When we first arrived in Kigali, we were uncertain about the project we would be implementing. Our chapter had planned to fundraise money for two projects (a pig cooperative and water system) that would compliment each other at Cyaruzinge village. At the end of the year, however, we realized that we would not be meeting our fundraising goal. Health Development Initiative (HDI), our partner organization, was very comprehensive. “The money raised can be used in a number of different ways, but finding a sustainable project is our priority” was what we were repeatedly told during our first two weeks. Our chapter had not raised enough money to fund the water project, and without water, a pig cooperative would likely be unsuccessful. Our concerns for the sustainability of the pig cooperative were heightened when Josephine (HDI program coordinator) explained that in the past, both a goat and cow cooperative were implemented at the village. Both cooperatives had failed. The goats were eaten and the cows died due to the lack of food. With no water project and less money now, we were certain that a pig cooperative would not stand a chance. Thus we spent several days with HDI staff brainstorming projects that needed funding at Cyaruzinge. Finally, we found a sustainable project, a mushroom cooperative, which would generate income and nutritious sustenance for the community.
In Rwanda, the mushroom industry has been growing. Their nutritious value is helping many organizations fight malnutrition in the country, and their economic value provides a stable source of income for mushroom farmers. As we read all the facts about the mushroom industry in Rwanda, we were certain that a mushroom cooperative was the best sustainable project that our team could help implement. The staff at HDI agreed. We started calling representatives from already-established mushroom businesses, hoping that we could partner a business with the community.
As we continued making plans for the mushroom cooperative, Josephine received a call from the chief of the Abahuza Cooperative*. After 5 minutes of conversing, Josephine announced that the community did not want mushrooms and were insisting on pigs. She told us that the chief and the rest of the cooperative were convinced that pigs would be the turning point for their community.
The next day, we made our way to Cyaruzinge village, for the first time, to speak in person to the Abahuza cooperative members. The community members were very welcoming as we all gathered under a roof. We introduced ourselves with the little Kinyarwanda that we knew, and then let Josephine do the rest of the discussion. At the end, Josephine summarized the one-hour discussion for us. The community members had expressed their high hopes for pigs. They were ready and wanted a livestock cooperative.
For any cooperative or project to be successful, funding and training are just the minimum. The community members are critical in achieving anything. While we can contribute our efforts, it is their voices and visions are what drive change in their community. GlobeMed calls this grassroots change. Grassroots change may only be tangibly visible in one community, but the work leading to it is the combined effort of many communities. We’re joined by common goals, values and a mutual trust, and we’ve learned to use our differences as assets. There are times when grassroots change manifests itself in ways that does not make sense to us, but in the words of Ernesto Sirolli, we must shut up and listen. That day, we did just that.
As we made our way back to the HDI office, we scrapped the mushroom idea and began planning for the pig cooperative. We would need to start pig care and business management training for the community members immediately, and adjust our budget to account for the lack of water. The mushroom cooperative may have been a safer route to follow, but without the support of the community, it would have undoubtedly failed. The pig cooperative on the other hand, already had the most crucial thing needed to reach sustainability, the support of the community.
* Cyaruzinge village contains both people from the community of potters and people that do not belong to the community of potters. HDI and our chapter are working specifically with the Abahuza cooperative, a cooperative that consists of members from the local community of potters in Cyaruzinge.