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Toughness in Yellow: Sharing Lessons on Food Security and Nutrition in Rwanda

Published 03/05/2014 by Global Communities

Toughness in Yellow: Sharing Lessons on Food Security and Nutrition in Rwanda
By Luis Blandon
Luis Blandon visited Global Communities Rwanda’s projects during the Cracking the Nut conference in January 2014 and wrote this reflective piece after his visit.
She stood on top of a hill, confidently attired in yellow. Yellow can merely be a color, situated between green and orange in the spectrum. But in color psychology, yellow symbolizes the mind and the intellect. A hunger for knowledge, inspiring thought and curiosity. Practical thinking about what will work and how it works. No wasted edges. No ambivalence regarding opportunity. The color of knowledge and achievement. All of this ran through my mind as I climbed the dusty, misshapen hill to meet this unique woman.
On a partly sunny, sultry Thursday morning in the hilly and terraced Cyeza section of Rwanda, we were high above valleys that the local mountains produce. Here, people have lived for centuries. At this moment of time, we had come see Global Communities’ work to build the food security and nutrition of vulnerable households. Led by staff who had spent a lifetime working to make a difference here, we passed several houses below and above us of different shapes and substance. Each had a little plot of land with crops covering every available inch, some with a cow or two along with several baying goats. The tilled land burst with growth. Through the iridescent green of the terraced hills, trees and plants sparkled and lept out at you. The smiling eyes of the local children followed us.
After a mile of walking along the trail, an eden of kitchen gardens appeared on a hill above a house. As we drew nearer, I could see that flowers bloomed along the woman’s bright yellow dress, her long blue earrings framing her stern, yet serene face. Her notes were written on a folded blue-lined paper, held in her left hand. But she didn’t need them — the notes were a facade. Instead, she talked from her heart and her experience, sharing what she learned and how she had adapted the lessons for her family and neighbors.
Through diligence and study, she had taken the simple kitchen garden model and improved on it, creating multiple garden pods. Every inch of her small plot of land was planted, from coffee trees to kitchen gardens. Beans, cassava, soy, irish potatoes, beets, and so on. Banana trees filled what space was left. These gardens spoke loudly on several levels. For another person, what she accomplished would be enough to have and hold. Not her. She made it clear several times that she still had plans for greater yields that would enable her to sell more products and support her extensive family.
She had a force of personality. Once she learned about how to plant a diversity of crops in the kitchen garden and cook a more balanced diet for her family, she was determined to teach the techniques to her neighbors. She proudly announced that through these efforts, malnutrition had been wiped out in her neighborhood. After an hour with her, I had the perception that this woman in yellow could wipe out malnutrition in all of East Africa, if she were given the chance. But that was for another time. Time to eat and see the program in action.
From the path by the gardens, with a wave of her hand, she invited us inside her home to learn how she combined her yields to feed her family a balanced diet. Each item of food was labeled, and she patiently explained the nutritional importance of each food group and the need for a balanced diet. She talked about how the neighbors gathered together to learn how to cook nutritious recipes for their families. Together, they learned to track the height and weight of family members to measure their body mass index. They became skilled in practicing proper sanitation habits to keep the food safe and prevent the spread of disease. She took to the training, thrived and evolved into a leader of the community, setting an example for the others.
She offered her guests beet or pineapple juice, and doughnuts made of vegetables from her kitchen gardens. She introduced her family. Her birth children, her adopted children and her husband, dressed in their best, stood with her with quiet smiles in defiance of the obstacles that face rural Rwandans. Here, at this time and place, one can see the difference that the Global Communities-led programs have had on their lives.
Life is hard for most Rwandans. In my visits, I noticed that women often hold the brunt of life, of earning a living and looking after dependents. In these genteel rural communities, people take on the responsibility of helping to remake and change their country. This involves making life better and helping others who are in need.
The visit winds down. It is time to leave and let the lady in yellow face the coming months and years. In its definition, she is the color yellow. She is not a dreamer; she is analytical and focused. One feel that her quest for knowledge was all-consuming. A better life for her family, her community, was her goal. The steps needed were constructed. The results were visual. She stood as we left, tough with a hint of what she knows she has accomplished and what she intends to achieve. A contented smile served as her goodbye. She has more work to do.