By Maria Russo
The air is thick with dust. Construction in Kigali is seemingly everywhere. The city has recently gone through an incredible boom, creating an energy of hope and progress as it moves quickly towards becoming a major financial and tech hub in Africa.
Yet, this progress is mainly confined to the city, happening only for those who had the privilege and opportunity to be educated. For the rest of the population, 80 percent of whom are subsistence farmers, this picture of progress is very different and often unreachable.
Over the past year, we've been working in Rwanda through our nonprofit organization, Humanity Unified International to empower a group of women farmers living in extreme poverty - earning less than $.90 a day (household income) - through health, rights and business education. The project will also provide management skills to the women as they learn how to properly run the cooperative as a team. Good seeds, storage units and an irrigation system will be purchased to help triple the yields over the next year (beginning July, 2016) so that these women can begin to thrive as farmers and rise above poverty.
Last month, we had the privilege of meeting many of the women in their homes to learn about their lives and the struggles they encounter on a daily basis. Many of the women said their families could go days without food if they or their husbands could not find steady work. Other basic needs such as access to clean water, healthcare and education were also out of reach for many of these families.
Below is the story of our time with our women, our new family, told through beautiful, evocative images. We were honored to have gotten to know so many on a very personal level, to look them in the eye, give them a hug and ask them to hold on until we can provide them with the small step up they need to thrive as the beautiful, incredible women that each of them are.
Bernadette in her home. We made her laugh by saying "seka!" (smile) before taking her photo.
Mamerica and her family standing proudly outside their home.
Mamerica's son resting on her shoulder.
Francine with her son at the farm.
Esther at the farm.
Esther holding her child as she prepares a meal of soy flour & water outside her home.
Our women at the community meeting held to welcome us before our week of meetings.
Mediatrice smiling for us at the farm.
Sylvia with her two children outside her small vegetable shop.
Celebrating our partnership and the year to come...
The children of our women...
Co-founders Maria and Anthony Russo with Arnelle Lozada, photographer/videographer
Photos taken by Arnelle Lozada and Anthony Russo.