Grâce Mukagatare does not stop praising God for what she calls a miracle—a cow she acquired through One Cow per Poor family programme—that transformed her life.
A new comer to Mukagatare’s home in Rimba Cell, Tumba Sector in Huye District could mistake her house for a place of worship.
“Some people have been asking whether I have set up a church here,” the 59-year-old woman said in an interview from her home in Gitwa village.
Indeed, her gate is inscribed with the words ‘Shimwa Mana’ (Thank You God) in big characters that can be well read from a distance. And, after stepping past the gate, well shaped rocks painted white and deposited in a well maintained garden are inscribed with names of biblical places.
Jerusalem, Jericho, and Bethlehem are some of the places written on the rocks, alluding to Jesus’ movements from his birthplace to places where he performed miracles.
Other stones at the home are also inscribed with God’s Commandments and strange words, such as one called Yakini that even Mukagatare says she doesn’t know what it means but insists were inspired by God. But the word is followed by a sentence in Kinyarwanda, Hari imbaraga (There’s strength), that the woman suspect might be the explanation of the “strange word.”
Some online platforms, however, define the word as ‘Truth’.
“I carried the stones myself,” Mukagatare reveals, speaking of “hearing voices in her heart” at several occasions, which pushed her to transport them. “At the beginning, I really didn’t know what the stones were for. I only understood the purpose when God inspired me to write on them.”
She speaks about how she wanted to praise God for taking her out of abject poverty.
Mukagatare says that her life started to take a positive direction in 2006 when she received a ‘miracle Cow’ from the government-sponsored One Cow per Poor Family programme.
She had lived a poor life since she returned from exile in 1995. She tried to grow food crops on a piece of land that the government gave her in the outskirts of Huye town, but failed to make a decent living. Then she resorted to selling alcohol at her home-based small bar, but still remained poor—living in grass-thatched hut with her nine children.
In 2006 she obtained a donation of a cow, which she describes as a gift from God and a miracle.
“One day I came back from work in the farm and sat down drinking a Primus beer. As I drunk, I looked at the bottle and said, ‘Oh! God! Why can’t you relieve me from beer? I need milk.’ The next morning local leaders knocked at the door and told me that I had been chosen to receive a cow as part of the One Cow per Family.”
Commonly known as ‘Girinka’, One Cow per Family is a plan of the Rwandan government which aims to improve the incomes of those living in rural areas by donating cows to them.
Mukagatare is among some 133,207 poor families that have received cows since the programme was launched in 2006.
“I was not a practicing Christian but from the time I received the cow, I knew God listens to our prayers and answers them,” she said.
As a thank-you sign for the ‘miracle’, Mukagatare said that she shut down her bar even if it was the source of income for her family.
“Surprisingly, my life improved tremendously when I was relying on only one cow than when I was running a bar,” she said. “Bringing God into my life opened my eyes. He showed me how to work to improve my productivity.”
Mukagatare says the cow, which gives her 12 litres of milk per day, helped her put up a decent house over her head. She currently lives in a modern and well furnished house.
She recently sold four Friesian cows to respond to some of her needs at home and give her house a facelift. Her two remaining Friesian cows are reared in the outside shade of her house.
“I am better off today than I used to be,” she said with a soft smile.