Nyange Co-Op

Our Community’s Struggle

Poverty is at the root of the social justice issues that our community endures. Interviews with our community have revealed that many members struggle with food, access to clean water, access to electricity, and the cost of education for their children. As the co-op members are mainly subsistence farmers, their means to break their cycle of poverty is limited. Many of them suffer from poor harvests despite their hard work, thus continuously struggle to fully provide for their families.

Underlying Causes of Poverty

On September 25, 2015, a document known as the African Common Position was published by prominent African leaders (including those of Rwanda) at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (2). This document presents a unified position for their agenda’s developmental goals to achieve by the year 2030: Structural economic transformation and inclusive growth; science, technology, and innovation; people-centered development; environmental sustainability, natural resources management and disaster risk management; peace and security; and finance and partnerships. The wide variety to the aforementioned developmental goals attest to how complicated and interconnected the causes of poverty can actually be. In the following sections, we examine a few of the main underlying causes of poverty:

  1. Economy

  2. Impact of Violence and Insecurity: 1994 Genocide

  3. Over-reliance on international aid

  4. Lack of access to information technology

  5. Education

  6. Health


The country of Rwanda is landlocked and located in Eastern Africa. It is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries, with an estimated 12 million residents within an area of about 26 square kilometers (slightly smaller than the state of Maryland). About 80% of the population engages in subsistence agriculture, and coffee and tea serve as the main sources of foreign exchange (4). According to the CIA World Factbook, while Rwanda is known for its fertile ecosystem, “food production often does not keep pace with demand, requiring food imports” (7) In sum, the overall economy of the country relies too heavily on the agricultural sector, with this condition being further boosted by the high population density. Additionally, the market itself can be quite unreliable due to unexpected weather and/or pest conditions. In order to counter this downside, experts suggest economic diversification as the approach to improving the durability of the market.

Genocide’s Impact on Poverty

Rwanda’s history of violence and genocide play a large impact on its ability to overcome poverty due to the insecurity of the people and the uncertainty of the nation’s future that comes with it. After the genocide came to an end, the country began to rebuild, but its citizens would never get back to the well being and peace of mind that was had before the atrocities. When it comes to the priorities of humans in stressful situations, survival instincts and a survival mindset kick in first before the thought of growth or advancement comes along. “Insecurity is the antithesis of human development. It deprives people of the reasoning to make choices, trust their circumstances, or exert control over their lives. Instincts of survival predominate. There can therefore be no poverty reduction without a modicum of personal security”(5). Without this security, it will be a massive challenge for Rwanda to overcome this poverty hurdle and achieve greater economic success.

While this insecurity itself is a major issue, the lack of resources and treatment for these mental stresses is arguably a bigger social justice issue. Since these victims have little to no places to go to try and heal the scars of the genocide - even as little of an impact as they can make - the odds of remission are lower. In addition to this, the government has had a harder time maintaining their own path and security - leading to more insecurity for the citizens. “In a post-genocide country with a Constitution that promises a kind of egalitarian society, failure to satisfy popular aspirations involves grave risks of instability, confusion and fierce political polemics”(1).

This instability, lack of resource, and overall insecurity holds Rwanda back from achieving economic, relational, and personal growth. But with the addition of places and people for these victims to go to in an attempt to heal some of the mental wounds, this insecurity can be reversed with time.

Over-Reliance on International Aid

While a lot of African nations, including Rwanda, have MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) as an international priority. Rwandan President Paul Kagame and other African leaders are trying to focus their energy in the growth of their own countries to rely less and less on foreign aid. MDGs are “ambitious targets for slashing poverty, improving health and education, empowering women and protecting the environment”(3). These leaders understand that sustainable economic progress will come with the creation of more jobs and “greater investments in agricultural and industrial production”(3), and that while aid helps the urgent needs, it fails to put the nations on their own, independent courses of economic sustainability to reach these MDGs.

This point was made clear when Paul Kagame discussed the importance of growing countries developing their own sense of self-reliance, “We can no longer rely on the goodwill of other nations-we neither need to, nor should want to. We must assume effective leadership, take full ownership of the development of our countries and truly deliver for our citizens”(3). Kagame realized that for the sake of Rwanda and other nations, foreign aid was not the answer for their future endeavors and goals, and that it was a not a crutch that they should want to rely on for years to come. Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, made a statement on this issue in a meeting when aid programs were becoming a new normal in Africa, “They brought us fish, but we told them we had fish. Then they came to teach us how to fish, and we told them we already knew how to fish.” What Africa needs today…is for its partners to help us build a fishing industry that supports processing and packing industries, generates steady jobs, links up with other parts of the domestic economy and improves African competitiveness in the global marketplace”(3). This powerful message echoes this idea of assuming effective leadership, but he also says that this foreign aid should be pivoted more to help Africa’s competitiveness and connections for the sake of boosting industry and the economy - as opposed to supplying them with commodities and resources to simply get by.

Zambian-born economist Dambisa Moyo wrote a passionate attack on foreign aid and its inability to alleviate poverty - receiving incredible praise and agreeance from Kagame. She first makes it clear that as Africa has been receiving all of this aid, they have been regressing economically, opposing the purpose of this aid. She then explains how a lot of her anger comes from the voice that celebrities have in support of this aid (she uses Bono as a big example) with “the exclusion of Africans with experience and expertise. ‘Scarcely does one see Africa’s (elected) officials or those African policymakers charged with a country’s development portfolio offer an opinion on what should be done,’ she writes, ‘or what might actually work to save the continent from its regression’”(6). Her argument that these African leaders lack an international voice in the way that this aid should be aimed shows a lack of social justice on a global stage. Even though these officials are supposedly in the driver’s seat of their nation’s development, their lack of a voice in reaching these aid suppliers results in their experience and ideas on alleviating long term poverty going unheard - an injustice that does not help these nations out of poverty.

These habits of misdirected foreign aid and over-reliance on it by growing nations like Rwanda have prolonged and kept the nation in poverty - even though they are receiving “aid” intended to help them. Foreign nations that have the resources to create an industrial spark in these motivated countries should aim their aid in the same direction as the nations in order to boost jobs, economic sustainability, and the decrease of need for foreign aid. With properly aimed and planned assistance in tandem with effective leadership, the need for aid could decrease and Rwanda could advance its progress out of poverty significantly.

Lack of Access to Information Tech

As advanced information technologies throughout the world continue to be developed, it is crucial for developing countries to stay in touch with these advancements. In his article, “Connecting Developing Countries to the Information Technology Revolution ” Jean-Francois Richard stresses the importance of keeping up: “There is no better way to illustrate the tremendous pressures for change than through examples of transformations already underway and by the potential applications of these low-cost, high-leverage technologies on the human resource and poverty agenda, the environmental agenda, and several competitiveness-related areas.” (11). As these technologies continue to be promoted and enhanced in more developed countries, it is a great concern that the gap between developed and developing countries will continue to grow. Richard implies that these information technologies can make a world of difference in areas such as Education and Training, Health Systems, Environmental Monitoring and Management, and the Reduction of Isolation, especially in the solving problems created by poverty. For example, in areas where it is challenging for children to receive an education, “with a simple cellular link and second-hand PC, the concept of the village school can be reinvented, along with the concept of the teacher” (11). While there are some disadvantages to the lack of physical presence of a teacher, access to the internet can have the potential to offer an even greater amount of impact, due to the amount of resources available.

Education and Health

“Most MDGs depend on the availability of more schools, more hospitals, more rural infrastructures, more boreholes, dams and wells, more trained teachers, doctors, nurses, agronomists, scientists.… Let us pay attention to the supply side if we are to meet these goals.”(3). This statement made on the obstacles of growth in the areas of industry, healthcare, and education emphasizes the need to get people into these industries while they build them up. This is because it is one thing to have schools and hospitals, but if there are no educated citizens to occupy and run them effectively, there are no gains to be made as a nation.

The atrocities of the genocide brought a lot of misplacement and deaths to Rwanda, resulting in a large amount of orphans. These orphans and people who have dropped out of school then have been primarily working outside of their households with little to no focus on gaining an education for the sake of advancing their lives. “The Ministry of Public Service and Labour (MPSL) estimates that more than 170,000 children under the age of 15 are engaged to a considerable degree in work outside their home…where they are employed as cheap labour”(8). Since the genocide, Rwanda has made decent strides to bringing back education to these populations, but the government has yet to give everyone access to free primary schooling - limiting the families who can get their kids into schools: “(the) goal of EFA (Education for All), that is, to make EFA a reality and a right for all Rwandans who express the need, irrespective of any social considerations such as age and living conditions…The financial issue that prevents successful pupils from enrolling in secondary education and the YTCs (Youth Training Centres) could be resolved if the idea of making basic education free was generally applied”(8). This accompanied with the fact that some kids can not get to schools due to the geographical distance and difficulty makes for a strong case for the Rwandan government to increase its push for better education levels. If these education levels can rise, there will be more skilled workers and people with the knowledge to move the country forward in the near future - cutting down poverty rates and increasing the standard of jobs and industry.

With more educated citizens, more people can be qualified to work in, and run, hospitals in the area and boost healthcare. While there has been an increase in the distribution and “provision of safety nets (i.e. HIV/AIDS affected groups)”(1), the quality of other basic healthcare needs, regular doctor visits, and overall systems are still considerably low. “Rwanda’s health system has had an uncoordinated plethora of donors, shortage of health staff, inequity of access, and poor quality of care in health facilities”(9). Rwanda has made significant progress since the end of the genocide in 1994, but there are always the given obstacles that come with growing in Rwanda: few natural resources, landlocked, and high population growth(9). With the help of organization from the government, more resources from foreign aid, and an increase in education, the social injustice of little regard for poor healthcare can be reversed, and in turn the poverty rate can decrease due to a healthier population and more jobs.

The Effect of EWB Work

The work our SCU-Engineers Without Borders chapter presents should be viewed purely as a supplement to the larger amount of developmental work that should be received by our community in Rwanda. Simply from examining the aforementioned underlying roots of poverty, engineering solutions can undoubtedly make a huge impact on the quality of life of those suffering from poverty, yet they cannot be viewed as the full, comprehensive solution. Our partner NGO, PICO, has noticeably made a remarkable, positive difference in the community through their provision of leadership training classes and guidance in business plans. Through collaboration with PICO, the EWB-SCU team can make lasting, positive impact on the community. During our team’s last visit to the community, community leaders shared how motivating and meaningful it was to their cooperative to know that the team was working on projects for them in the U.S.. The following paragraphs feature an analysis of the different types of impact the SCU-EWB chapter has made in the community:

As featured on this website, the Summer 2018 Electric wagon project was designed to improve the efficiency of the community’s tile-making business. Transporting heavy clay up and down the steep trail was reportedly both the longest and the hardest part of the process, and many members shared their experiences of mental and physical exhaustion after a single day of this work. With the new use of the electric wagon, members can more easily transport hundreds of pounds of clay through the use of a single operator. Thus, the tile-making process itself can be optimized so that only a few members of the cooperative collect clay throughout the day while the rest can devote their time to other important steps.

What are potential, long-term impacts from this project? It is within our team’s highest hopes that the community will eventually be able to sustain itself economically through the tile-making business and other future ventures. Once the co-op is able to produce a high amount of clay tiles within a smaller amount of time, their ability to provide for different types of markets will expand. According to co-op members, ability to fulfill customer demand was a big issue, as it takes up to a month to fill up their kiln with 8,600 tiles and bricks yet customers’ requests often entail anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 tiles at a time. Additionally, as the tile-making business continues to expand, it can also provide new jobs and opportunities for others. Many of the current co-op members expressed their personal desires for their children to take their places within the business, yet it has also been shared that additional families hope to join the business now.


Leaders in the development of sustainable social work practices have found that in order to make long-lasting impact, the focus should no longer be on simply supporting a community in need by encouraging a type of over dependence on benefits and other resources . The new approach should be one in developing a sense of economic self-sufficiency (10). The SCU-EWB team has adapted a similar mindset, because we recognize that in order for the community to truly lift themselves out of poverty, it needs to be done with the intention of self-sufficiency. For example, our travel team’s approach to training the community members on the operation of the Electric wagon was planned specifically to help encourage members to take the initiative and lead. Instead of teaching every single member of the community the operations of the cart, we taught a handful of the community members, and acted only as support as they taught the rest of the cooperative. We found that taking such actions, which can even be seen as taking a step back, helped empower the community to truly learn the functions of the cart while practicing inter-collaborative teaching.


(1) Jakes, Joe B. “Post-Genocide Rwanda: Economic Growth for Social Justice?” The New Times | Rwanda, 15 Mar. 2013, www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/63899.

This article on defining social justice and its relationship with economic growth comes from Rwanda’s leading newspaper. It’s overview on the Rwandan government’s approaches in the face of the nation’s economic future in question gives good material to use in researching the influences of insecurity on poverty. It also gives possible solutions and steps for Rwanda to take to combat these poverty levels and ensure cooperation

(2) “OSAA, Africa, UN and Africa, United Nations and Africa, Special Adviser, UN, United Nations, NEPAD, African Union.” United Nations, United Nations, 2015, www.un.org/en/africa/osaa/peace/sdgs.shtml.

This online page provides an overview of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development developed by the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2015. Included within this section is the African Common Position (CAP), which provides a sense for the collective sense of goals shared by many African leaders in the movement to eradicate poverty. The CAP was made to ensure that the 2030 Agenda properly aligned with their own developmental goals.

(3) Reporter, Times. “In Global Fight Against Poverty, Africans Point the Way.” The New Times | Rwanda, 13 Feb. 2011, www.newtimes.co.rw/section/read/28427.

Rwanda’s leading newspaper, The New Times, published this article that discusses the economic and social causes of poverty that need to be addressed in order to pull Rwanda - and all of the other African nations - out of poverty. Their main claims of steps that need to be taken, from the perspectives of citizens who work in and understand these issues first-hand, are larger investments in agricultural and industrial production, creating jobs, and gaining support from governmental policies that increase economic growth.

(4) “Rwanda: Country Review.” Country Watch, 2018, www.countrywatch.com.libproxy.scu.edu/Intelligence/CountryReviews?CountryId=143.

This online page provides a thorough overview of the statistics and demographics of the country of Rwanda. The ‘Economic Overview’ is of particular help, explaining Rwanda’s main source of income and its associated economic struggles. It also provides a timeline of the country’s ‘extraordinary national regeneration program’ since the 1994 genocide.

(5) Browne, Stephen. “Insecurity Leads to Poverty.” Choices (New York, NY), vol. 9, no. 3, Sept. 2000, p. 8. EBSCOhost, login.libproxy.scu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofm&AN=503710125&site=ehost-live.

Stephen Browne, a liberal arts professor at Penn State and a rhetorical critic with interests in public memory and social movements, digs into the effects that insecurity can have on people’s and a nation’s ability to combat poverty - especially in the wake of atrocities like Rwandas endured. He also looks into the solutions and plans that can be made to address these mental issues and how agencies can cooperate and work out the nation’s insecurities to help their fight against poverty.

(6) Bhagwati, Jagdish. “Banned Aid: Why International Assistance Does Not Alleviate Poverty.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 89, no. 1, Jan. 2010, pp. 120–125. EBSCOhost, login.libproxy.scu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofm&AN=504371542&site=ehost-live.

Jagdish Bhagwati is a professor of economics and law at Columbia University - notable for his research in international trade and advocacy of free trade. He frequently quotes Dambisa Moyo in this article, a young Zambian-born economist who was educated at Harvard and Oxford and worked at Goldman Sachs and the World Bank. She wrote an attack on foreign aid that received praise from Paul Kagame. Her statements focused on the fact that Africans with expertise in the national government, economy, and industry lack a voice in terms of where and how this aid is utilized, and how this social injustice results in little to no progress out of poverty.

(7) Central Intelligence Agency. “Rwanda.” cia.gov. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 6 Dec. 2018, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/rw.html

The CIA World Factbook was used to obtain more economic background information on the country of Rwanda. Additionally, to compare information used from an earlier source, Country Watch. This source confirmed Rwanda’s heavy reliance on agriculture as a source of income as a source of struggle in economic stability, since food production does not keep up with the high population demand.

(8) Kanamugire, Camille, and Joseph Rutakamize. “The Remedial Programme for Out-of-School and Drop-out Children in Rwanda.” Prospects (00331538), vol. 38, no. 2, June 2008, pp. 237–246. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11125-008-9065-y.

Camille Kanamugire and Joseph Rutakamize are Rwandans involved in the education field that introduce an education system that is fairly new to Rwanda that helps bring the formal education system back to children who are no longer in school due to varying circumstances. This article looks into the factors of this system that are positive for the growth and education, and therefore the decline of poverty in having more educated citizens to boost industry and the economy. They also look into the geographical and governmental obstacles that have come along the way and how they plan to traverse them.

(9) Logie, Dorothy E., et al. “Innovations in Rwanda’s Health System: Looking to the Future.” Lancet, vol. 372, July 2008, pp. 256–261. EBSCOhost, login.libproxy.scu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofm&AN=508999121&site=ehost-live.

Dr. Dorothy E. Logie, a public health and primary care doctor who has lived in multiple African nations and published articles on healthcare issues, writes this article on Rwanda’s healthcare system, its improvements, flaws, and future. She states that the lack of coordination between pieces in the healthcare field, resources, and therefore quality care is harming the potential of the nation. Her insights into how this all can be improved and the possibilities for growth in Rwanda are discussed in the article as well.

(10) Gates, Lauren B., et al. “Social Work’s Response to Poverty: From Benefits Dependence to Economic Self-Sufficiency.” Journal of Social Work Education, vol. 53, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 99–117. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/10437797.2016.1212752.

This source discusses how the past trends of social work are now transitioning into approaches that support economic self-sufficiency. Such an approach is important in order to counter the growing income inequality and poverty rates experienced by the disadvantaged. Within this source, a study is conducted, and it is concluded that only about half of social work education programs promote skills in encouraging economic self-sufficiency, which raises concerns for the future of social work.

(11) Rischard, Jean-Francois. “Connecting Developing Countries to the Information Technology Revolution.” SAIS Review, vol. 16, Jan. 1996, pp. 93–107. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/sais.1996.0019.

Jean-François Rischard, an economist and previous Vice President of the World Bank from 1998 to 2005, writes about the current revolution in information technology and how crucial it is for developing countries to be a part of it. In sum, these low-cost technologies can help lead development against poverty in these countries, yet because they’re already available in developed countries, the movement raises the ‘threshold of competitiveness’.