Stories from Rwanda

Faith Muteteri

“Vegetables are very important because they have changed our lives,” said Faith Muteteri, sitting on a low bench in her backyard surrounded by goats. Her keyhole garden is a few feet away, full of carefully tended greens. She went on to describe her tumultuous path to Kageyo. Born in Uganda as a Rwandan refugee, her family then moved to Tanzania. In 2006, the Tanzanian government forced her family to leave and seized the family’s seventy cows -- their wealth and livelihood. In a society sharply divided by labor, it has been hard to make the transition from being cow herders to farmers, which is the only job immediately available to recently arrived refugees. Most people grow staple crops like maize and beans upon arriving in Kageyo, but don’t take the time to plant unfamiliar, more water-intensive crops like kale and spinach. Her husband eventually went back to Tanzania to keep cows for other people, and he sends money back to provide for their six children.

Faith gardening

Faith was one of the first to attend Kageyo Garden Project’s classes and plant a keyhole garden. Keyhole gardens were first developed in southern Africa to be used in arid climates. They are small enough to be close to kitchens and save water, but large enough to allow for intensive planting. The classes she attended focused on growing organic vegetables, which provide essential nutrients and diversify the local diet. Faith had never eaten kale before, which she now she grows along with spinach and beets. Her garden provides enough for her family to have vegetables three times a week. A lot of her day is taken up by going to the river to fetch water for the garden. Since keeping up with the garden is not easy in dry season, Faith looks forward to rainy season and hopes to start growing onions, eggplant and tomatoes. With six children to feed, she wants to grow in her keyhole garden and in the ground, maximizing her whole plot of land for vegetables. Since most Rwandans subsist on maize and beans, having greens and vegetables is something of a status symbol. “Vegetables are a luxury,” she explained. “Someone is a rich person who has vegetables.” Faith’s commitment to her garden - to hauling water, fending off chickens and weeding - has brightened the future of her family. Even though it has not been an easy road, she is grateful to finally live in peace. When asked what her garden represents to her, Faith said, with a smile, “ I will live a long life.”

Written by Constance Dykhuizen and photo credit to Esther Havens