It was not until January this year that Kaburanjwiri, a rural village in Kansi Sector of Gisagara District in Southern Province, was named a model village.
In essence, a model village (Umudugudu Ntangarugero) is a village that has been able to implement all the performance contracts (Imihigo). In this district, there about thirteen model villages in every sector.
Unlike the model villages where the government takes charge, these kinds of model villages are championed by organised communities. Residents come together, set targets and set roadmaps to implement them.
Kaburanjwiri is one of those villages, but with a unique story. For the past few years, this remote area has been ranked among the top three implementers of Imihigo at the provincial level.
But the story dates way back – 2015 to be precise.
Fourteen years ago, a few residents who were once living in scattered settlements in high-risk zones sat down and decided to embark on a clear development of their community.
“We began with designing how this village would look like, and that included establishing planned settlements to relocate from what were unplanned settlements,” narrates Samuel Nteziryayo, who is now the leader of the village.
At the time, they were living in extreme poverty, they were living in thatched houses and sharing water with their domestic animals. They were barely working with financial institutions and had no roads that connected them from one point to another.
Jackson Mbonigaba and his wife Thacienne Irikunze have lived here for many years but life was not always rosey.
“Before relocating here, we lived a few kilometres down the hill. If one of the family members fell sick, it was difficult to transport them to hospital because there were no roads and we were nowhere close to healthcare facilities,” Mbonigaba recalls.
Jackson Mbonigaba and his wife Thacienne Irikunze tend to a kitchen garden in front of their house. / Julius Bizimungu
For the wife, she recalls water access being the biggest problem that they experienced during that period: “We depended solely on the water down the valley. It was dirty water because that is where animals drank. As a result, diseases were very common.”
Mbonigaba and Irikunze have been married since 2003. Their sole career is farming, but that has enabled their two children, a girl and a boy, to go to school.
To them, the fact that they have spent 16 years together and only have two children is a demonstration that they understand the value of producing what they able to raise.In other words, family planning is gradually practiced.
A few houses away from Mbonigaba and Irukunze’s house sit another fair-sized house built of sandstone. If you want to, it is a kind which most village kids dreamed of growing upin.
It belongs to Nazaire Nyandwi, a 53-year old long-time resident of the area. In front of the house lies a huge bundle of sorghum dried in the sunshine.
“This is not where I was staying before. My first house was an earthen building,” he tells me pointing to his recently refurbished house, as we start the conversation.
Nazaire Nyandwi, 53, poses in front of his recently renovated house in Kaburanjwiri. The village was once plagued by poverty. / Julius Bizimungu
To build that kind of establishment, Nyandwi adds, he acquired Rwf200,000 in 2017 from Kansi savings credit and co-operative (SACCO), added to his own savings and decided to renovate it.
That is the spirit – the spirit of community development – that many residents in Kaburanjwiri have.
“We have understood that waiting for the government to take charge is not what we should do, rather coming together and take personal responsibilities to build ourselves is what will advance us,” he adds before giving me a tour of his garden field.
Like everyone in this area, Nyandwi has a kitchen garden in which he has grown onions, pumpkins, cowpeas, carrots, cabbages and other valuable crops of the sort.
“Previously, stunting was a common story here. Today, when we grow sorghum we make sorghum porridge instead of taking everything to the market. That is the same for other crops,” he says.
According to Nteziryayo, in 2015 about 46 houses were thatched houses, there were no water taps to access clean water, there were significant number of conflicts and limited number of citizens had access to medical insurance, Mutuelle de santé.
Today, Kaburanjwiri has decent roads, most of which were built by citizens during their monthly community works, they have access to clean water, and their houses are powered with solar energy.
“Previously having a house with power was unheard of. Now you can go around and fail to get a house that is not powered,” Oliver Yankurije, 35-year-old says as she shows us around her house.
Yankurije’s three-bedroom house has lights all over the place: a security light (lamp), lights inside the house and a kitchen light, thanks to their collaboration with Ignite Power, a solar energy company.
The citizens have worked with the company to get their houses powered before the grid reaches their village. They are able to repay in instalments.
Their community is comprised of 506 residents and 114 households, and theirs is a story of transformation and reflects what could be achieved once the mindset of people shifts.
When we visited the village a group of local leaders and opinion leaders from all around Nyamagabe district, about 200 of them, had come on a study visit in this area.
The leader of this area told us that they regularly receive many people coming to learn about what they have been able to achieve without being pushed by local leaders.