Rwanda seems to be the focus of many humanitarian organizations, yet the job never seems to be done. After a conflicted history culminating in genocide, its citizens have been left impoverished and in desperate need of support from all walks of life. The country is home to around 11.6 million people and is landlocked by the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. Organizations like Humanity Unified are enhancing their approaches to fighting poverty to improve the lives of those that live here.
Flashback to How It Began
Rwanda has long been an ethnically divided country. The citizens were faced with a brutal civil war and genocide in 1994 that left more than 800,000 dead. This conflict also caused an extreme economic downturn that left survivors in ruin.
The Borgen Project had the opportunity to interview Maria Russo, founder and executive director of Humanity Unified. She was a travel writer and her husband a web developer and photographer; they combined their talents to create the organization. Russo says she “became interested in international development, particularly in the areas of women’s issues as pertaining to gender inequality, education for women and girls and global food security”. The organization they created uses a variety of approaches, with a focus on women, to combat poverty globally and specifically in Rwanda.
A Big Picture Approach
Russo states that the goal of Humanity Unified is “empowering communities to rise above poverty through education, food security programs and economic opportunities.” It does this through a varied program that includes partnering with local NGOs to accomplish tasks and employing a team directly in Rwanda because, as Russo says, “this creates a greater sense of trust between our team and the communities we work with”.
Humanity Unified invests in women in several ways, beginning with education. Its education programs include specific focuses on human rights, business, literacy and health. They specifically target women because they are ten times more likely to use this education to better their communities. The organization also collects donations to provide food security to rural communities that are commonly neglected by aid programs. Lastly, it provides economic opportunities through business, leadership and vocational training. Several communities of rural women farmers have benefited from this training as well through positive masculinity for their male partners.
So far, Humanity Unified’s methods have proven effective. Eighty-five percent of women said their lives had changed since becoming involved with these programs, 96 percent were able to purchase health insurance for their families, and 96 percent reported that violence against women had decreased within their communities. The organization also works to connect personally with these women in what they call a “humanist approach”. They make visits to Kigali, the country’s capital, where women tell them of their specific successes and the ways in which their individual lives have improved.
The hope is that the organization will only expand in 2018. Russo elaborates that “the goal for 2018 is to continue to support the women in their entrepreneurial endeavors and provide education on how to properly run a small business”. With the support of donors, volunteers, local NGOs and the people themselves, Humanity Unified will be able to accomplish these goals.
– Megan Burtis