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Mayange, Rwanda

Mayange Cluster: 4 Millennium Villages | 20,000 residents

The Millennium Village cluster in Rwanda is located in Mayange, a sector of Bugesera District located about 40 km south of the capital, Kigali. In a country known as the “pays des milles collines” (“land of 1,000 hills”), the terrain around Mayange is flatter and drier than most of Rwanda. The area suffers from sporadic rainfall and declining soil fertility, leading to endemic poverty, illness and a lack of economic opportunity. The project began working with an initial 5,000 people in Kagenge, one of Mayange's five subdivisions, or cells as they are referred to in Rwanda, in early 2006. The population was facing impending famine because of failing rains and a poor harvest the year before, and the health center was severely lacking in staff, medicines, equipment, and supplies, and had no electricity or running water.

Unlike most of rural Rwanda, where individual homesteads are scattered across the hilly landscape, Mayange has several umudugudus , or settlements, of closely spaced dwellings, which the government built to house returnees after the 1994 genocide. Nearly 14 years after the genocide, Bugesera and Rwanda as a whole are intently focused on rebuilding and reconciliation.

Village Characteristics by Sector

Declining rainfall over the past five years has made productive agriculture challenging. Following a drought in September-December 2005, when the project arrived in January 2006 the team worked with UNICEF and the World Food Programme to facilitate the establishment of an emergency feeding center for severely malnourished mothers and children.

Primary schools are overcrowded, with classes as big as 80 children; the teachers lack books, supplies, and training. The costs associated with secondary education are such that most parents are unable to pay for their children to attend school past the primary level.

When the Millennium Village project began, Mayange Health Center was attempting to serve the local population despite having inadequate nursing staff and virtually no medicines or equipment, as well as no running water or electricity, even though power lines passed a few hundred meters away. Estimates of HIV and child mortality were not encouraging: HIV prevalence was estimated to be the highest in the nation at 13% (though the government has since revised those figures down into single digits). At the time nearly one in five children died before age 5. In February 2006 when the Millennium Villages Project began work at Mayange Health Center, the clinic with a catchment of roughly 25,000 people was seeing fewer than 750 patients a month. With simple, cost-effective interventions, Mayange Health Center which had 6,146 total outpatient visitors in all of 2005 consulted over 4,000 outpatients in just one month. All of this is helping to dramatically reduce under-5 mortality, ensuring healthy mothers are delivering healthy babies, and reversing the impact of limited access to care.

The lack of accessible drinking water forced villagers to spend hours each day retrieving what their family needed to survive. This time-consuming process diverts effort from other important activities, such as education and farming.

Intervention Highlights

By applying targeted, science-based interventions and maximizing community leadership and participation, the villagers of Mayange went from chronic hunger to a bumper harvest in 2006. Malaria incidence is significantly down, the health clinic is booming with patients who know they'll receive good care and treatment, and children now have electricity and a computer lab at school. In just a year and a half, Mayange is on the verge of transformation. The Government of Rwanda recently announced its plans to scale the Millennium Villages project to all 30 districts under its Vision 2020-Umurenge initiative, part of the national development strategy. Each district has designated its neediest sector for Millennium Village interventions, thereby taking the project to unprecedented scale.

Agriculture:  Increase crop yields, decrease hunger and diversify crops

Agriculture yields tripled in the first year and the villagers have set up a cereal bank to store grain and help curb the risk of food insecurity. Farmers have also made great progress in terracing which is proving to be highly effective in combating soil erosion and harvesting rainwater. The villagers are diversifying into high-value crops and are planting fruit trees such as avocado, mango and pomegranate trees. They are also planting beans and sweet potatoes to sell at nearby market for extra income. During the 2007 long rain season, a maize streak virus severely damaged the maize crop, in part because of the delayed rains. This shows the ongoing unpredictability of rainfall in the area and highlights the need for the population to diversify their economic activities.

Health: Improve access to basic medical services, improve maternal and child health, and combat the spread of major diseases

Malaria incidence has declined dramatically thanks to a mass distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets, and sensitization on their use, and malaria testing and treatment at the health center. Maternal and child mortality rates are improving as well. The number of pregnant women now coming to the clinic to deliver has quadrupled due to improved health facilities that are helping to ensure safe births. Before the project began, an average of only 5 to 10 mothers came to the clinic each month to deliver. Now, that number has increased to as many as 40 to 45 per month. In addition, contraceptive use has increased dramatically since the health center introduced routine counseling on contraception for all patients, male and female, regardless of the nature of the health center visit.

Business opportunities and income generation

Many women are undertaking additional income-generating activities such as basket weaving. The Imasirire (sunrise) basket weaving cooperative comprises more than 200 women who are learning basket weaving and business techniques, leading to additional income for their families; the baskets are being sold to visitors and many have been exported internationally. The project is also opening up the community to access to microcredit. Over 75 percent of farmers in Mayange took out a loan for agriculture inputs such as seed and fertilizer for the long rains in 2007, thereby reducing dependence on outside financial assistance. All farmers who took out a loan were required to prove that their entire family had health insurance, and the project provided subsidies for those who could not afford the insurance, which has helped ensure financial access to health care and a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking care.