By any standard, the islands on Lake Rweru are under-developed. While other residents of Bugesera District enjoy good health services, schools, roads and access to clean water, shelter and electricity, residents of Mazane and Sharita only see a glimpse of those privileges when they cross the lake. Residents of these islands have to make two-hour long journeys to reach markets, hospitals, and to access other facilities. The only existing primary school was established in 2005 and currently has around 256 pupils.
In addition, the only source of water is the lake, which is muddy and mostly used without being filtered or boiled. The homes on these islands do not have electricity, and only a few houses have small solar panels. Residents are often seen basking in the sun to harvest dry beans, while others weave fishnet baskets.
Mazane and Sharita residents mostly depend on fishing and growing beans. In order to reach Batima Trading Center to sell their goods, they must cross the lake; residents will tell you that the lack of nearby trading centers and proper transport have affected their livelihoods and businesses. They have shared numerous stories of people drowning and losing their loved ones to the lake.
Fortunately, these poor living conditions are ending. In June 2016, the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA) commenced the process of relocating all the families to the mainland.
Rweru Model Village will soon be home to more than 400 Rwandans who will be relocated from Mazane and Sharita Islands on Lake Rweru. The islands were mapped as high-risk zones, and the Government of Rwanda determined them to be unsuitable for living. The new green village will have electricity, clean drinkable water, and several new infrastructures, including a school, a health post, and a modern market with access to the Internet.
In the first phase of the project, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as part of the One UN in Rwanda, provided financial and technical support to build 64 houses as part of the “Supporting Ecosystems Rehabilitation for Pro-Poor Green Growth and Vulnerable Ecosystem Recovery” (SERPG-VERP) programme. In addition, the SERPG-VERP programme supported the construction of water harvesting tanks, the provision of common cowsheds for biogas, milk and organic fertilizer to use in kitchen gardens, and the construction of biogas digesters to reduce dependence on wood as a source of energy.
Today, 104 families have been relocated and settled in Rweru Model Village. The model was inaugurated during the 22nd Liberation Day anniversary on July 4th, 2016.
Mukarusagara Melena is one of the beneficiaries who has resettled in the model village from Mazane Island. As a mother of three, she is steadily adjusting to the new village along with 100 other families. Mukarusagara says she had lived on Mazane Island with her family most of her life until she was relocated to the mainland. Now, for the first time, she is able to access public services just like other Rwandans.
“We lived in isolation, completely cut off from the rest of the country; life was unbearable as no basic services could be accessed from that island,” said Mukarusagara.
“Whenever a pregnant woman had complications or was due to give birth, the only way to reach the health center was by a canoe. There are many I know who ended up giving birth in the canoes. Being a community health worker, I used to face many similar challenges. I even recall one time when I was accompanying a woman to the health center on the other side and she gave birth in the canoe. After she gave birth, I told the husband that we should continue to the health center for follow up but he refused. Those are the mindsets you get when you are operating with people living in such living conditions,” she said.