It’s been 19 months since my first visit to the Millennium Village of Mayange in Rwanda, and wow, things have changed. I first visited Mayange in 2012 when I worked for Millennium Promise. Then two months ago, I found myself in back in Rwanda with a friend. With some spare time between memorials and gorillas, I decided to go back.
Mayange is a fascinating place and a shining example of the Millennium Villages Project. Maybe it’s because Mayange is more densely settled than the most other Project sites. Or maybe it’s because Mayange is in Rwanda, a country where roads are not only paved but have dividing lines, barriers, and sidewalks. Whatever the case, Mayange is a place of inspiration and dedication, commitment and conviction.
One example of progress is the women’s basket weaving cooperative. In 2012, the women worked outside in the shade on the ground, surrounded by children and the errant roaming goat. On this visit, I found the cooperative located in an industrial craft complex alongside other cooperatives. The women have a dedicated section to showcase their wares and negotiate wholesale prices to buyers. The complex also houses welders, furniture makers, bicycle repairmen, and more. Each industry has its masters and apprentices, the latter mostly high-school aged boys learning a trade that will ultimately raise their incomes and help pull them out of extreme poverty.
More progress: the cassava plant. In 2012, it had a small washing station, a hand-pressing station, and a few beds for drying. Today, while the washing and pressing stations are still functioning, they aren’t used much. The cooperative has built a new, commercial washing and pressing unit. There are drying beds as far as the eye can see. Farmers sell commercially and locally, and there’s an obvious excitement in the air (which thankfully drowns out the pungent smell of cassava!).
Then, the primary school. Whoa. It’s beautiful. Pathways between buildings are landscaped, and locals even pay a fee to take their wedding photos there! There is a library with books on every subject and posters explaining the human reproductive system. A technology lab with computers donated by Connect To Learn. And a cow, named Nina(!). Through the “Buy a Cow, Feed a School” program, cows are donated to schools to provide milk for students, generate income from selling excess milk, and teach animal husbandry as a vocation. The cow is thriving. I’m humbled.
Also, the health center. With only two health outposts in the area, this center sees the majority of the community’s medical cases. Never mind the fact that it was massive, clean, had road access, a parking lot, and wired electricity. It also boasted a maternity ward, electronic check-in system, computer database of Community Health Worker visits, and labs testing for HIV, malaria, and other diseases.
Perhaps the greatest new feature was the girls’ center—a new building near the school, just barely opened, specifically for teenage girls. A place for them to congregate, to learn, to rest. It has flush toilets, showers, and beds, ensuring that even if a girl is menstruating, she need not miss school.
I paraphrase when I say that Mayange is an amazing example of what is possible through the Millennium Villages Project. Sure, I’m biased. But see for yourself and try not to be. The MVP works, lives are changing, and there are still almost 2 years to go.