Inflammation and stories on Rwanda

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

 

Life Expectancy in RwandaAs life expectancy in Rwanda has doubled in the past 20 years, the efforts that helped to achieve this goal are closely tied with efforts to combat poverty. If people are sick but cannot access healthcare, they cannot contribute to the economy. Conversely, if people are living in poverty, they often cannot afford to access healthcare. Ending poverty and providing medical care are closely tied, and Rwanda has made excellent progress on both fronts.

Life Expectancy in Rwanda

In the early 1990s, Rwanda was the site of a 100-day genocide, during which a million Tutsis and Hutus were killed. The genocide decimated the country, destroyed infrastructure and cast millions into poverty. Life expectancy in Rwanda reached a low of 26.2 years in 1993 at the height of the genocide, but by 2018, it had risen to 68.7 years. Furthermore, life expectancy is projected to increase to 71.4 years by 2032.

Many factors have contributed to the dramatic increase in life expectancy and overall social welfare. The Rwandan constitution secured citizens’ right to health in 2003. Accordingly, the government has invested in healthcare systems including primary healthcare systems, HIV/AIDS healthcare systems, oncology services, community-based health insurance and medical education. A dramatic increase in vaccination rates has been crucial in improving Rwandans’ health. After the genocide, fewer than 25% of children had been vaccinated against measles and polio, but today, 97% of Rwandan infants have received vaccinations against 10 diseases.

There have also been declines in deaths from tuberculosis and malaria. There has been a similar decline in maternal and child mortality: after the genocide, Rwanda had the world’s highest rate of child mortality, but today, Rwanda has caught up with the global average. Furthermore, the HIV/AIDS case and death rates have decreased. In 1996, antiretroviral therapy became available, and in the last 10 years, Rwanda’s death rate from AIDS fell faster than it did in the U.S. and Western Europe.

External investment and an increase in foreign aid have also improved Rwandans’ health. In 1995, Rwanda received only $0.50 per person for health, less than any other country in Africa. NGOs like Partners In Health (PIH) have helped increase the population’s access to healthcare and have supported efforts to rebuild public and community health systems.

Poverty in Rwanda

The percentage of people living in poverty declined by 5.8%, from 44.9% to 39.1%, between 2011 and 2014 alone. Factors contributing to the decrease in poverty include:

  • The improved health of the people of Rwanda. Strong healthcare systems can work to combat poverty, because when people are in good health and can access medical care, they are able to work and be more economically productive.
  • The government’s Vision 2020 anti-poverty objective, which fosters privatization and liberalization with the goal of promoting economic growth.
  • A thriving banking system.
  • The expansion of the service sector.
  • Entry into the East African Community, an economic bloc whose other members are Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi.

Poverty and Life Expectancy in Rwanda

There is a substantial intersection between Rwanda’s efforts to increase its citizens’ life expectancy and its efforts to pull them out of poverty. The efforts to ameliorate both problems of poverty and life expectancy in Rwanda are linked through public health, and each is improving because the other is. In the words of one public health expert, Rwanda demonstrates that “a nation’s most precious resource is its people.”

Isabelle Breier
Photo: Wikimedia

Some developing countries are using a forgotten testing method called pool testing to control COVID-19 spread. This method requires fewer tests, costs less and provides a quicker turnaround time than the traditional method of testing each person individually. This article will explain three main points about this form of testing:

How Pool Testing Works

The basic principle behind pool testing is as follows: between five and 50 samples are collected from different individuals. These samples are then all mixed together and tested as one big pool. If the pool results are negative, it can be safely assumed that none of the individuals are COVID positive. If the pool results are positive, each individual’s sample must be tested separately to determine which sample contained the positive test.

In regions expected to have generally low rates of positive tests, this method saves an enormous amount of materials, as well as reduces cost for individuals and government agencies. A recent paper that details the optimal algorithms behind the testing hypothesizes that this method could reduce costs by a factor of “ten to a hundred or more.” The paper also recorded data from real-world settings. They took 1,280 real samples from Rwanda, and found only 1 positive test. It only took 64 total tests rather than the 1,280 it otherwise would have taken.

Pool testing was originally developed in the 1940s to test US army drafts for syphilis, by Robert Dorfman. Developing countries such as Rwanda and Ghana have been the first to implement this strategy in response to COVID-19. This form of testing is most effective, though, in regions with an expected low density of positive tests. In an area where lots of positive tests are expected, such as New York City, a large pool would more often come back positive, requiring more tests. This would mitigate much of the benefits that this form of testing provides.

Rwanda and Ghana’s Success With Pool Testing

Rwanda has responded quickly and effectively to COVID-19, partially due to recent experiences with other outbreaks, but also in part because of pool testing. The country is home to 12.3 million people, but has only reported five deaths. Similarly, Ghana has seen impressive results. As of July 22, the country, with 30 million people, has only had 153 deaths.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the former epicenter of the pandemic, was able to conduct over 6.5 million tests in only nine days due to the utilization of pool testing.

Applications for developing countries in the future

As was mentioned earlier, pool testing is far more effective in areas with a lower density of positive cases. Most of Africa, home to lots of poor and developing countries, has yet to see the cases spike as they have in Western Europe and the United States. Since pandemics have the potential to cause far more damage to economically fragile countries, implementation of pool testing as early as possible would be incredibly beneficial for developing countries. Since costs are a particularly pressing issue for poor countries, pool testing’s reduction in costs would help immensely. Beyond mere financials, the logistical problem of the raw number of tests is aided through pool testing.

Novel solutions to the COVID-19 crisis exist. Strategies such as preemptive pool testing in developing countries could save millions of dollars and, more importantly, thousands upon thousands of lives. Developing countries should implement pool testing whenever possible, and continue to search for unique solutions to help minimize the negative impacts of COVID-19.

Evan Kuo
Photo: Department of Defense

Charitable MLB Players The athletes playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) are utilizing their fame and athletic talents to help those in need around the world. Some of these players grew up in countries with extreme poverty. Baseball was used as a means to find a better life and return to help their home countries with charities and relief efforts. Others have visited poverty-stricken countries and chose to make a difference in unique ways to increase poverty awareness. Here are three charitable MLB players who are giving back.

Baseball Players Giving Back Around the World

Pedro Martinez – Dominican Republic

Considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time, Pedro Martinez was a dominant force on the mound throughout his 17-year Hall of Fame MLB career, which included a World Series win with the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Born in the Dominican Republic, Martinez saw first-hand the poverty that gripped his home country as he trained for life in baseball. When the coronavirus hit his home country, he took action and led the way with his organization, the Pedro Martinez Foundation, along with 40 other Dominican born MLB players. The group created a fund that has raised more than $550,000 for the relief efforts. This will pay for 5,000 food kits that last a total of two weeks each. It also will provide thirty-two thousand medical masks for doctors and nurses, 110,000 masks for citizens and 7,700 protective suits for medical personnel.

Dee Gordon- Rwanda

During a baseball game, Dee Gordon is best known for stealing bases. Throughout his decade-long career, he has stolen 330 bases, the most of any player in a 10-year period. The Seattle Mariners 2nd baseman has been using his talent for stealing bases to help increase poverty awareness to the hunger issues in the Ruhango district of Rwanda. Gordon has been associated with organizations such as Food for the Hungry, Strike Out Poverty and the Big League Impact Foundation for several years in order to help feed people in the Central African nation since 2019. As a charitable MLB player, every time he steals a base during a game there is a donation that he personally gives of $100 that goes toward one of these organizations to help feed the people of the Ruhango district. He has raised over $47,000 over the years to help impoverished nations all over the world including Rwanda. 

Carlos Carrasco- Venezuela

In 2019, Carlos Carrasco received the Roberto Clemente Award for his efforts in helping out his community in his home country of Venezuela and around the world. The Roberto Clemente Award is given out once a year to the MLB player that shows extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contribution, both on and off the field. Carrasco, a 33-year-old pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, has been donating money and supplies to help those in Venezuela suffering from the current economic crisis that has gripped the nation for years. In 2019 he donated $300,000 to Casa Venezuela Cucuta, an organization out of Columbia that helps recent Venezuelan migrants fleeing the crisis. Carrasco has also sent toys, medical supplies and baseball equipment to the children living in Venezuela. 

These three charitable MLB players show their dedication to increasing poverty awareness in countries that need it most. Through baseball, they have found fame and fortune. With that success, they have given back to communities all over the world by giving their time, money and efforts in creating a life for those without. 

Sam Bostwick
Photo: Flickr

Theater in Africa
Education is an essential tool to guide the next generation and prepare them for success. In South Africa and Rwanda, education is vital, and a good portion of government spending goes toward education. In 2013, South Africa invested 19.7% of its national budgets toward education, while Rwanda invested 11%. Both South Africa and Rwanda recognize that education impacts the success of their citizens. A mode of education that can transform the way children learn is through theater. The International Theatre Project aspires to teach children in South Africa and Rwanda the building blocks of theater to ignite their confidence. Teaching theater in Africa can produce a new generation of leaders who are passionate about their heritage.

What is the International Theatre Project?

 The International Theatre Project began as a test to see how new programs would impact students. In 2005, two professionals experienced in theater arts, Stephen DiMenna and Marianna Houston, decided to conduct their project in Tanzania with 21 pupils. DiMenna and Houston had the students write a play in English and perform the piece for their community. The play reflected the students’ aspirations for the future. Producing the piece had a profound impact on the students. The 21 pupils who worked on the project tended to score higher on English exams than their peers. Seeing the positive impact of theater on young students, DiMenna and Houston returned the following year, thereby founding the International Theatre Project.

Since then, the International Theatre Project has held programs in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Rwanda, South Africa and India. The students who participate in the programs often lack opportunities in education, and poverty presents even more barriers. According to the International Theatre company, 90% of their students continue their education into college, 80% of students have job opportunities after graduating high school, 100% score higher on their English exams and 100% are inspired to educate others in their communities. The company’s most recent accomplishment is having students perform their original piece in Cape Town, South Africa. A former ITP alumnus, Calvin from Tanzania, states how his experience with ITP, “…gave me the confidence to be more than I think I can be. I can deliver and I never knew that before.”

Programs Offered by ITP

Since its founding, the International Theatre Company has developed several unique programs. For instance, Rising Voices is a program specifically for teaching theater in Africa. Students in this program have the opportunity to write and perform their own pieces. If a student has been with the program for more than four years, they can participate in Leading Acts, where they become mentors for other students. The International Theatre Project also has two opportunities based in New York. Open Doors is a program where recent immigrants can develop the skills necessary to adjust to a new way of life. Alternatively, the Stefan Nowicki Camp Treetops Scholarship Program provides two ITP students from South Africa or Rwanda to participate in a seven-week summer camp held in upstate New York. All four of these programs create ways for children to learn theater as well as develop their leadership skills.

Why Theater Education is Beneficial

Theater emphasizes freedom of expression, and through that expression, one can benefit immensely.  According to a psychological study written by Sydney Walker, there are many advantages students gain by participating in theater. For one, students improve their self-esteem through participation and self-expression. When interacting with others in the theater, students can connect on a deeper level and create an outlet for their emotions. Theatre also allows students to identify conflicts and create resolutions.

Teaching theater in Africa presents students with a new way to learn and participate in their communities. Furthermore, it allows students to create relationships with one another and communicate their own emotions. Organizations like the International Theatre Project create ways for theater to be shared and taught to anyone, regardless of their circumstances.

Brooke Young
Photo: Unsplash

Drones in AfricaThe mission of Zipline, a company started in 2014 and based in San Francisco, is to “provide every human on Earth with instant access to vital medical supplies.” To accomplish this goal, the company has created a drone delivery service where drones in Africa distribute lifesaving medical supplies to remote clinics in Ghana and Rwanda. More recently Zipline has expanded to other locations across the globe, including the U.S.

Poverty in Rwanda and Ghana

Rwanda is a rural East African country that relies heavily on farming. Although the country has made improvements in recent years, the 1994 Rwandan genocide damaged the economy and forced many people into poverty, particularly women. As of 2015, 39% of the population lived below the poverty line and Rwanda was ranked 208th out of 228 countries in terms of GDP per capita. On top of this, Rwanda only has 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people, which is insufficient to meet health care needs according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ghana, located in West Africa, has fewer economic problems than neighboring countries in the region. However, debt, high costs of electricity and a lack of a stable domestic revenue continue to pose a threat to the economy. The GDP per capita was $4,700 as of 2017, with 24.2% of the population living below the poverty line. Although Ghana has a higher ratio of physicians per 1,000 people than Rwanda, with 0.18 physicians, it still falls below the WHO recommendation of at least 2.3 physicians per 1,000.

Benefits of Drone Delivery Services

On-demand delivery, such as drone delivery services, are typically only available to wealthy nations. However, Zipline evens the playing field by ensuring that those living in poorer and more remote regions also have access to the medical supplies they need. Zipline has made over 37,000 deliveries. In Rwanda, the drones provide deliveries across the country, bypassing the problems of dangerous routes, traffic and vehicle breakdowns, speeding up delivery and therefore minimizing waste. Additionally, Zipline’s drones in Africa do not use gasoline but, instead, on battery power.

Drone Delivery Services and COVID-19

Zipline’s services have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 response. Zipline has partnered with various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and governments to complement traditional means of delivery of medical supplies on an international scale. This has helped to keep delivery drivers at home and minimize face-to-face interactions. As there are advances in treatments for COVID-19, delivery by drones in Africa has the potential to provide access to the vulnerable populations who are most at risk. At the same time, it can help vulnerable people stay at home by delivering medications directly to them or to nearby clinics, minimizing travel and reducing the chance of exposure. Zipline distribution centers have the capability to make thousands of deliveries a week across 8,000 square miles. Doctors and clinics simply use an app to order the supplies they need, receiving the supplies in 15 to 20 minutes. The drones are equipped for any weather conditions.

New means of providing medical equipment are helping to ensure that the world’s poor have access to the supplies they need. A company called Zipline has been using drones to deliver medical supplies to Africa, specifically in Rwanda and Ghana. During the COVID-19 pandemic, drones have been crucial in providing people and clinics with the medical supplies they need.

Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Rwanda
Rwanda is a small landlocked country in the center of Africa. With a sprawling savanna in the east and mountainous jungle in the west, the country has impressive natural features that have increasingly drawn international intrigue. Beyond Rwanda’s natural wonders, there have been great strides to combat poverty in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people died in 100 days. While the country faces substantial obstacles, there are many positive indicators of Rwanda’s future economic stability.

The Good News

Over the last two decades, Rwanda has shown an average annual GDP growth rate of 7%; this is consistently above the average in Sub-Saharan Africa. Another promising factor is that Rwanda has an increasingly diverse economy. Traditional sectors, such as agriculture and services, are contributing alongside emerging sectors, such as electricity, infrastructure and construction. Tourism has also been a key factor and now contributes to 10% of the national GDP.

Due to these economic advances, Rwanda has become the darling of the World Bank. The World Bank consistently invests hundreds of millions of dollars in public improvement projects in areas ranging from education to renewable energy. The results of those projects are promising. From 2009 to 2019 national electricity access jumped from 9% to 47%. Additionally, through the World Bank-supported Rwanda Urban Development Project, six cities have directly benefited from a massive increase in urban roads and stand-alone drainage.

The Obstacles

Poverty in Rwanda is still significant; around 39% of the population lives below the poverty line. One contributing factor is that Rwanda suffers from a poor education system where only 68% of first-graders end up completing all six years of primary education. Another component is that domestic private investment in Rwanda has yet to take off, mainly due to low domestic savings. Additionally, many rural Rwandans operate subsistence farms and thus have little disposable time and income.

According to The Washington Post, the authoritarian streaks of Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, are another hindrance to the alleviation of poverty in Rwanda. In recent years, tourists have marveled at the clean streets of Rwanda’s cities. What those tourists cannot see, is the forced removal of “undesirables” into detention centers.

In rural areas, the government has burned farmers’ fields because they did not grow their assigned crops. Rural residents have also had to deal with Kagame’s heavy-handed approach to modernization. In some villages, Rwanda’s regime has stripped villagers of their grass roofs with the promise they would return with metal replacements. When the new roofs do not come residents live in exposure which leads to illness and fatalities.

Some of Kagame’s policies have drawn international outrage. In 2012, Kagame supported Congolese rebels which resulted in the United States and the European Union suspending international aid. Another similar scenario may be on the horizon with recent reports of Kagame’s regime manipulating poverty statistics.

In 2019, a Financial Times analysis of poverty statistics found that the government was misrepresenting data to exaggerate the decrease in poverty. Despite that claim, the World Bank has continued its myriad of investments in the country and so have many other major donors. However, as countries on a global scale focus more resources domestically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international aid to Rwanda is in danger. Aid is still necessary to prevent catastrophic consequences as Rwanda is experiencing a dire humanitarian situation. The silver lining is that many of Rwanda’s usual donors are still in positions to assist.

The pandemic has also adversely affected tourism and exports, which are huge pillars of the Rwandan economy. Furthermore, as the country directs its healthcare workers and fiscal resources towards emergency response, other health concerns, such as the AIDS epidemic, move to the sidelines.

Hope for Poverty in Rwanda

Though Rwanda has problems that it cannot easily solve, there still is hope. Before the pandemic, Rwanda’s economic growth exceeded 10% in 2019. A two-thirds drop in child mortality and near-universal primary school enrolment accompanied this statistic.

Additionally, two World Bank-funded projects including the Rural Sector Support Program, and the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside Irrigation Project have increased the productivity and commercialization of rural agriculture. As a result, maize and rice yields doubled and potato yields tripled between 2010 and 2018. These results are especially promising considering poverty in Rwanda is the most severe in rural areas.

Rwanda has also achieved a strong level of political stability. Women make up 62% of the national legislature and previously marginalized opposition parties have gained parliamentary seats without disrupting the system’s stability. These are indicators that will increase confidence in foreign investors. While Rwanda has a troubled history, the future holds a lot of potential.

Cole Penz
Photo: Wikimedia

music education in developing countries
Around the globe, music education represents an influential force in the fight against poverty. Studies show that learning a musical instrument entails numerous cognitive advantages for children and young adults, improving memory, attention and communication skills. Music also builds confidence and allows students to express their creativity. In addition, the music industry creates space for new economic developments and possibilities. Here are four examples of music education in developing countries and the ways in which it makes a difference in the lives of the world’s poor.

Haiti

Amid political upheaval and the domestic challenges of daily life, music offers impoverished Haitians a source of comfort and strength. Organizations such as BLUME Haiti aim to utilize music as an avenue for education and community building.

After a deadly earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, BLUME Haiti began delivering musical instruments and supplies to help the nation rebuild. Through summer music camps, professional development workshops for Haitian music teachers, music classes in schools and other programs, BLUME Haiti continues to reach talented youth as they learn new skills and imagine broader possibilities for their futures.

In partnership with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, BLUME Haiti unveiled the innovative Haitian Orchestra Institute (HOI) in 2017. The program invites top music students from around the country to develop their craft alongside professional musicians. Chosen through a selective audition process, participants join Utah Symphony’s Music Director Thierry Fischer for a full week of rehearsals, sectionals, lessons and a final concert. Each year, HOI affords hundreds of young artists a life-changing experience.

The Dominican Republic

In the Dominican Republic, public schools are often unable to fund enrichment programs that allow students to express their creativity outside the classroom. Without a creative outlet, many students find themselves disengaged from the curriculum and choose to drop out of school.

The DREAM Music Education Program is taking steps to combat this issue. DREAM introduces music programs in public schools to improve students’ educational experience and strengthen their cognitive abilities. Since undertaking these efforts, the organization has found that students who participate in a band or other musical ensemble are seven times more likely to graduate from high school.

In all DREAM programs, students receive training in basic musical skills, work together in a group setting and develop an appreciation for Dominican musical traditions. Performance opportunities and interactive classes throughout the year celebrate all students’ achievements. Meanwhile, hoping to instill in them a sense of identity and belonging, DREAM works particularly hard to reach at-risk youth.

Rwanda

Music education also plays a critical role in Rwanda, where people are still reeling from the trauma of genocide. Two programs have initiated a joint effort to use music as a means of therapy, aid and economic development for the Rwandan people.

Music Road Rwanda sponsors live music events throughout the country that feature both classical and traditional Rwandan music. The organization also raises money for students to train at the Kigali Music School. Generous scholarships, funded by Music Road Rwanda’s “adopt-a-student” model, allow under-resourced youth to prepare for careers as musicians and music therapists.

Musicians Without Borders Rwanda expresses a similar mission of hope and healing through music. Working in concert with its medical partner We-ACTx for Hope, the organization hires local artists to teach singing and songwriting in traumatized communities. In 2012, Musicians Without Borders introduced its Music Leadership Training campaign, encouraging students to embrace music as a vehicle for empathy and social change.

Bangladesh

The Mirpur district of Dhaka, Bangladesh is one of the poorest areas in the world: 32% of residents live on less than $2 a day, and 48% of children suffer from malnutrition. Illiteracy rates are also among the world’s highest. Two music teachers from the Playing for Change Foundation are working to make a difference here through music education.

Their free music classes take a unique, interdisciplinary approach to help students develop vocabulary, reading and pronunciation skills as they learn their instruments. The two teachers spend nearly 100 hours each month with their students, who range in age from 5 to 12 years old. All students come from the approximately 950 children receiving education from the poverty-relief organization SpaandanB.

Donors from around the world have contributed funds to purchase keyboards, acoustic guitars and ukuleles for Mirpur music students. Each instrument costs between $80 and $100 and affords students the invaluable gift of cherishing music for a lifetime.

Young musicians worldwide, especially those living in poverty, benefit from the rigor of music education. Music connects people through a language that transcends the bounds of time, space and nation. At the same time, it supports the development of critical life skills. It is imperative that we continue to provide music education in developing countries and foster the innumerable advantages it promises to bring in its train.

Katie Painter 
Photo: U.S. Air Force