Date: 24 Feb 2011
Kigali-24th, February 2011: A senior diplomat from one of Rwanda's major aid donors has for the first time spent several days living with the country's poorest people to experience the reality of surviving on less than $1 a day.
The two diplomats experienced first-hand the day-to-day life of those who live in extreme poverty.
Ben Llewellyn-Jones, the new UK High Commissioner, and another senior official, Elizabeth Carriere, Director of the UK's Department for International Development (DfID) have spent three days living with families in the poverty-stricken rural areas of Nyanza district in Southern Province.
They stayed with two separate poor families in Busesamana in an immersion visit organized and facilitated by ActionAid Rwanda. The Actionaid Immersions programme is designed for development professionals and the staff of aid agencies and governments. It offers an experiential learning route to understand poverty in a less structured, more flexible way than the sometimes heavily planned itineraries, meetings or workshops held in capital cities.
"I'm very happy and excited for this immersion in my new role as the UK envoy to Rwanda," said a smiling Mr Llewellyn-Jones as he joined his host family. "I'd like to get an insight into how most Rwandans live. There's no better way to do that than an immersion trip like this."
Mr Llewellyn-Jones host family was a married couple, Mrs Fortunate Ntawoyangire, 34, and Mr Theophile Manayiragabo, 43, living in Gisando village, Rwesero cell. They have four children aged between 15 and two years old. The couples are small farmers growing sweet potato, cassava and beans on less than a hectare of land.
The UK diplomat has been staying in their two-bed roomed house and swapping embassy dinners for the family's main daily meal of cassava and beans. The couple wake up as early as 5:00am to tend their garden, and Mr Manayiragabo sometimes does casual labour work in the area, earning about Frw500 a day.
Ms Carriere, the DfID director, is staying in a household of two sisters orphaned in the 1994 genocide. Immaculate Mukandamagye, 26, of Nyakwibereka village lives with her 21-year-old sister and one-year-old girl. She depends on support from neighbours and a small piece of land where she grows beans and sweet potatoes. She left school when she was in senior two and her sister has also left school due to financial difficulties.
Ms Carriere said: "I'm so happy to join this family as I have got a special feeling from them. I want to get much more experience of how such young women in Rwanda live. I'm sure I'll share with my colleagues."
"Having the two senior diplomats participating in this immersion, humbling themselves to share light moments with people living in extreme poverty is an important milestone. It's an experience that should be enumerated not only by all development partners and diplomats but also for all key policy makers in the country for creation of a stronger link of their policies and the rural people," said Josephine Uwamariya, Country Director Actionaid Rwanda.
She added: "Immersions offer chance to renew personal and professional commitment to the challenge of poverty eradication. We see immersions as one way to influence decision-makers in an environment where the rich and powerful are ever more divorced from the daily realities of the poor." "Immersions challenge and test pre-conceptions of how people live in poverty, help to develop new perspectives, and strengthen commitments to poverty eradication. In doing so we make poverty personal"
The Nyanza immersion is the third conducted for DfID officials in Rwanda aimed at bringing together people committed to eradicating poverty with people who directly experience it, but the first for a senior embassy official. Other immersions have included staff from Nike Foundation in UK which was held in Shingiro sector of Musanze district in Northern Rwanda. Nyanza and Shingiro are Actionaid's operational areas focusing on education women Rights and Food Right and Livelihood.
Notes to Editors
Who is ActionAid?
ActionAid is an international anti-poverty agency which takes sides with poor people to end poverty and injustice together. Formed in 1972, for over 30 years we have been growing and expanding to where we are today - helping over 13 million of the world's poorest and most disadvantaged people in over 50 countries worldwide. We have been in Rwanda since 1980s but started operating as a fully fledged country programme in 1997. We are currently operating in five poorest districts of Rwanda.
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