EXACTLY two and a half years have passed since a series of earthquakes struck Western Rwanda, in the two districts of Rusizi and Nyamasheke.
Despite the extensive damage that was caused, remarkable achievements have since been made in restoring the victims’ hope for a better future.
Much has been achieved through community participation in a community empowerment project implemented by UNICEF and generously funded by the Government of Japan.
Reconstruction of the affected areas, fully functioning social infrastructure and other human basic services has become everyone’s priority.
Not even the remoteness of the area has hindered the re-establishment of basic education and health facilities including standard classroom blocks, modern eco-san toilets and residential houses.
As if to confirm any further expectations, life is surprisingly back to normal and the local population looks set to benefit from social and economic development.
Tulio Mateo, the coordinator of this project at UNICEF explains that there has been massive community participation in a bid to empower the residents as they recover from the deadly earthquake.
He adds that the local community actively participated in the construction of 21 schools in the two districts, as well as the reconstruction of a health centre at Nkombo Island, Rusizi district that had been destroyed by the earthquake.
“There has also been training of community health workers in order to ensure effective management of major killer diseases at the community level,” he says.
He adds that teachers’ capacities in participatory and child-centred approaches have also been strengthened by a group of trainers from various primary schools.”
Tulio points out that another sustainable way of helping the vulnerable, most especially child-headed households is to increase access to improved sanitation.
“That is why we have sensitized the local community about the construction of modern eco-san toilets and other basic principles of primary health care,” he says.
The US$ 6.4 million project mainly seeks to provide assistance to millions of orphans and vulnerable children. Furthermore, UNICEF has on several occasions provided support towards training of local leaders.
There is regular sensitisation of health workers on the subjects of gender-based violence, human rights and legal services at Gihundwe Hospital.
A visit to Nkombo Insland where the earthquake razed down a health centre two years ago attests to the fact that rays of hope have now emerged in this isolated and poorest part of the country.
Didace Mukeshimana, the head nurse at Nkombo health centre is even more optimistic since a residential apartment for health workers is under construction.
He explains that immediately after the earthquake, many considered the idea of reconstruction as too far-fetched, in such a remote area.
“Surprisingly, there has been rapid development in the aftermath of this earthquake in which hundreds of residents died while many others lost property worth millions,” says Mukeshimana.
Similarly, Alphonse Mudahinyurwa, a resident of the Island attests that the rehabilitation program has enabled poor members of the community, like him, to face the challenges of life through education and vocational training.
“This has, in turn, encouraged us to develop income-generating activities in order to launch sustainable livelihoods,” he says.
Apart from providing and supporting child-friendly environments, Mudahinyurwa stresses that access to health insurance has also helped the local communities to recover from the effects of the deadly earthquake.
Many other residents acknowledge that much has been done to improve the lives of the affected families, and that the future even looks brighter.