Stephanie Harerimana, 71 is sitting in front of her new brick built modern house in Gacaca Green Model village, in Musanze district, Northern Province of Rwanda. She has combed her hair in traditional Rwandan hairstyle “Uruhanika”, symbolising happiness and well-being.
She has six children, too many grand-children hard for her to remember, and two great grand-children.
Her family is among the 62 households that were resettled from dangerous islands of Ruhondo Lake, located on the outskirts of Musanze district, and settled in Gacaca Green Model Village, in the same district. The new place that they now call home is safer and more environmentally friendly.
Comparing the new and ancient home-places, Harerimana said they used to live disconnected from the rest of the world. In the middle of waters of Ruhondo Lake, they had no access to markets, electricity, clean water or health care. Access to school for children of the island was another stumbling block for their educational development.
“Our children had to cross the waters every morning to attend schools on the other side of the lake, which exposed them to drowning accidents,” explains Harerimana. She adds that “I believe this village is a place that God has designed for me for my better retirement.”
Like Heririmana, every family in this Gacaca Green Model village has a solid brick built modern house, biogas, kitchen garden and water tanks. They also have access to essential health care as a health post was established inside the village. Children attend a nearby school and solar powered electricity contributes to improved learning conditions. Households are organised into groups that share cowsheds to house the livestock they were given to improve their nutrition and income.
Gacaca Village is an example of the Green Model Village concept that was introduced in Rwanda in 2011 to tackle Rwanda’s growing natural resource challenges, while at the same time providing homes, schools, water, gas and electricity for the most vulnerable communities.
The Green Village concept was also designed to demonstrate how addressing poverty-related environmental problems such as soil erosion, inadequate access to water, deforestation, and unsustainable land use, among others, can help to achieve national development goals and priorities.
The Government of Rwanda partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Rwanda and UN Environment through the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) to pilot Green Villages as part of the nation’s vision and commitment to transform into a middle-income nation by 2030.
Adopting innovative technologies, including rainwater harvesting systems, use of biogas residue as fertilizer, tree planting for climate proofing and terracing has helped to increase agricultural productivity. The provision of clean water and energy from rain harvesting and biogas has dramatically improved the quality of life of women and children who no longer have to spend hours lugging water from far-away wells or foraging for firewood. Instead, they can pursue more productive activities, including schoolwork.
Green Villages also have been a perfect place to empower youth and build their capabilities, especially those who are in rural areas. In a Green Village such as Gacaca, youth have more access to various job opportunities and to new technologies.
Leopord Uwobasa, 23, discovered the Internet for the first time after his family was resettled in Gacaca Green Village. “I hesitated to buy a mobile phone because access to electricity for recharging the battery was a big challenge. So, how could I have known the Internet while I did not even have a mobile phone?” asked Uwobasa.
Like his fellow youth, Uwobasa acknowledged that in the Green Village his life changed for the better as he gained access to various digital technologies and gadgets that help him to connect with others and keep up to date on development dynamics.
The Vice-Mayor of Musanze district in charge of Economic Development appreciates the partnership with UNDP Rwanda that led to positive change in the lives of the residents of Gacaca Green Village. “We are happy to see them living in safe and better conditions than on the isolated and dangerous islands. The Green Village also enabled the government to provide various services that we believe will the residents to help improve their livelihoods and achieve the development targets we aspire to,” Vice-Mayor Rucyahana says.
Between 2013 and 2018, different Green Villages have been established in partnership with UNDP Rwanda, including Rweru Green Village in Bugesera District, Gashaki and Gacaca Green Village in Musanze, Rugarama Green Village in Burera, and Kibangira Green Village in Rusizi, impacting more than 243 households.
This initiative has proven to be a sustainable solution in rural Rwanda, especially for vulnerable populations that live under difficult conditions—on very steep slopes prone to landslides or on small islands in the lakes, and generally in poor economic conditions with limited infrastructure and access to public services. It also demonstrated that Green Villages generate indirect economic benefits and can lead to significant decreases in poverty.
During a field visit to Gacaca Green Village, the Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Rwanda, Ms. Varsha Redkar-Palepu, was amazed by how the initiative has changed people’s lives while promoting green growth.
“I am pleased to see that in this decade of action with the Government of Rwanda, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, an integrated approach has made tremendous positive impacts on people’s lives. It is a real proof that a government need not choose between green growth and economic growth. The Green Village approach has demonstrated that we can improve the livelihoods of the population while also protecting our nature and restoring ecosystems,” Ms. Varsha said.
Ms. Varsha also commended the Government of Rwanda’s efforts to scale-up the initiative as part of the country’s Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy that seeks to help Rwanda achieve its ambition of becoming a climate resilient, inclusive and carbon neutral economy by 2050.
Due to the good impacts of Green Villages on the welfare of the population, other donors and the government continued to invest in the concept. Around 60 green and model villages were established by early 2018. Now, there is a national target to build at least one of these villages in each of the country’s 416 sectors by 2024.