A big lesson from rural Rwandan women

Mukamihigo poses with dried water hyacinth. / Diane Mushimiyimana

A few years ago, regional water bodies came under siege. Water Hyacinth attacked from nowhere, literally creating a green carpet that extended beyond eyesight.

Lake Victoria, the largest water body in the region and the source of livelihood for millions, was nearly chocked by the water weed, that no sooner was it removed manually, it only needed a few days for it to return.

Fishermen looked on helplessly; chemicals could not be used as they could affect marine life. Today, it is an ongoing unwinnable war against the water menace.

Rwanda was not spared as all its water bodies were invaded by the hyacinth. But a group of women saw an opportunity in the invasive plant; they found strength in the threat. They formed a cooperative to take advantage of the weed and turn it into a money minting plant.

They harvest the plant, dry it and use its fibers to weave various handcrafts such as straw hats, sandals and handbags and many more. It might not seem like an extraordinary feat, but it has an important lesson.

Unlike their Lake Victoria counterparts, they did not throw their arms in the air in desperation; they sat down and sought a lasting and profitable solution. Today, their products have found foreign markets and they are sustainably managing the water bodies while earning some income.

It is small things like the above that really make a difference; not waiting for quick fixes, especially from the central government, on every given occasion.

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