living without so much as clean water or electricity. Due to environmental disasters, forced refugees and internally displaced people, many must roam the streets. Back in 2015, estimates determined that there were 100 million people facing homelessness. The need for durable and permanent refugee camps and homes is more pressing than ever. This is where EWB-USA saves the day. It addresses the challenges in engineering associated with “transitioning emergency infrastructure to more permanent systems,” which helps boost host communities who take refugees in.

Engineers Without Borders often takes on villages’ needs for bridges to aid in safer and easier travel. It found that one Guatemalan village had to walk three hours on dangerous mountain roads just to reach the capital. Access to capitals or bigger towns can be dire as they encapsulate hospitals, schools, markets and so forth. So, the Engineers Without Borders project team and volunteers decided to create bridges for these communities. The foundation takes up to several weeks to construct these bridges to make sure they are sturdy, safe and dependable for these villagers.

Engineers Without Borders also discovered the need for schools. It found out that a native Guatemalan girl had biked over an hour to reach her school. As a result, the foundation started building schools and improving the schools’ infrastructures, making them safe and durable. It has brought education to places like Guatemala, Lat Cantun II, Santa Eulalia and more.

Installing Solar Panels

Electricity is a luxury that not many homeless or poor people get. However, it is a necessity for the safety and well-being of many people. This is why EWB-USA not only makes solar panels for villages in need but also introduces and installs them. The solar panels bring hot water, better food storage, increased phone access and light to homes and schools alike. Engineers Without Borders also installs solar street lights to help keep the residents and refugees safe.

University students in EWB-USA even built a solar charging station for villages. These stations could be used by all, specifically to charge phones. It found that cell phones were extremely important for youths to apply for jobs, apply for housing and communicate with friends and family.

Engineers Without Borders helps bring electricity to these areas by partnering with foundations like IKEA and UNHRC. Its partnerships have been a key way to faster and more efficient help for these communities. Currently, Engineers Without Borders is working on over 55 projects located in more than 20 states and two territories, trying to make a difference.

Providing Clean Water

Clean water is yet another widely inaccessible luxury in many poverty-stricken countries. In Uganda alone, over 23 million people must walk over 30 minutes a day to get water that is often contaminated, bringing disease and even death. Engineers Without Borders saw how water brings life and found creative ways of providing clean water for villages. The foundation has dug and repaired wells, built rainwater catchment systems and constructed water filters. Additionally, it has built gravity-based water supply systems in phases for those in the mountains.

In Cyanika, Rwanda, the villagers benefited from one of the Engineers Without Borders’ creative rainwater catchment systems that consisted of two single tank systems. It allows the villagers to save time as well as their lives. One villager even sent a letter of thanks, expressing their gratitude as it bettered many lives, health and well-being of all the villagers.

Engineers Without Borders continues to fight to provide people their basic rights and needs. It continues to live up to its mission of building to save lives through the power of engineering. For more information about this organization, check out its website.

Katelyn Mendez
Photo: Pixabay