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  This Education Yields More Than Food
 Volunteering in Rwanda Tars Cheema
Christian Taylor from Viewfield Farm in Courtenay has shared another inspiring account of his time supporting the rural people of Rwanda, following his first article in our last issue (page 36).
It’s been a formative experience for the fresh UBC Management grad, who has been volunteering through MCC since last October, even during COVID.
If you feel moooved to support this work, please go to with-milking-cows/, or or
Check out Christian’s pictures on Instagram at: pdn_rwanda.
     Surveying the green growth of prosperity in Rwanda.
Christian Taylor – Kigali, Rwanda
Between 2015-2018, Peace and Development Network focused almost all of their attention on forming and training groups on Conservation Agriculture techniques and savings strategies, for the overarching goal of increasing food security and
reducing poverty among the group’s families. But a large situational assessment was conducted in 2018, before the beginning of the renewal of the project, and the findings showed something very interesting: production yield was up over 10%, and families had a higher income, yet household food security wasn’t increasing. In the three years since, PDN’s work has been focused on prioritizing food security. Therefore, PDN now has a heavy emphasis on improving the at-home life for all participants through nutrition education,
post-harvest storage, gender equality and family conflict management.
The results show food security rising, more teamwork/happiness in homes and a reduction in poverty, with more kids attending school. It is such a rewarding place to work, and witness these numbers rise as they come
in and as I write reports. But it’s when I get to go out and visit the groups in person and hear their testimonies that the real-life impact of teaching these real-life soft skills becomes apparent – and I’ll try to pass it on to you!
Group members are so proud to share their learnings, which I take for granted too often. In Nutrition Education, PDN teaches on four food groups, using colours to make it easier to remember. Red is meat/proteins, orange is fruit, green is veggies, and white is energy food (potatoes, cassava). A balanced meal must have all four of these. “People will only eat veggies if there was nothing else to eat,” one member shared with me out in the field. We have helped 98% of all the farmers implement ‘kitchen gardens’ – gardens close to their homes, where irrigation is easy, allowing them to grow a small variety of fruits and veggies for easy accessibility for family meals. We also train on ‘One pot, one hour, one complete meal,’ where families learn they can include everything in one pot and be finished in one hour.
But the biggest difference I see being made is through gender equality training. Two thirds of both our farmer groups and savings groups are women, and we are seeing a difference in food security by empowering them. One member shared, “My husband used to say, ‘All of this is mine’ and sell the produce that I farmed. No longer.” Many of the problems that arise in the lives of rural farmers in Rwanda is just from a lack of education. As I visited a PDN farming group one day, a couple shared their story: “There was family conflict between me and my husband, and I separated from him and moved back to my family home. I was very sad. PDN Staff found me and asked me to come back to my husband for some meetings. They mediated everything. Now I live back at home with my husband and there is peace. We plan and execute everything together.” The last line is key, because both parties came to realize that they are better as a team, together. They didn’t know that their disputes were common, that they could be a team again, and that they needed help from others.
So many of these women do all the farming and saving for the family, yet their husbands are in charge of selling the crops and using the money, which too often doesn’t come back to the families. Knowing the best techniques for selling the crops is key for these groups, and PDN offers education to help – but all the trainings are done along with the spouse, so that as a team, they’re learning what works.
One of my favourite days was when the Kigali office staff went to a weekly savings group meeting in North Rwanda. When it started to downpour, everyone (25 of us) went inside a little house to share some stories. The Savings for Life coordinator picked out at random one member after another to share what they have done with the money they’ve saved. And one after another, from a 25-year-old to a 70-year-old, they shared how after their first year of saving, during share-out, they bought their first cow, an asset with a direct correlation to increased food security! And since then, they’ve gone on and started businesses, or been able to get married, or built a new house, and they all end their testimony with what their next dream is, once this year of saving is over. That’s the coolest part for me – hearing the aspirations for the future from each member.
The techniques and trainings are amazing for these individuals to learn and share with family, but the best part about these groups is that it’s done in community with one another, allowing individuals from being single, unemployed, and ‘just there’ (as one member put it), to being in a group that farms, saves money and learns soft skills together as friends and family, open to share with whichever neighbors come by, and ask, “How is your soil so rich?”
 A Canadian Farmer outstanding in a distant field.
 As a farmer from Canada who has only
fields on a large scale (using machinery) – the pictures and reports received from this harvest are fantastic.
 Human food
production remains the
priority, leaving cows with low quality forage.

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