Inflammation and stories on Rwanda

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

Overpopulation in Rwanda
Rwanda is a small, highly populated, mostly rural country in Central Africa. Within the past few decades, the rate of population growth has grown to unsustainable and potentially dangerous levels. For instance, a woman in Rwanda has an average of 5.4 children and the country is on pace to double its already large population in just 24 years. As a small rural country, limited amounts of resources exist to support the overpopulation in Rwanda. This exponential increase will inevitably lead to problems with resource management.

Increased Access to Healthcare

Increased access to reliable healthcare in the country has certainly, in part, contributed to overpopulation in Rwanda. An ever-expanding amount of children survive into adulthood due to 82% of the country being vaccinated against deadly diseases. This may seem like a purely positive fact at first glance. However, as more children survive, the population grows and generates other problems. Third world countries, such as Rwanda, have limited access to adequate food and water supplies. The more people there are, the fewer resources there are available to each person. Moreover, the growing population has a direct link to more people suffering from malnutrition and starvation.

Geography and Resources

Rwanda is 10,000 square miles with a population density of more than 1,000 people per square mile. The immense overcrowding and strain on limited resources lead to stifled agricultural growth within the country. The farmland supports the population to the best of its ability, but there is very limited space for new fields for crops. The population explosion stagnates food production. Quality of life depends on adequate food access and overpopulation blocks that. Rapid population growth must stop to save the quality of life from deteriorating at an alarming pace in Rwanda. Two things they could look into are investing in family planning and education.

Family Planning and Education

Family planning helps reduce family sizes by providing different forms of birth control to eliminate unplanned births. Making family planning more accessible to all people should help reduce overpopulation in Rwanda.

The Belgian Development Cooperation is an NGO working in Rwanda to help limit the birth rate and population. They strongly believe that access to family planning, birth control and contraceptives is a human right. They are donating 26.7 million pounds to the Rwandan government to try and make family planning available to all of the people of Rwanda.

Education is also important in curbing rapid population growth. Investing in education is important because people with an education, especially women, generally tend to have fewer children.

Looking Forward

Something needs to be done in Rwanda to help stop the birth rate from increasing. Investing in methods to lessen birth rates, such as birth control and education, could have major influences. Working on being able to sustain an ever-increasing population is also a priority. Overpopulation is not just a problem in Rwanda; it is a global issue. Rwanda as well as the entire world should work to decrease birth rates. To sustain an acceptable standard of living, the world needs to take action before it is too late.

Samira Akbary
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Rwanda
Rwanda is a low-income country in East Africa with a population of 12.6 million as of 2019. The World Bank and the IMF have supported Rwanda’s economic development, which has been remarkable throughout the past decade. Following years of conflict that destabilized national progress, particularly the 1990-1994 genocide that claimed almost 1 million lives, there have been exemplary innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda.

In 2013, the Government of Rwanda drew its second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS II) as part of its Vision 2020 for socio-economic transformation, which included targets of a GDP growth of 11.5% and a 20% reduction in poverty levels. The Vision 2020 also aimed for an annual creation of 200,000 new jobs, 50% of them in non-agricultural sectors. The Government also founded the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) to further drive economic development. In 2019, RDB recorded $2.46 billion USD in investment commitments to Rwanda, with the U.S. being the top investor. Energy, water, manufacturing and the service industry attracted the highest investment. Notably, 46.5% of people in Rwanda were employed as of November 2019 with 61% of the total workforce in the agricultural sector. Here are some of the effective innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda.

4 Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Rwanda

  1. e-Soko: e-Soko is an Agricultural Market Pricing Information System that the World Bank has funded. It seeks to empower farmers to make more informed decisions on farming by allowing them to access pricing information through ICT. The program also connects the Ministry of Agriculture with the farmers in sharing key information and continues to provide weekly market prices of farm produce available online. In 2019, the World Bank scored Rwanda a trading food indicator of 69.19 out of 100, which is a measure of domestic farmers’ use of regulatory processes for agricultural production. In 2020, RDB and FAO partnered in a three-year project dubbed “Support local suppliers’ capacity development and promote e-commerce in Rwanda” for smart solutions in horticulture, livestock and agribusiness.
  2. Girinka: Loosely translated as “may you have a cow,” Girinka is an initiative to alleviate poverty in rural communities that the Rwandan Government spearheaded in 2006 in collaboration with several NGOs. Based on the Rwandan traditional practice of giving cows as gifts, the Rwandan Government granted heifers which provided milk to combat malnutrition in children, commodity through sale of dairy products and improved agricultural output through their organic manure. By 2017, 85% of the projected households had received a heifer each with a total of 298,859 heifers distributed. A survey from 2012 showed that 79% of the households were food secure. The initiative, also known as One Cow per Poor Family, has been a success story among the innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda.
  3. The One Laptop per Child Initiative: The Ministry of Education in Rwanda is committed to providing equitable, quality education for a skilled workforce in order to drive socio-economic development. To achieve this, the Government introduced changes in basic education such as a new Competence Based Curriculum that emphasizes social skills and application skills; the curriculum aims to reach a developing a workforce that is more productive. In line with this, in 2008, the Government launched an ICT program for primary schools labeled as the One Laptop per Child Program to increase understanding in mathematics, sciences and technology. As of 2019, 58% of primary schools, 85.4% of secondary schools and 51% of tertiary institutions in Rwanda were using ICT in teaching and learning. For the primary schools, 79.9% had science kits and 25.5% had a science laboratory. As of 2020, RDB put Rwanda’s literacy rate at 73.2%.
  4. Mobile Employment Services: In 2019, RDB introduced the Kora Portal, an online employment site that is one of the innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda. RDB further provided buses and ICT experts to take the services to remote parts of Rwanda. By 2020, the portal had registered 965 jobs, 62 employers and 4,800 job seekers. The portal also has a skills database that recorded 95,000 graduates. This was in line with the Government’s aim to create 1.5 million jobs by 2024. As of November 2019, Rwanda’s unemployment rate was at 15.4% in comparison to 14.3% in February 2018.

Prospects

Rwanda aims to become a middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050. In its Vision 2050, the RDB’s National Skills Development and Employment Promotion Strategy seeks to boost investment in the country, advance skills in the workforce and build on emerging technologies all to transform Rwanda’s socioeconomic status. The World Bank Group projected Rwanda’s annual GDP growth rate to be at 6.9% in 2021 in comparison to a low of 2% in 2020 from a high of 9.4% in 2019. Through the innovations in poverty eradication in Rwanda, the country’s socio-economic status should keep growing.

Beth Warūgūrū Hinga
Photo: Pixabay

Four Crucial Programs on Poverty Eradication in Rwanda
Rwanda has one of the fastest developing economies in Africa. This economic development depends greatly on poverty eradication in all parts of the country. Over the past 20 years, the Rwandan government has partnered with a number of organizations to start initiatives geared towards poverty eradication in Rwanda. These programs would help the poor by reaching the needs of local communities. Here are four initiatives meant to help end poverty in Rwanda.

Four Programs That Will Solve Poverty Eradication in Rwanda

  1. Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies (EDPRS): From 2008 to 2018, the government of Rwanda began Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategies one and two. These five-year campaigns focused on growing the country’s GDP, reducing the country’s poverty rates and reducing the income inequality between households. These campaigns followed the closing of the first Poverty Reduction Strategy which focused on emergency recovery from the effects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Moreover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that during the first five years of EDPRS I, GDP grew at an annual average rate of 8%. In addition, poverty in Rwanda dropped from 57% in 2006 to 45% in 2011. During strategy two of EDPRS, the government reinforced the district-based performance contract for better implementation and evaluation of the set poverty-reduction goals.
  2. One-Cow-Per-Family (Girinka Program): The Girinka Program was started in 2006 by the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. This program started after the realization that there were high numbers of malnourished children in poor families. The goal of the program is to tackle malnutrition in rural areas of Rwanda by giving one cow to each family. The benefits of the initiative would expand as cows reproduced calves and these calves were given to other families in need. The cows produced milk and the excess was sold to local dairy facilities. This helps the families greatly as they gain income from the cows while also being able to feed themselves.
  3. Umuganda: Umuganda means community work. It is common knowledge in Rwanda that on the last Saturday of the month, people will gather in their local communities to do community work. This work involves building houses for the homeless, cutting weeds in the neighborhood, helping in the construction of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and other necessary buildings in the local community. Additionally, Umuganda involves cleaning up the streets in urban areas. This extra activity helps to prevent pollution-related disease transmissions while discouraging littering. These community works are the norm in the country. In addition, every adult in a healthy condition is expected to show up at these events. Umuganda has been a channel for helping the poor in local communities. This activity encourages support and gives back to the community. After Umuganda, local leaders hold a community gathering. At the gathering, there are discussions of problems in the community and solutions reached accordingly.
  4. Savings and Credits Cooperatives (SACCOs): SACCOs are widely known as Umurenge SACCOs. The government of Rwanda started this initiative in 2008. The initiative aims to encourage financial inclusion. Umurenge SACCOs became more popular in rural areas where big commercial banks are often inaccessible. The Rwandan Cooperative Agency reports that these SACCOs focus on boosting rural savings and providing Rwandans with loans to help enhance their livelihoods in the long term. By 2012, SACCOs doubled the number of Rwandans who used a formal financial institution for banking and significantly improved financial literacy in rural areas of the country.

These poverty eradication programs have shown great results over the years. They reached many remote communities that are often forgotten. With the spread of technology in the country, the coming years promise better numbers on this journey of poverty eradication in Rwanda.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Rights in Rwanda
Rwanda, a nation rebuilt after a tragic genocide in 1994, has progressed in terms of gender equality rights and become one of the leading nations in terms of women’s equality. However, many gender-based issues still persist that limit women. Women’s rights in Rwanda are notably among the most progressive, but Rwandan women are still invisible in many senses.

Women in Government

Rwanda was the first country to have a majority of women in its government. In fact, women hold 64% of the Rwandan government seats, whereas men hold 36% of the seats. On paper, women’s rights in Rwanda seem to flourish and represent a standard for other countries. Following the genocide and the diaspora of a majority of the population, women made up more than 60% of the remaining population and became responsible for the workplace.

President Paul Kagame, who rebuilt Rwanda after the genocide, leads this nation of 12.3 million people. He created a new constitution mandating a reservation of 30% of the parliament seats for women. Since this new amendment from 2003, the Rwandan government has consisted of a mostly equal balance of men and women.

Gender Equality in Rwanda

Paul Kagame also implemented the Vision 2020 plan which consists of a transformation to a knowledge-based middle economy country, however without gender equality in the field of information and communication technologies, this vision will not become reality. Currently, 34% of higher education ICT graduates are women. To aid this gender inequality, the Rwandan Government has implemented strategies that will benefit women in ICT. It is also investing in programs to increase the number of women in the field.

This nation ranks fifth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index from 2016. The United States currently ranks 45th, so Rwanda is seemingly much more equal. The World Economic Forum measures the gender gap index by how far countries have gone in closing the gender gap across a different range of measures. The Gender Gap Report specifically highlights equality in health, education, economy and politics.

The World Economic Forum highlights women’s rights in Rwanda in two categories, economic and political. Women hold 86% of the labor force participation and the wage gap is 88 cents for women in comparison to only 74 cents for women in the United States. These statistics are notable, however, one can attribute much of this labor force participation to the lack of men able to work during the genocide and the number of women forced into the workplace.

Sexual Violence in Rwanda

While Rwanda is a standard of gender equality because of the high rates of women in the economy and politics, the prevalence of sexual violence still persists at an astonishing rate. During the genocide, others used women as weapons of war and they experienced rape to increase fear in the country. Even years after the genocide, thousands of Rwandan women are victims of sexual violence and can take little no legal action. One can attribute the majority of this to the lack of representation of women in police and judicial positions.

In an attempt to alleviate sexual violence, The Rwanda Men’s Resource Center implemented a program to put at-risk men and women in each other’s shoes. The Men’s Resource Center, created by nine men, attempts to address masculine behaviors and gender inequalities while promoting healthy family lifestyles. This program has yet to be successful in reaching and solving many Rwandan women’s struggles, but it is a step in the right direction to address gender violence.

This African country looks equal on paper,  but many of its citizens would disagree that male and female gender roles are actually proportionate. Gender equality has progressed greatly since the 1994 genocide, but the authoritarian system still limits women and they face disproportionate amounts of sexual violence with little legal or medical assistance. Rwandan women have made immense strides and are some of the leading forces for change in the nation.

– Caroline Pierce
Photo: Flickr

Gender Equality in Rwanda
Rwanda started the journey to women’s empowerment earlier than the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which encourages gender equality. Rwanda started encouraging gender equality after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and during its rebuilding. The country, therefore, developed a system that led to the appointment of more women in governmental leadership positions. This system also intensively invested in girl education. More women received encouragement to join the army and national security departments. After these interventions, the government started creating business opportunities and training for women. They were able to participate in activities that could provide them with an income. The following are some of the campaigns for gender equality that have been helping with achievements in Rwanda.

Isange One-Stop Center (IOSC)

IOSC is a national police-led center where victims of gender-based violence receive treatment and protection. Doing this helps to make sure that they can live healthy and developed lives. The program aims to provide psychosocial, medical, police and legal services. The Center provides these services to adult and child survivors of gender-based violence and child abuse occurring in the family or in the community at large. The U.N. office in Rwanda reports that there are currently 44 operating IOSCs in the country.

Parents’ Evenings (Utugoroba tw’Ababyeyi)

Parents’ Evenings are local evening gatherings that connect parents so they can discuss the community’s wellbeing. These evenings encourage conversations about fighting against gender-based violence in families. Additionally, these gatherings have discouraged different stereotypes about women and girls who faced discrimination in the local villages. These gatherings have also encouraged women to join together and invest in economic activities to generate income for them.

HeForShe Campaign

HeForShe is a U.N.-based campaign that aims to achieve global gender equality. The President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, joined this campaign and committed to bridging the gender gap in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) access. This tripled the number of girls enrolled in Technical and Vocational Training and also eradicated gender-based violence. These fields are crucial for achieving gender equality in Rwanda since economic development depends on them. In 2018, HeForShe reported that the number of women with access to mobile phones increased from 35.1% in 2010 to 84% in 2016. Additionally, there was an encouragement to start different campaigns granting mentorship and career guidance to girls in technology. Examples of these campaigns include Smart Village, Girls in ICT and the Miss Geek competition. All these campaigns for gender equality supported the cause of the HeForShe campaign in Rwanda by empowering women and girls.

Rwanda is one of the few countries that is substantially improving gender equality. This is the result of intensive investments in women empowerment, girls’ education and the fight against gender-based violence. Rwanda is showing progress because its campaigns for gender equality support the nation as a whole.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

urban overpopulationAfrica’s urbanization has been rapidly increasing. For example, sub-Saharan Africa is regarded as the world’s fastest urbanizing region. This increase in urbanization is related to the increase in people migrating into urban areas. However, urbanization often leads to overpopulation. Here is how urban overpopulation impacts sub-Saharan Africa and what African countries are doing to solve it through infrastructure development.

Rural-Urban Migration

African cities have fast-growing population growth. The UN reports that urban population growth has evolved “from about 27% in 1950 to 40% in 2015 and is projected to reach 60% by 2050.” This pressure has led to the over-exploitation of infrastructural resources like roads and markets. Many rural areas in Africa are remote, and they have fewer job opportunities. Accordingly, many people move from these regions to urban areas where they can find jobs easily. This problem causes a migration influx that leads to urban overpopulation in many African cities. Because urban areas also have advanced, easily accessible social services and facilities, people who may need or want better medical care or educational services have to move to urban areas. This kind of migration leads to increased population growth and urban overpopulation.

Urban Overpopulation

Increased population automatically increases urban areas’ population density, or the measurement of population per unit area. Overpopulation occurs when urban areas contain more people than the optimal proportion of population to land. When urban areas become overcrowded, people start building slums, the roads become very busy with high traffic, public markets and malls consistently become overcrowded and the competition for resources increases. This leads to increased pollution and the destruction of much infrastructure.

Urban Planning

African governments have started investing in solutions to accommodate this growing urban population through infrastructure. One way in which they are doing so is through urban planning. Many African nations have begun to provide urban planning education facilities and resources. This solution started preparing people who were equipped to design and plan for the overpopulated cities in Africa. For example, Nigeria established the Town Planners Registration Council. This council is in charge of determining who is capable of being the town’s planner and setting the basic requirements for people who want to enter the profession of urban planning. In 2013, Kigali City in Rwanda established the city’s master plan. This plan represented a vision the country had for organizing settlement in the city. The Building Permit Management Information System reports that this master plan is a “comprehensive long term plan intended to guide growth and development of Kigali City.”

Building Infrastructure

Most African countries have a complex topography. Some cities are hilly or close to forested areas. These natural features become a big challenge to companies seeking to build roads and skyscrapers in the most environmentally friendly ways possible. Despite these challenges, African nations are investing in building new infrastructure to support urban areas. GlobeNewswire reports that in 2019, all projects in Africa invested in building new and upgrading “54,110 km for roads, 55,345 km for railway and 599 km for bridges” in total. To include the environment in these developing cities, some countries introduced green belts in urban regions. For example, Kenya and Rwanda have started reserving some areas in cities for planting trees.

Africa’s population is growing fast. However, countries are investing in sectors that will manage to accommodate this urban population. Infrastructure has been one of the sectors that have helped cities plan for the population and the cities’ activities.

Renova Uwingabire
Photo: Flickr

Clean Water in Rwanda
On January 10, 2020, Zeke Delgado journeyed down a narrow dirt road to a rural Rwandan village, two hours from the capital city of Kigali. Delgado had visited the village of Ngenda once before. This time, he sought to improve access to clean water in Rwanda by building a $25,000 well.

Jean Hajabakiga acts as a liaison between U.S. native Delgado and the isolated African village. Following the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Hajabakiga relocated to Canada for several years before returning to his home country to mitigate extreme poverty. In 2017, Hajabakiga visited Twain Harte, California to share his story with Revive Warehouse Ministries, where he motivated Delgado to join a handful of other men on their first mission trip to Ngenda.

Challenges to Accessing Clean Water in Rwanda

Beyond spreading the Christian gospel, the mission trip aimed to promote clean water in Rwanda. In an exclusive interview with The Borgen Project, Delgado elaborated on the logistical barriers to sanitary drinking water. He explained that “It takes two to three hours to get water from a creek near the village. The water that they do get [from the creek] is dirty, and it’s difficult to burn out the bacteria by boiling it.”

The challenges regarding water access in Ngenda exist throughout the country. According to UNICEF, 43% of the Rwandan population lacks access to clean water within 30 minutes of their home. Consequently, children give up critical time in school to gather water for their families.

Beyond logistical problems, Delgado observed how contaminated water gives way to other complications related to health. He recounted, “Because of the dirty water, the kids’ stomachs were full of amoebas and parasites.” In fact, on a global scale, the World Health Organization (WHO) traces nearly half a million diarrhea-related deaths to unsanitary drinking water. It can also spread diseases such as cholera, typhoid and polio.

Removing Barriers to Sanitary Water

In 2018, Hajabakiga led his team in constructing a roof on his church that caught approximately 30,000 gallons of rainwater annually. The roof water proved beneficial to the villagers’ health and resolved the need to drink from the distant, contaminated creek. Yet, because the roof relied on rain, dry spells limited the consistency of a clean water supply.

In 2009, the Rwandan government confirmed the issue with climate-dependent water sources. The Rwanda State of Environment and Outlook Report state that “people’s livelihoods are vulnerable to climate variability,” especially in situations where water resources depend on rainfall.

Thus, Hajabakiga compelled his American missionaries to return to Rwanda in 2020 to drill a village well. The well enabled the installation of several toilets, eight showers and a steady source of drinkable water.

The Positive Impact of the Water Well

Delgado celebrates the success of the completed effort, asserting, “Water is life. That’s number one. If you don’t have water, you can’t live. With running water, they have access to showers, toilets, and clean water that improves overall hygiene.”

Though Rwanda continues to suffer from widespread poverty and limited water supplies, small-scale efforts by passionate individuals like Delgado and Hajabakiga offer sustainable solutions. In Delgado’s words, “It’s amazing that for $25,000 you can save so many lives.” He hopes to return to Ngenda every other year to continue promoting access to clean water in Rwanda.

– Maya Gonzales
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

skin bleaching in AfricaThe continent of Africa is revered as one of the most diverse continents on Earth, toting genetic, linguistic, cultural and phenotype diversity. Unfortunately, some of that diversity is lost when beauty standards are dictated by other cultures that are not native to Africa. Skin bleaching in Africa is one result. While many African women prefer to refer to this method as “heightening your glow” or “skin lightening,” it involves skin bleaching. Market trends project these bleaching products, many containing mercury, will make $31.2 billion in profits by 2024.

A Legacy of Colorism

Skin bleaching in Africa is not a new beauty phenomenon. The practice finds its roots in the transatlantic slave trade and continued during the European colonization of African nations. The caste systems that entitled European slave owners and traders to reduce African blacks to indentured servants perpetuated disparities in political status, wealth and beauty, furthering discrimination based on skin color.

The legacy of racist views which positions white Europeans as superior has remained a structural belief system among the women who choose to use the skin lightening products. They believe that darker skin is associated with unsatisfactory traits such as inferior beauty, education and social class. In other words, darker skin is stereotypically associated with a life of economic disadvantage and struggle. Consumers of these bleaching products, wanting fairer skin, believe they will achieve a higher level of social capital, be viewed as “pure” and more desirable for marriage.

Doctors who have studied the phenomena of skin bleaching in Africa have concluded that while some women bleach their skin for vanity reasons, others are very calculative in their decision. The retailers selling these products sometimes refer to and promote skin lightening creams as “up-marketing” one’s appearance. The pay-off comes in the form of job security, progress, and power. Skin bleaching in Africa is therefore a business-oriented decision. Anecdotally, the appearance of lighter skin means faster and easier access in landing higher paying jobs, particularly in sales and marketing.

Education Is Key: Addressing the Trend as a Public Health Problem

The messaging surrounding these products, whether via word of mouth or straight from the packaging, appear to be working. Data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) determined that 40% of African women regularly use skin lightening or bleaching creams. The trend is not isolated to one specific region either. Nigeria leads the purchasing trend with 77% of women using skin bleaching products (cream and non-cream based), followed by 59% in Togo, 27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali. It’s estimated about one of every three women in South Africa uses the products, even though mercury-based products have been banned in the country since the late 1970s.

The modality for these products used in skin bleaching in Africa varies by age group as well. While the older generation prefers lotions and creams, the younger generation opts for injections and pills such as glutathione capsules. More concerning is pregnant women’s use of glutathione capsules to manipulate the skin tones of unborn children.

Common health issues related to regular use of skin lightening products are mostly topical, but nonetheless dangerous. The most common side effect of topical lotions and creams is skin thinning due to the high-dose steroid, hydroquinone and mercury ingredients. Other effects include burning, scaling, scarring and boils. These applied products can also trigger further skin discoloration, also known as exogenous ochronosis, or blue-black pigmentation of the affected areas. Other, more serious health issues including blood cancers like leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys have prompted doctors monitoring the skin bleaching trend to call the phenomenon a public health crisis.

Appreciating Natural Beauty

African nations spread across the continent are moving toward full or partial bans against skin bleaching creams and lotions, citing their dangerous topical and chronic health implications. Most notably, the countries of Rwanda, Ghana and the Ivory Coast have banned these products. More recently, the #BlackLivesMatter protests have prompted top beauty and skin brands such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson to scrub manipulative marketing and even pull some products promoting fairer skin from their portfolios.

Unfortunately, skin bleaching in Africa is persistent, even in countries where these products are banned. Many experts and medical professionals assert that in order to fully eliminate the skin bleaching industry, the idolatry of fair or white skin needs to be eliminated. In other words, we must create a world where dark-skinned women are welcome in all spheres of society, not discriminated against. Thankfully, a number of nonprofit organizations, including The Beautywell Project and Melanin Foundation, are tackling skin bleaching in Africa and its harmful effects.

– Vicki Colbert
Photo: Flickr