ANNONCIATE NYIRABIZIMANA often tries to slap herself thinking it would awake her from a trance that the newly-constructed and furnished four-room house, and a modern cattle shed, that she now calls home is just a dream.
The 69-year-old is steadily trying to settle into this new life following her resettlement, along with more than 100 other families, three weeks ago.
Speaking to The New Times, Nyirabizimana said she at times thinks this is a dream from which she will any time wake up and find herself on a rocky remote island on Lake Rweru in Bugesera District – where until three weeks ago was what destiny had consigned her to.
Nyirabizimana is one of the over 100 families who were relocated from Mazane and Sharita islets on Lake Rweru earlier this month and resettled in a new integrated model village built by the Rwanda Defence Forces and its partners.
The mother of six had lived in Mazane islet with her family for all her life until July 4, when she relocated to mainland to be able to access public services just like other Rwandans.
“We lived in isolation, completely cut off from the rest of the country; life was unbearable as no single basic service could be accessed from that island,” said Nyirabizimana as she continued to feed her cow.
She said, like her ancestors before her, they were for generations condemned to deplorable life on an island that did not have infrastructure.
“We had no clean water, no school, we prayed under a tree and our children made dangerous and costly trips every day to school. Because we had lived through this for such a long time, we started to get used and somewhat comfortable but you only have to visit mainland to realise what we were missing. The area was prone to diseases such as malaria and other hygiene related diseases,” Nyirabizimana said.
Alivera Bunani, a mother of four, echoes similar sentiments.
“Whenever a pregnant woman had complications or was due, the only means to the health centre was by canoe. There are many I know who ended up giving birth on the canoes, or even on the landing site, with not even a fellow woman in their attendance, let alone a nurse,” she said.
Bunani added that even those who could afford to go to the market or seek other services on mainland, transport back home was always a problem and would end up spending the night and going home the following day.
New lease of life
Nyirabizimana was hopeless and thought that her life would be on the island until she dies, just like her relatives before her.
However, she turned out to be one of the 104 lucky islanders who won the raffle to become the first beneficiaries of a new housing project in Bugesera District.
Their relocation is part of the national campaign to evacuate citizens currently living in high-risk zones.
The model village came with a school with 17 classrooms, a health post, connection to electricity and water in all houses, internet connection, a modern market (agakiriro) and a 12-kilometre road linking them to the nearest trading centre.
The model village was inaugurated by President Paul Kagame during this year’s celebrations of 22nd Liberation Day on July 4, having been constructed through the Army Week, an outreach activity by the armed forces.
Beneficiaries hailed the President’s leadership for getting them out of the deplorable life on the islands.
Nyirabizimana believes she had started a new life thanks to the facilities.
Living in a modern house complete with electricity, a modern kitchen, among other facilities, and having been brought closer to public services like a health centre, market are all things she believes will change her life.
“Life is better now, we were given foodstuff and basic materials the time we relocated, I am hopeful the future is better, we are committed to working hard and those who are still young will enjoy the fruits of not living in isolation,” adds Nyirabizimana.
Bunani also says her family has started settling into a new life outside the island.
“It is like a miracle, we live in a better and lit house and we sleep on mattresses which we had never known before moving here. Besides, our children go to a nearby school and whoever falls sick gets immediate treatment,” she says.
‘No land to cultivate’
However, those who relocated from the islets say they have not received land to cultivate even though they were promised to own some.
“We submitted land titles of our land in the island and we no longer own land, we were promised to get land but we wish it was availed as soon as possible so that we start preparing for the next season,” said Patrice Bashimirye, 70.
Speaking to The New Times, Bugesera Mayor Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire said the Government has availed land for these people and they will have it well in time for the next planting season.
“All the people who were relocated from both islands and those still there were given over 100 hectares of land that will be shared among them. We have met them and agreed they should start preparing as they will need to plant crops for the next season,” Nsanzumuhire said.
The mayor said the reason they are evacuating, all residents from the islands was because for years, they struggled to take services to the area.
More than 300 other families remain on both islands and the Government has committed to help them relocate as soon as possible.