The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi left Azela Iribagiza, of Ruhango District shattered.
Not only did the Genocide take the lives of her beloved relatives and friends, it left all her and her family’s worldly possessions in shambles, and with orphans to look after.
“I was very, very poor,” Iribagiza says. “I tried my luck on farming but production was very little, especially due to lack of fertilisers.”
The mother of eight looked ahead with anger, distress, frustration and desperation as she couldn’t clearly see what the future held for her.
And she started settling into the life of a destitute, much as this was life that was strange for her and this was unsettling.
“You see before [the Genocide], I owned a shop and was moderately rich by village standards. But after the Genocide, I was left in total ruins; with nothing to start from,” she insists.
Her life was that of total deprivation until about six years ago when luck came her way.
In 2007, just months after the inception of the Gir’inka programme, Iribagiza was among the first people in her area who were selected to receive cows as part of government efforts to uplift the lives of poor people across the country.
Targeting the most impoverished in communities, Gir’inka programme (One Cow per Poor Family) is a government programme that was launched in 2006 through which cows are distributed to the most vulnerable individuals within the community to help them improve their living conditions.
A lease of life
“When I received a cow, I felt extremely happy,” she says. “Since my childhood, I had liked cows and had owned cows well before the Genocide,” Iribagiza says.
Iribagiza, a resident of the rural Gafunzo Cell, Mwendo Sector of Ruhango District still has the cow she received six years ago and proudly showcases it to any visitor.
“This is the cow that opened a new chapter in my life,” she tells this reporter as she points to a black cow amidst a herd of Friesian cows she owns today.
The woman, a celebrated model farmer in her district, says after receiving the cow she made sure she looked after it well. And this paid off.
Currently, Iribagiza owns about 20 cows (including a number of calves) that she keeps in a shed in her home village. The cows give her about 30 litres of milk a day, she says.
She has donated more to her neighbours.
“When luck came my way and the cow started delivering, I felt it was my obligation to help my neighbours improve their lives too,” she says proudly.
When she realised her cattle keeping activities were paying off, Iribagiza seized the opportunity to venture into commercial agriculture.
Currently, she grows maize, Soya beans, cassava, sweet potatoes, banana and rice – all for commercial ends. She also grows geranium, a plant she says is used in the making of perfumes.
“Farming has always been part of me. It is in my blood and heart,” she states. “It is my passion.”
As years went by, Iribagiza’s life continued improving.
She has since managed to educate her children from the proceeds.
She also runs a small retail shop and a banana fruit shop in a trading centre near her home village.
She owns a Fuso truck that she uses in her farming activities
“My life has significantly improved over the past few years,” Iribagiza says with a smile as she toured her banana plantation.
Iribagiza also employs between 30 and 70 people each season.
“It required a lot of efforts, hard work and sacrifice but I am proud to have pulled this off,” she adds before outlining a number of other income generating projects she intends to embark on in the near future, including the extension of her banana plantation and starting a pepper farm.
‘I have struggled to achieve all this. But today I am confident that none of my children will have to endure the same challenges I experienced,” Iribagiza states.
“I look ahead to the future with happiness and great prospects.”
Iribagiza says the secret to wealth lies in hard work, dedication and innovation.
She also advises women to join cooperatives saying they are good platforms to exchange ideas and experiences for mutual development.