On March 10th, seven Twa (pygmy) families moved into new homes—modest but sturdy houses with metal roofs and solid walls, built conveniently close to schools, health care, and water facilities. Members of a minority group in Rwanda, these families had previously been living in Nyakatsi (grass-thatched housing) in the remote hills of Nyamicucu in northern Rwanda’s Burera District.
The new houses were constructed in a partnership between PIH’s Rwandan sister organization Inshuti Mu Buzima (IMB) and the local district government, and are part of a national campaign to help people move out of Nyakatsi. IMB has been working with the Burera District Leadership to build new houses for a total of 39 Twa families, each with an average of 6 people. IMB hopes to get the remaining 32 families into their new homes by May 2011. In addition to the houses, PIH/IMB gave each family basic furnishings, which included mattresses to sleep on, plates, caps, mats, lamps, and jerry cans, as well as additional furniture to be supplied later.
“We were living in ant hill holes, our wives used to cook and rain would pour into our food and then it would be difficult to eat it,” said Twa representative Fundi Munyarugarama, who spoke at a function to inaugurate the new houses. “Even when we started sending our children to school, their books would be torn and they couldn’t read because of the rain. Now everyone can see that we are in a better place,” he added.
Present at the function to inaugurate the new houses was the Mayor of Burera District, Samuel Sembagari, who was also the guest of honor. Other attendees included IMB Deputy Director Antoinette Habinshuti, IMB's Butaro management team and staff, the Army Colonel for the District, and local district authorities. Many of the Twa also attended, and danced and sang with great excitement.
In his opening remarks, Executive Secretary of Butaro Sector Maximillien quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.’s "I have a dream" speech. Just like Martin Luther King said that the he had a dream, the pygmies also had a dream of getting houses. This dream had now come true, he said. He added that PIH is a friend that Rwandan President Kagame got for his country, and that the houses PIH built for the Twa were a symbol or an act of love and friendship.
On behalf of IMB's Butaro team, Dr. Matthew Craven, Deputy District Manager for PIH in Burera, said that the housing project was due to a good partnership with the district of Burera and the government of Rwanda. IMB’s Deputy Country Director Antoinette Habinshuti added, “In the work we (PIH/IMB) do, we align with government of Rwanda’s philosophy and policies.”
In his speech, Mayor Sembagari said that he did not find any reason to write an official speech, since the newly constructed houses could simply speak for themselves. “Life is the only gift God gives us, a good friend gives you health for life, and that good friend is President Paul Kagame [and] PIH. [They] took these [the Twa] from the miserable housing and living conditions to where they are now,” he said. He added that since Twa children can now return from school and have a home where they can comfortably read and study, they are poised to become the mayors, colonels, directors, and leaders of tomorrow. He also announced district’s plan to allocate cultivation land to the historically marginalized people.
Mayor Sembagari added that on behalf of the people of Burera, he would like to let PIH know that the community continues to thank them for the good things like these houses, the hospital, and the partnership. “The hospital is a source of good health for the future, and when people sleep well, they think great.”
Moving the 39 pygmy families into houses and from their isolated Nyamicucu area is also a way of integrating them into the community in addition to providing shelter. They will be able to easily have access to health care, education, water, agricultural support and advice among others that are directed to the general public.