Life on Rwanda’s Italian ‘island’

When visiting the Sector of Munyaga, any stranger would be surprised by the huge presence of an Italian population. They are young, middle aged and very old Italians who are just enjoying life down in the village. They play and dance all day in a very interesting manner and this area has now come to be known as an Italian ‘island’ in Rwanda.
Italians youth on holiday in Munyaga village.(Photos / S. Rwembeho)
Italians youth on holiday in Munyaga village.(Photos / S. Rwembeho)

When visiting the Sector of Munyaga, any stranger would be surprised by the huge presence of an Italian population. They are young, middle aged and very old Italians who are just enjoying life down in the village. They play and dance all day in a very interesting manner and this area has now come to be known as an Italian ‘island’ in Rwanda.

“Italians came here in 1972 for adventure. They wanted to know the social and cultural life of the people who live on the ‘thousand hills’ of Rwanda. We were further pushed by a moral obligation to help the poor people of Munyaga village,” said Father Claudio Fantani.

Since then, Father Fantani, 64, said that most of the Italians came from a community in northern Italy, 150 Kilometres south of Milan, and decided to build very good relationships with the people of Munyaga.

Giansolmt Garlo, is an Electric Engineer and is among the influential Italians living in the ‘Italian Island.’

“We are here partly because we cherish the legacy of Father Tiziano Guguelmi,” Garlo said.

According to Garlo, Father Tiziano Guguelmi, was one of the early missionaries who come to spread the gospel and the word of Jesus Christ in Kibungo Catholic Dioceses.

He unfortunately died in 1980 in a plane crash on the Virunga Mountains

The Italians have put up some important infrastructures in Munyanga Sector, and the people of the area will soon be improving their livelihoods and lifestyles.

“One of the fundamentals of life is access to basic infrastructure. We are set to avail people with water, proper feeder roads, schools and health facilities.

Any advancement in technology must be viewed in the same parameters,” the electric engineer remarked.

So far, there are schools that are at the advanced stages of completion. It is expected that the schools will in total accommodate 1200 students.

A well equipped health centre is also available for the peasants. More still, Munyaga Sector will have a network of clean water soon.

The Italians say the government of Rwanda has been very cooperative in allowing them to import some building materials to Rwanda’s tax free. 

“It would have been very tough for us to pay taxes. We get the money by mobilising other Christians in Italy,” Father Fantani said.

According to Fantani, they are waiting for another container to arrive soon.

“I hope that the Rwandan government will exempt us again from paying the taxes,” said Father Fantani, who is also the General Manager of SMALI Company that deals in Cold rooms and Refrigerator equipment.

The Italians have volunteered to help the people of Munyaga, in so many areas because they principally admired their attitude towards life. Every year about 300 Italian holiday makers come to Munyaga village.

“I like the attitude of Rwandans towards life. I have travelled in so many developing countries, but when I arrived in Rwanda recently, my first impression was that the people are full of hope, despite the fact that many are poor.

This is an important attitude toward life that you will not easily find elsewhere,” said engineer Garlo.

The presence of great experienced engineers in Munyaga like these is a vital indicator of successful infrastructure development. These Italians who are a blend of engineers and architectures have been the brains behind the constructions in the village. 

The village is visited by hundreds of tourists every year who come to enjoy its treasures. It is not surprising that some of these Italians, today, are fluent speakers of Kinya-rwanda.

The presence of the Italian community has further boosted the economy of the local communities as well as well as the neighbouring districts as they achieve sustainable development. 

mugitoni@yahoo.com

 

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