In 2014 when The New Times’ photographer visited Sharita Island, Antoine Mukeshimana was still recovering from an amputated leg from a nasty encounter with a hippo that attacked him together and his neighbour in a papyrus marshland.
Mukeshimana, 39, was born and raised on Sharita Island located in Lake Rweru, Bugesera District.
One eventful morning, he woke up to go harvest papyrus for commercial use.
At Sharita Island, residents turn papyrus into artifacts for sale – which explains why the practice is one of the most lucrative economic activities alongside fishing on the tiny island of about 150 hundred households.
“I was with my neighbour Athanase and we had gone to cut papyrus. We accidentally rammed our boat into a hippo that was feeding around the same area,” Mukeshimana narrated.
“The hippo attacked me first because I was in front. It threw me into the waters and kept hitting me until I couldn’t fight anymore. Luckily, the hippo decided to retreat but it had already crushed my leg,” he added.
In 2016, on the 22nd Liberation Day anniversary, Mukeshimana, his seven children and wife were among the first of 104 households of more than 400 people from Sharita and Mazane Islands who were relocated and settled in the Rweru Model Village.
“I was relocated from Sharita and this was a major relief. After being attacked by a hippo, I couldn’t work to support my family. My life has never been the same after relocation. I have a cow, my children are able to drink milk and they saw electricity for the very first time when we moved to Rweru model village,” Mukeshimana told The New Times.
He was given a cow
Life is becoming much better for Mukeshimana and other people who relocated to the model village.
Another happy former resident of Sharita Island is Alexis Ndibanja, a father of four. He drew comparisons between the two experiences.
“There was limited freedom of movement on Sharita Island. For example, moving from the island to Batima trading centre on the mainland was a real struggle. But now we are close to the market and road.
“My first born had never seen a car before we relocated. All is well now because we live in a better place and in better conditions. The Government gave each family a cow,” Ndibanja said.
More than 300,000 cows have exchanged hands since the Girinka – the national cattle-stocking programme, also known as One-Cow-per-Poor-Family scheme – was started 12 years ago.
In July, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, threw his weight behind the Girinka scheme, donating 200 cows to residents of this model village, an initiative he described as the perfect tool for social bonding in communities across the country.
Under the Integrated Development Programme (IDP model village), each household relocated to the new home also gets a cow to improve their living standards, through milk consumption and sale of dairy products as well as providing manure for farmlands.
Whereas each high risk zone in Rwanda has unique challenges, Mazane and Sharita have for long been cut off from the mainland with no access to health facilities, roads, schools, electricity, water and sanitation, among others.
At Sharita Island, the only reasonable structure was a primary school. When students at Batima completed primary school, they would be forced to cross the lake over to the mainland, in Batima, Rweru sector, Bugesera District, for high school, while some opted to drop out, local officials said.
Rweru Model Village where Mukeshimana lives
The Mayor of Bugesera, Richard Mutabazi, told The New Times that the 3rd phase of Rweru model village is almost complete and the new housing units will host a group of vulnerable households from Mazane village who, he says, are most likely to have moved into their new homes by Christmas.
“They have been living on those islands for years but recently we decided that they should be relocated to the inland because they are really in a high risk zone,” the Mayor said.
“They don’t have access to basic facilities and national social welfare programmes can’t reach them because they are isolated. We’ve started relocating them but it is being done in phases”.
“We are building 35 houses, four-in-ones which will benefit 140 households this year. It is part of our performance contract (Imihigo). That way, we would have relocated all the people from Mazane Island and we will be remaining with 143 households on Sharita Island who will be catered for under our next fiscal budget,” Mutabazi said.
On July 3, as part of celebrating the 24th Liberation Day, in a remote Rongi Sector of Muhanga District, two model villages were inaugurated, with modern infrastructure, such as clean water, Early Childhood Development Centre, health posts, among others, all built by Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and valued at Rwf19bn.