Rwanda Red Cross’ Model Village approach: harnessing people power to cause transformation

Red Cross volunteers and local communities work in a sector nursery bed of trees to be planted to combat disaster risks.

Relief or development? This is a question many people ask when it comes to Red Cross operations, most often curious to know in which area of work the organisations within this global humanitarian movement operate.

Looking at the operations of the Red Cross as the biggest global humanitarian movement generally, and more specifically at the Rwanda Red Cross Society, it is evident that the two areas of humanitarian interventions are intertwined.

The Red Cross Movement as a humanitarian organisation is composed of the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) – largely known to many Rwandans by its French acronym CICR –, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies such as the Rwanda Red Cross Society and across these various organs, both relief and development work manifest in the movement’s interventions.

148291991610 volunteers are recruited and trained to support each of the selected villages2
10 volunteers are recruited and trained to support each of the selected villages.

ICRC as globally mandated, operates in armed conflict zones giving support to the most vulnerable civilians and wounded combatants. IFRC on the other hand works in and supports during disaster emergencies.

However, both international arms of the Red Cross movement operate through the hands of volunteers who work under their respective National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Whereas ICRC and IFRC are international organs, the third organ of the Red Cross Movement –National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies – are local organisations created by national governments and which operate as a support institutions to their countries in the humanitarian field.

As such, the Rwanda Red Cross was formed in 1964 after Rwanda’s ratification of the Geneva Conventions.

With the ICRC’s role being intervention during armed conflicts in addition to being the custodian of the Geneva Conventions (laws of war), and the IFRC’s being intervention during disaster situations, national societies in the global Red Cross Movement are largely the implementers of both mandates.

And looking at the mandates of both international organs of this global humanitarian movement, relief and development are intertwined.


Why development interventions within a relief, first aid movement?

Both the ICRC and IFRC’s roles are complex in that they are not only expected to offer relief support, but also recovery.

Particularly looking at the IFRC, its mandate of intervening in disaster emergencies spans across the disaster cycle from disaster risk reduction (including activities geared aimed at reducing frequency of disaster emergencies and their intensity and building the resilience of communities to disasters), disaster preparedness (spanning interventions aimed at capacitating national and local structures to intervene during disasters), disaster response (which consists of activities that offer relief support to communities affected by mega disasters which national organs of the affected country cannot independently deal with) and recovery from disaster (including all activities aimed at rebuilding disaster affected communities).

It is these activities that span the disaster management cycle that compel the Red Cross Movement’s involvement in development work.

1482920154Some groups in the selected model villages showcase talent and are supported to develop and earn an income from them2
Some artistic groups in the selected model villages are supported to develop and earn an income from their art. This group in Nyabihu plans to record some of their traditional music soon.

According to Apollinaire Karamaga the Secretary General of the Rwanda Red Cross, waiting to only support after a catastrophe hits is counterproductive, because most often during such crises, it is people who have all along been vulnerable that are most affected.

“Currently, our emphasis on empowering communities to build their resilience to various risks is based on the knowledge that the most poor and vulnerable people are most affected when any emergency occurs. Be it a war or disaster event, poverty-stricken communities and families are most devastated.”

Based on this knowledge, the Rwanda Red Cross has since the 2000s increased its involvement in development interventions aimed at empowering most vulnerable people and communities to become resilient.

The flagship approach to supporting communities build resilience used by the Rwandan Red Cross is known as the Model Village Approach, referred to as “Agasozi Ndatwa” in the local Rwandan dialect.


Understanding the Model Village Approach as a tool to empower communities own their transformation

The Model Village approach as defined by the Rwanda Red Cross is a set of tools used to holistically mobilise the power of people in any given community to take lead in all activities aimed at addressing their most prevalent vulnerabilities.

Under the approach, Rwanda Red Cross has identified 18 villages in each of Rwanda’s 30 districts where the approach is used.

The entry point in each of the 540 villages is a vulnerability capacity assessment that is conducted by Red Cross volunteers in collaboration with local authorities and residents of the target community.

Assessing the vulnerabilities and capacity to address the existing vulnerabilities of the village helps identify priority vulnerabilities and together with the community craft most appropriate mechanisms to address them.

Speaking to Hope Magazine, Rwanda Red Cross’ Head of Technical Support Department which oversees the National Societies programmes, Pierre Claver Ndimbati, explained that through the vulnerability capacity assessment, communities are helped to ponder on their most pressing challenges.

1482920628A mother who benefited training on balanced diet shares knowledge with colleagues at a Red Cross establish village kitchen in Gisagara district2
A mother who benefited training on balanced diet shares knowledge with colleagues at a Red Cross establish village kitchen in Gisagara district.

Besides identifying priority problems to address, communities also contemplate plausible mechanisms for addressing them.

“Before conducting the initial vulnerability capacity assessment, the kinds of challenges communities mention are sometimes superficial and unfounded. But once this scientifically well thought-out exercise is conducted, they come up with priority challenges which they agree that, if dealt with, would make tremendous transformation in their households and communities at large. With priorities set, the targeted community is guided on how to use their local knowledge and once again identify plausible remedies to the identified vulnerabilities,” Ndimbati explained.

Taking average findings from most of the Vulnerability Capacity Assessments conducted across Rwanda, four priority vulnerabilities have been identified which are poor hygiene and sanitation practices and related diseases; lack of access to potable clean water; poor nutrition and related vulnerabilities; and lack of access to income.

Equally, communities have identified priority mechanisms to address the four major challenges.

For instance in addressing the hygiene and sanitation vulnerability, mobilisation on good hygiene practices, constructing latrines for very vulnerable households and mobilising on their efficient usage have been highly identified.

In addressing access to potable water, the Rwanda Red Cross has been involved in the construction of water supply infrastructure in some villages, while in places where existing water collection points had broken down, the National Society has rehabilitated them. But this is a very costly undertaking which is only tackled once resources have been secured.

On poor nutrition, mobilisation on a balanced diet has been emphasised and past evaluations attest that empowering each vulnerable household to plant a well-mixed vegetable garden is greatly yielding.

To address the lack of access to income vulnerability, most communities suggested that having livestock is a catalyst to improving in this area. The choice of livestock to be given is made by the communities themselves but over the recent past, it has become more evident that more vulnerable households prefer small livestock to big one.

These and many other strategies proposed to address priority vulnerabilities have been used in various villages across the country and exciting results have been achieved.


Model village approach in action

For instance, using this Model Village approach, the Rwanda Red Cross has implemented a community resilience project in the districts of Gakenke, Ngororero, Nyabihu, Karongi and Rutsiro over the last three years since the beginning of 2014.

This community resilience programme has been implemented over the last three years by the Rwanda Red Cross in collaboration with the Belgian Development Cooperation and the Belgian and Danish Red Cross.

The first phase of this project will come to an end with this year 2016 but there is a possibility for continuation since there are some areas that still require reinforcement such that gained ground in the development front is not lost.

Over the last three years, the project has reached some of the remotest and most inaccessible villages that had been identified by the National Society as most vulnerable, with support in the four identified areas.

Targeting 1637 most vulnerable households in the five districts, the project operates in 30 villages selected among 15 most vulnerable sectors of the five mentioned districts.

While only the selected households benefit from direct support, the project’s interventions in the 30 villages with a population of more than 5,852 households have generally strengthened the resilience of the communities.

Community mobilisations on hygiene promotion and good nutrition have been strengthened using audio-visual messages in what is known as mobile cinema. This tool uses well developed animations that tell a relatable story on a given area of focus to a community, and is accompanied by messaging from experts in the area. Given the entertainment-education nature of the tool, the mobilisations are attractive to the community and messages are easy to understand.

These mobilisations, in conjunction with several other activities, reach entire communities instead of only benefiting direct beneficiaries.

The results are evident. During a recent visit by members of the press to the district of Nyabihu, residents in Nyamitanzi Cell Jomba sector attested to how the mobilisation and sensitisation done by Red Cross volunteers have helped them change their hygiene practices.

“I thank the Red Cross particularly for the support rendered to my family in the area of hygiene and sanitation. I never used to have a latrine and thought I could not get one because the soil in this area has been affected by constant landslides, and everywhere I would try to dig a pit, it collapsed. But with the help of volunteers, I now have a latrine and my family’s hygiene has improved,” Akingeneye Marie Solange testified.

But Akingeneye is not alone. 600 improved latrines have been constructed for most vulnerable households in the targeted villages.

In this village similar to rest of the targeted 30 villages, the programme has improved access to portable water by constructing 35 improved water sources, 17 simple public tap stands, 8 water reservoirs and 5.1km of water distribution pipelines. This has tremendously reduced the distance and time household members used to take to fetch potable water.

Besides hygiene and sanitation promotion, the community resilience programme intervened in the other four major vulnerabilities as highlighted earlier.

Thus, in addressing the nutrition challenge, the Rwanda Red Cross utilised the already identified and tested strategies, enabling selected most vulnerable households in the five districts to establish vegetable gardens and giving them vegetable seeds to ensure they can plant a variety of nutritious vegetables to supplement their meals. 30 vegetable hot beds which ensure a continuous access to good quality seeds and 360 model household vegetable gardens have been created.

As a result of this mobilisation and demonstration, target villages in these districts have established over 3637 vegetable gardens which belong to not only direct beneficiaries of the project, but also other families in the community.

Mobilisation on creating vegetable gardens is reinforced by regular mass and door-to-door mobilisation on balanced diet.

1482920406After a livestock rotation event, an excited elderly man who was among beneficiaries of cattle performed a Rwandan recitation
After a livestock rotation event, an excited elderly man who was among beneficiaries of cattle performed a Rwandan recitation

To address the lack of access to income while augmenting food security, the project supported 30 cooperatives (one cooperative per village) and accompanied them in the selection of income generating activities.

Some chose pig farming while others opted for agricultural production of mushrooms, maize, tomatoes, and onions among others. These were all given support to embark on their preferred income generating activity.

Over the last three years, 1834livestock have been distributed to cooperatives and individual beneficiaries.

In order to reinforce the ideology of ownership of the transformation journey, the distribution of livestock – mostly pigs, goats, sheep and cattle – is reinforced by a rotation scheme.

Taking pigs as an example, each beneficiary signs a contract on reception of the animal obliging them to donate two piglets to the next selected beneficiary.

As a result, 911 livestock reproduced by the Red Cross distributed animals were rotated to other vulnerable people by initial beneficiary cooperatives.

But the area where the project operates from is a zone of high risk to disasters mostly landslides and floods. As a result, building resilience to disaster emergencies and reducing the risks thereof was another important element of the interventions made.

Initially, the Red Cross used existing and in some cases recruited new volunteers to establish well trained Local Disaster Response Teams (LDRT) at the sector level.

The LDRTs were then deployed to map risks within their sectors, which is has been done annually to update priorities of intervention over the past three years.

With the risk maps available, the teams together with the target communities began implementing disaster risk reduction activities, predominantly planting trees and introducing alternative sources of household energy to reduce the rate of deforestation.

More than 700,000 trees have been planted across the five districts while the use of charcoal briquettes has been introduced in all districts.

Charcoal briquettes are cooking materials that are made from household garbage mixed with soil. These have greatly reduced consumption of firewood. Cooperatives of beneficiaries have been trained in how to make the briquettes in addition to fabricating suitable energy saving stoves.

On Lake Kivu in the district of Karongi where water accidents occur, the LDRT team in the district has been equipped with a rescue boat, given sufficient training on water rescue operations in addition to providing all necessary safety equipment for the team provided.


An approach that emphasises partnership with local authorities

As enshrined in the legislations that establish them, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies operate at all times as auxiliary institutions to a nation’s public authorities at all levels.

The model village approach reinforces this relationship by ensuring that government organs at the decentralised level where it is operated are involved and have a part to play in the transformative interventions.

1482920802With a motor rescue boat and well trained volunteers equipped with all necessary gear, safety on the Karongi side of Lake Kivu against water accidents has increased2
With a motor rescue boat and well trained volunteers equipped with all necessary gear, safety on the Karongi side of Lake Kivu against water accidents has increased.

For instance in the implementation of activities under the community resilience project in the five aforementioned districts, local authorities were contributors at every stage. And such is the principle of operation in all areas where the Rwanda Red Cross intervenes.

Notably in implementing activities aimed at fighting nutrition, Red Cross actors in the villages Nutrition partnered with village Ministry of Health agents at village level and Health centres in screening malnourished children, sensitising on balanced diet and other good nutrition practices and sharing tools & materials in the course of implementation.

In water and sanitation implementations, water management committees were established and trained by Red Cross in partnership with local authorities while all sensitisation tools on good use of water resources were developed and utilised with both government and Red Cross actors.

To ensure that access to income interventions of sensitising people to work together in cooperatives yield sustainable results, formed cooperatives were recognised by local authorities (Cell and Sector levels), are supported with technical inputs from the sector veterinaries among other inputs.

Under the disaster risk reduction interventions, the Red Cross trained disaster response teams including LDRTs, Branch (district) DRTs, and National DRTs, strategic stocks of relief items were made available for use by both actors. Also, simulation exercises and commission meetings in addition to other interventions were done jointly with district authorities and Ministry of Disaster and Refugee Affairs operatives.

Emphasising why the National Society considers working together with the local authorities and involving them in every stage of implementation, Karamaga shared,

“Once we are through with the planned interventions and the results targeted at the beginning of the intervention are attained, we continue to have volunteers in the villages to monitor and support the supported households. Nonetheless, local administrators are in this phase expected to take ownership and responsibility of ensuring that what has achieved is preserved and improved. So it is not just a principle of operation but rather an obligation if transformation is to be achieved and sustained.”

The achievements garnered by this project and the employed  model village approach in the five in the course of three years is enormous in all ways, but most importantly, it has been a strong catalyst in empowering the targeted populations to be the orchestrators of their development.

  • By Hope Magazine
  • Posted 28th December 2016


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