A visit to Rutonde

Jun 5 2013

Today's excursion took us up-country to Rutonde district, 10 kilometres north of Kigali. We were visiting the Parish of Pastor Immaculee Mukamusoni who runs a children's project up there.

From Kigali centre (mumuji to the locals) we took a taxibus to the main bus station in the city, Nyabugogo. From there Immaculee called a white taxi she knows to take us into the country. The taxi arrived looking somewhat less than white, which to be fair is to be expected in the Kigali dust. This was a time-worn Toyota Corolla which had definitely seen better days. The windscreen was smashed in two places with arcs of break-lines radiating from both impact points. The driver said it had been hit by a car bonnet. We pulled away and immediately had to slow for a set of traffic lights, at which point the front passenger door swung open. Our confidence wasn't helped by the distinct odour of petrol inside the car. Once out of the city proper, our driver carefully picked his way along the dirt track to Rutonde, as one does on a rough road with no shock absorbers, and after what seemed an eternity of vibration we arrived mercifully unscathed.

Rutonde is a scattered community on a hillside set among banana plantations, sugar cane, cassava, maize and beans. In the valley below, the River Nyaburongo winds its way towards Kigali making water relatively plentiful here, even during the dry season. There is no electricity although a line is being built and should be completed this year.

Our first port of call was an elderly widow's house in the village. The sole comforts inside were wooden chairs which we were offered as guests. The widow sat on the earth floor. What plaster remained on the walls was disintegrating and shafts of sunlight streamed from the hole in the roof. The front door didn't fit its frame and had to be propped closed with a hoe. The widow lives with her daughter who was out looking for firewood when we called. The houses in Rutonde are spread out and largely hidden by vegetation. Looking around the hillside, this hovel was perhaps one of the worst but by no means the only example of poverty.

The local church where Immaculee is pastor is home to a children's project managed by one of the large NGOs. Around two hundred children are given Saturday classes as well as food, soap and medical care. These are some of the poorest children in the area and as we have heard so frequently before, food at home isn't always available. The church would like to start a porridge programme to give the children a meal each day.

The irony is that in Rutonde with its abundant crops there are children who go hungry. Not everyone is a farmer or has enough land to produce something to eat. It is perhaps a sign of conditions here that on our way back to the car we came upon three girls from the local school hiding furtively behind some maize. They had something to eat - sugar cane - but had sneaked away to eat it out of sight of other pupils.