“I think this generation is going to be the one to see poverty end on the continent, if not in Rwanda.” – Joram Kimenyi, Tools for Hope
In just a few short years, Joram Kimenyi and Richard Trevillian have turned a possibly unlikely friendship that began in Knoxville, TN, into a partnership that is dramatically changing the lives of a group of 20 farmers in rural Rwanda.
Trevillian, a retired nuclear systems operations consultant, and Kimenyi, a third-generation Anglican Rwandan who has been living, working, and pursuing higher education in America since 2010, both attend Apostles Anglican in Knoxville. After serving on the ushering team together – and a year of casual conversations – they discovered they both had similar views on how to approach eradicating poverty.
“We found that in about the last 50 years, the West has pumped in about a trillion dollars in aid to sub-Saharan Africa. With that trillion dollars and that 50 years, we managed to lower the standard of living of the average African about 30 percent,” says Trevillian.
From inside Rwanda, Kimenyi has seen the ineffectiveness of Western aid when it’s not implemented with cultural appropriateness. “Charity is corrosive. You give people free stuff, they seem to do well, and then you step away and everything goes back to where it was,” he says. “I feel very strongly about bringing foreign ideas into a culture.”
While well intentioned, outside aid typically puts local merchants selling that same product or service out of business. During a famine, for example, outside aid ruins the local farming and wholesale food economies. Wanting to build an organization with the end-user in mind, focusing on the Rwandan farmers’ needs, Kimenyi and Trevillian formed Tools for Hope together in 2015.
“We’re not just coming in there and saying, well, this is the way we do it in Knoxville, this is the way you ought to do it in Rwanda,” says Trevillian.
“We’re not trying to tell them to be different from who they culturally are,” adds Kimenyi. “We’re just teaching them new techniques that are within their culture, and within their country, and within their context.”
Those new techniques include ongoing agricultural training and microloans for portable irrigation equipment. In a country with near-perfect growing conditions year-round, the 5-month drought period in between rainy seasons is what keeps Rwandan farmers in a cycle of poverty rather than bringing in continual harvests. Portable irrigation equipment is offered by the Rwandan government, if farmers can come up with half of the $3,000 price tag.
Trevillian says for these farmers, “$1,500 might as well have been 15 million.”
The microloans offered by Tools for Hope helped a group of farmers buy the portable irrigation system, while earning credit with their local bank while they make payments. It’s also brought accountability on multiple levels – the farmers with local leadership and leadership to the government – since they all must answer to each other about use of the equipment.
“They feel proud that they’re paying their way, that they’re buying the system,” says Trevillian, adding that dignity is a high value for Tools of Hope. “When we’re gone… they will have established credit on their own and will be able to go to a bank or a microfinance and borrow money on their own.”
With the new irrigation system in place, the farmers reaped a staggering 300% greater harvest in just two months, while the farmers’ children were able to stay in school during the dry season instead of being needed to haul water from the river.
But the greatest help to the farmers, according to Kimenyi: “They know that Deo is their guy.”
Deo Niyomugabo is the Rwandan farming mentor employed by Tools for Hope, his greatest tools being an agri-business degree and a cell phone. Living just an hour away, Deo can come visit to train, check on the fields, and is just a phone call away when farmers have questions about their crops.
“He comes alive in the ground,” says Kimenyi about Deo. “Once we’re in the farmer’s territory, he’s in the soil, he’s grabbing to see the moisture in it, he’s touching the plants, he’s looking at the water… he’s really born to be out there.”
Training from Deo revealed that the farmers had been over-using pesticides: After correcting this, the farmers saved money and saw a greater harvest. And with the ubiquity of smartphones, a farmer can send Deo a photo of a problem with the produce, which Deo can then ask friends in the Ministry of Agriculture about, if needed. A quick turn-around on a remedy means fewer crops lost to pests or disease.
Tools for Hope now has an even greater opportunity to impact farmers across Rwanda: with machinery, and the possible production inside Rwanda of a Basic Utility Vehicle – the “BUV.” They’re currently raising funds to ship a BUV from Tanzania for research and development, to determine the best design for Rwandan terrain. The Rwandan government has already agreed to provide land and 70% financing for a factory.
“Farmers can get access to loans to purchase them, they can build their own roads, they can get access to rural areas that they don’t have access to right now. They can start small scale food production, tilling, water access… It’s really hard to tell how vast the importance of this vehicle would be,” says Kimenyi.
Trevillian cites a study showing farmers were 40 times more productive when they had access to machinery. In a country where poverty means high infant and child mortality, inconsistent education for children, and a higher risk of AIDS infection, increased production and employment to break the cycle of poverty is crucial. Kimenyi believes projects like the BUV project will help “tip the scales” for Rwandans in poverty.
“Every time we go home, it’s just a huge difference from the last time. There’s a lot of optimism out there, and people are working really hard. I think this generation is going to be the one to see poverty end on the continent, if not in Rwanda.”
One of Kimenyi’s favorite stories to come out of Tools for Hope was a time that Deo visited the fields, and thought people had been stealing crops. It turned out that the farmers had such a surplus – beyond their own needs and produce for the market – they were allowing those even poorer than themselves to come pick food.
“That was very touching for me, because these people are poor. But even in the little that they have, they still find it in their hearts to say, you know, you’re not going to go hungry in our community.”
For Trevillian, his favorite story is from his second trip to see the farmers.
“One of the elders said to me, ‘We didn’t really think you would come back a second time… We believe that God sent you to us, and that everything is going to be okay.’ And I said, actually I believe the same thing.”
Click here to help Tools for Hope raise $2500 to get its BUV from Tanzania to Rwanda, and learn more about their exciting BUV project and partnerships.