John Walter, Kigali, Rwanda
Since 2010, when I first became involved professionally – and invigorated personally – with Africa, my four children wanted to see it all for themselves. So this summer, we cashed in airline miles and headed out.
Our youngest daughter, Faith (13), has an artist’s eye for photography. So we asked her to help document our trip. And of all the things she photographed, she spent a lot of time on COWS. She’s obsessed with them – filling a questionable 10GB worth of space with water buffalo pictures on safari.
But the cows we met at New Dawn are another story. And they point to the ingenuity of the kind of local leader we invest in.
Take this cow. We called her “Bessie.” Of course. She has a job – to give milk that is then pasteurized and used in meals for the students. Any excess is sold locally.
But that’s just the beginning of her role.
Her waste is collected in a bio-digester that produces methane – just right for use with a cooker. That digested waste is also used in their kale fields and greenhouses. So Bessie contributes to the school lunch menu and provides income through contracts with local distributors.
What strikes me, though, about our visit is what didn’t happen. Usually when folks like my family visit a place and see an obvious problem - hungry kids who can’t do well in school - we want to move right to solution (let’s pay to feed them). The challenge with that is obvious – eventually we lose interest or capacity, and they are right back where they started.
Instead, the locally–driven solution delivered this integrated answer that works perfectly in their context. They know best the market for different fruits and vegetables (sometimes strawberries, sometimes peppers or tomatoes), or how to source food for the cows or… You get the idea.
There is still room for families like mine or yours to chip in, but we have to listen and learn and engage long enough to know where best we can join in. And we have to be prepared for it to be different than what we imagined.