Life in Rwanda changed for most of its citizens after the genocide of 1994 which saw a tenth of its population killed including 300,000 of its children. Those scars still run deep, however the country now looks to the future and there is much work to do for living standards in Rwanda are still below those of sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda's population mainly live in rural communities with those eight and a half million living in homes made of woven branches and grasses, covered with clay with hard red dirt floors, fabric where doors and windows might be, no running water, no electricity and normally a sheet tin roof. Many families also share their home with the family chickens.
They rely on farming to survive and Rwanda, slightly larger than Wales, is often called "The Land of One Thousand Hills" which gives a clue to the difficulties of farming there, with some smallholdings at 55% inclinations to maximise the use of land in a country with one of the highest population densities in all of Africa. Such is the scarcity of arable land that most family farms are around one half hectare in size, too small for full scale commercial production, yet lending themselves to the production of coffee and tea. (Coffee being one of Rwanda's main industries with 500,000 coffee farmers located mainly along Lake Kivu and in the central high plateau, each with a small family farm of 200-300 trees normally grown on terraces.)
Farming in Rwanda is the backbone of its small economy with about 80% dependent on the land for their living although as farms are split as they are handed down through the generations, farming is becoming increasingly fragmented there. The government has responded by educating farmers about best practices, consolidating land so that farmers can synchronise their crop production, sew improved quality seeds and use more fertiliser to maximise crop output from what land is available. These improvements have seen a doubling of bean production and a tripling of maize, wheat and cassava production over the last five years.
Many Rwandans have constructed wooden bikes to help transport the coffee cherries to a washing station however logistics pose a problem with the countryside being unsuitable for vehicles for transportation with what are deemed as roads resembling more like goat trails. Landslides often destroy passable routes and washed away bridges make what could be a lucrative farming opportunity subsistence living with 65% of all rural Rwandans living on or below the poverty line. Another government lead initiative is the Girinka Program which aims to provide a cow for every poor family in Rwanda, helping to ensure that children suffering from malnutrition at least have access to fresh milk with all of its health benefits. To date around 100,000 cows have been distributed to Rwandan farming families with 350,000 a target figure.
Life in Rwanda centres around the family homestead, a 'rugo', and traditionally consists of a number of bee hive-shaped houses within a larger, fenced compound. The household or 'inzu' normally consists of a husband and wife and children, sometimes with close relatives. Large families are common with an average women having 4.9 children, although many do not make it to their fifth birthday. Whilst the men work and the women maintain the household the children complete their day's education and after school its more chores including collecting firewood and water, normally carried in large jerry cans for the adults smaller cans for children.
Although collecting water digs deep into the average Rwandan day, the government has commenced a program of installing water points so that most of the population are little more than a mile from a water source. Dinner often consists of Ugali, a maize and water paste; Isombe, mashed cassava leaves with dried fish and Matoke, a dish made from baked or steamed plantains being the staple diet for most Rwandans. Most rural Rwandans rarely eat meat, perhaps just a couple of times a month, and this had led to relatively high levels of protein deficiency in children leading to the disease Kwashiorkor. Then as night falls, its time to crawl into bed awaiting the day of another day. Despite some progress, Rwanda is in 160th place out of 189 countries and territories in 2019 when ranked in terms of life expectancy, literacy, access to knowledge and the living standards of a country with a life expectancy of 68.70 years (2018). Poverty in Rwanda is still significant with around 39% of the population living below the poverty line.
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About life for children in Rwanda in facts, information and video where more than half live in poverty in rural areas together with details of projects and programs to support children there.
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