Friday, June 3, 2011

See our progress! 2008-2011

In 2008, Pygmy Survival Alliance began working in the village Bwiza, Rwanda, with a population of about 150 people. At that time, the village was physically close to the capital, Kigali, but the living conditions were dramatically worse. Bwiza residents lived in stick houses and went without eating on a daily basis because of lack of food. Their children were slowly dying of malnutrition, and the adults had almost no hope for the future.

The Community of Potters Health and Development (COPHAD) project started because the leaders of the Community of Potters in Rwanda (Batwa Pygmies) asked us to help them stop the decline in their population. COPHAD empowers people to solve their own problems using their own resources. With the people, we develop a plan that they can do themselves, together with our help.

COPHAD applies broad methods to a specific, critical focus: to find and address the root causes of poverty and illness and reverse them. We have focused on inexpensive interventions with a big impact -- our first project being the distribution of cheap, blue plastic shoes to everyone. Even now, we are sometimes known in Bwiza as the people who "taught the pygmies to wear shoes".

We had no clue that those shoes would not only help children to attend school and women to work in the market; but also, to help women gain equality, and to reverse the longstanding cultural prejudice historically maintained by Bwiza's neighbors against the villagers.

COPHAD saves lives, improves the welfare of the poorest people in one of the poorest countries of the world, and is both affordable and sustainable. After three years in Bwiza, we are on the verge of establishing food security -- and that comes after we have already achieved universal health insurance, 100% primary school enrollment, total restoration of traditional dance and performance traditions, rising standards of living and remarkably, even gender equality. Sixty new brick house are now being built in a collaborative partnership with the government of Rwanda and Bwiza's surrounding neighbors. And, the people of Bwiza have become the only certified agricultural cooperative in Rwanda based in a former Batwa community. They are first pygmies to ever own cows.

In Bwiza, COPHAD used humanitarian aid, public health, education, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, agriculture, the arts and business to create a positive change cycle leading to reduced infant mortality through enhanced socio-cultural adaptation. The result has been to unlock human potential and transform peoples’ lives.

Services delivered and outcomes achieved by Bwiza villagers 2008-2011

COPHAD Provided Services

BWIZA Delivered Outcomes


New access to market and school

School uniforms

5 children started school; now all are in primary; 2 in secondary

Village Health and Development Council

First-time village leadership structure and performance with ongoing leadership training

“Mutuelle” Health Insurance Cards

First-time attendance at Health Centers and Health Care, now with women routinely seeking pre-natal and delivery care in a supported health center

De-worming + Vitamin A supplementation

First-time decreased incidence of diarrhea; improved health, school attendance and energy levels

Health education: sanitation & hygiene

Built five latrines, began hand washing practices; now overall visible improvement in hygiene of the people

44 Plastic roof tarps

44 stick houses re-built with new roofs

Nutritional Supplements

First-time amelioration of kwashiorkor in vulnerable infants

Manure for gardens, plus seeds

Better gardens and crop yields; reduced food insecurity

Micro-finance planning

New business initiatives, creating 5-person trading partnerships to trade in goat skins and vegetables

Technical Assistance to dig a surface well and build water collection tanks

Healthier water, more productive use of time, better water available for goats and cows

Liaison with Ministry of Agriculture

Started rock quarry; sold dump trucks full of stone daily

Hoes, shovels, pickaxes

Built 62 farming terraces; crop yield = 1 ton beans in first year; even greater yields thereafter

Liaison with US Embassy, Kigali

Pygmy song and dance troupe “KWIZERA” organized and performing; now, new CD produced and distribution ongoing

Monitoring and Evaluation Services

Data-driven basis for program development; post-intervention survey ongoing June 2011

Creation and training of “ABAHUZA” Cooperative

Leadership training, financial management, business and agricultural education

Liaison with Executives of the Cell, Sector, District and Ministry of Local Government

Partnership relationship for housing construction and future spread of COPHAD development methods to other poor Rwandan communities

Liaison with Heifer International

Donation of animal husbandry curriculum

Coordination of multiple donor groups

Establishment of goat herd; now with over 96 goats. Introduction of cows; now with 11 cows.

Compressed-earth brick machine

Thousands of bricks made to build new houses

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bwiza performance group CD to be released

Bwiza’s performance troup, Kwizera is set to release a CD of traditional songs this year called “Songs of Bwiza”. It will include music that promotes messages of peace and understanding. The recording was made by Phil Vernon from British Columbia, Canada with the help of an international group of volunteers and will be available for purchase soon on

This is big news for the community.

When we first met with the people of Bwiza we told them that we’d heard pygmies used to dance for the king of Rwanda, and so we asked if this community still danced. They responded, “No.” We asked them through the translator, “Why not?” And they told us that they couldn’t sing and dance anymore because they were hungry.

Now, with food security improved in Bwiza, people are singing and dancing again! Volunteer Karl Derringer generously donated costumes and arranged for them to perform at the US embassy’s crafts fair in 2009.

Training, training and more training!

Private sector organization, Women for Women, is conducting training for 120 women on entrepreneurship once a week for four months. In attendance will be 13 women from Bwiza. The group will learn about small business ventures like making juice, raising poultry, and selling milk.

Karl Deringer, one of our volunteers, has also helped to encourage entrepreneurship by promoting groups of five persons to form teams for trading local resources at markets. They “buy low” at one market and then carry the goods to another market where they can “sell high”. In this way, the teams are learning money management skills. Starting with a loan of about $10 per person, they have been able to pay off the loans after several months. (Left: Members of the cooperative hold salt licks they were able to buy for their cows using their profits.)

Heifer International is also conducting training with 40 community members from Bwiza’s “ABAHUZA” cooperative on effective animal care and husbandry. Since 2008, livestock in Bwiza has grown from 1 cow and 34 goats, to 11 cows and 96 goats. Bwiza residents have expressed the need for more training on how to care for the animals.

In the training, community members will learn the signs of a sick goat or cow so they can identify ailing animals. They will also learn how to administer medicine to the livestock, if the illness is serious. (Right: A trainer teaches the group about proper grazing for cattle.)

Crops Flourish in Bwiza

Even though Bwiza is located on relatively infertile and rocky soil, this year community members are expecting big crop yields. Pygmy Survival Alliance with our partner on the ground, Health Development Initiative, donated five tons of manure to fertilize bean and sorghum plants as they grow. One Bwiza resident, Nyirabera, told us she was very happy and expects to harvest a lot of beans this season.

This man from Bwiza is known as Nyakarundi, and he reports a large bean harvest this year. He said it's because he dug terraces and used manure this season.

One brick at a time…

Here at the Seattle office of Pygmy Survival Alliance, we were excited to learn about an effective brick making invention, called the Makiga Stabilized Soil Block Press (SSB) Machine.

It’s produced in Kenya and can make hundreds of bricks a day with just a few people. Working without electricity, two people load the center container with a mixture of soil and cement, and then another person tightly compresses the dirt by pulling a leaver down. When the leaver is pulled up, out pops a beautiful, strong brick. The strong force used to compress the bricks means cement can go much farther: about one bag of cement per 250 bricks. The finished product is even grooved so each brick will interlock with the next and less cement is needed as mortar. That's important because cement is about four times as expensive in Rwanda as it is in the USA.

So far, Bwiza community members have made over 500 bricks for use in the new houses.

Bwiza to get new houses

The people of Bwiza have been living in small houses under grass- thatched roofs, which did not protect them against heavy rainfall and cold nights. But recently, the Rwandan government implemented a new policy abolishing thatched houses in favor of more “modern” houses made of bricks.

Pygmy Survival Alliance, the Bwiza community and our partner, Health Development Initiative, have been assisting in the construction of new brick houses so the people of Bwiza can have better living conditions. Villagers are excited to relocate to the new houses, so they’ve been actively participating in construction. HDI and PSA supported the work with donations of 20 dump trucks of stone for foundations, 50 bags of cement and a brick machine that can make over 250 bricks per day.

This truck is carrying 50 bags of cement, given by HDI and PSA

The construction was the focus of a recent community work event, called umuganda, which takes place once a month. The district mayor (pictured right with HDI's Dr. Nkurunziza), secondary school students and Bwiza community members all pitched-in to build the houses. The mayor thanked the community for their participation and expressed his appreciation for the partnership of HDI and PSA.

It was a great success!

Students from a near-by school helping in the construction of houses on umuganda day.