THE BLOG

How Sport Relief Cash Is Changing Lives In Rwanda

15/09/2014 00:55 BST | Updated 14/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Rwanda, the 'Land of a Thousand Hills' has luscious green peaks that stretch out as far as your eyes can see. But this beautiful scenery masks a terrible period in the country's history.

In 1994, a brutal genocide tore Rwanda apart. Thousands of families were murdered, livelihoods were destroyed and many orphans were left to take care of their brothers and sisters.

I recently travelled there to see how some of the money raised by Sport Relief and matched by the UK government is already hard at work, changing the lives of people who lost almost everything twenty years ago.

The project World Jewish Relief, which works with local partner Uyisenga Ni Imanzi, is training people to set up farming co-operatives. By working together as a group, people can grow fruits and vegetables to bulk sell at the market and generate a good income for themselves and their surviving families.

I remember watching the violence during the genocide unfold on the news but I didn't really understand the impact of it all. It's hard to imagine that while I was going about my day to day life in Norfolk at 14 years old, there were teenagers in Rwanda petrified about whether they and their families would survive to see the next day.

Travelling east of Kigali, I met 28-year-old Muhire on his rural hill-top farm overlooking one of the many valleys of Rwanda. He was only eight years old when his family were attacked in their own home during the genocide, 20 years ago.

Muhire and his family fled their home and sought refuge in a local convent. But the convent came under attack, and in the fray he was separated from his parents and six brothers and sisters. They were all killed and their bodies were dumped in toilet pits.

Muhire was taken in by surviving relatives, but he was deeply traumatised by the horrendous experiences that left him orphaned.

I can't help but compare young Muhire to my own young nieces and nephews, who are around the same age Muhire was when he was orphaned. It's utterly terrifying to think about them being in such a lonely and devastating situation. It's a thought that I couldn't shake off during my trip.

Muhire's life started to change for the better when the project found him in 2005 and provided him with emotional counselling and educational support.

He had also inherited a large plot of land from his parents, which stretched right down into the valley from the hilltop. Muhire spent all his free time trying to cultivate it.

Training from the project helped him develop his amateur farming skills, and since then Muhire has gone from strength to strength. He is now Vice-President of a local farming co-operative which produces a range of fruit and vegetables, including watermelon - a fruit so new to Rwanda that some farmers don't know what it tastes like!

Muhire has now earned enough money to go to university, where he is currently studying tourism.

Soon, he'll be able to buy a cow to provide a constant source of milk, and he plans to have an internet connection installed in his remote farm-house so that he can continue to build on his learning at university.

Muhire has achieved so much, thanks to support from the project and his own ambition and hard work. He says that if it hadn't been for this project, he'd have remained in a place of sadness, always thinking about the death of his parents. Turning his passion for farming into a profitable business has given him something to live for and succeed at.

I had no idea that coming to Rwanda would leave me so inspired by the strength of the human spirit.

I met many people like Muhire who experienced a child's worst nightmare - losing their parents and siblings. Yet they have managed to overcome their grief and improve their livelihoods by building their own profitable businesses and creating sustainable sources of income.

This project is one of many that is being helped by the money you raised for Sport Relief, and with the extra support from the UK government, thousands more people can look forward to a better future.

It's started a chain reaction. Now Muhire can hire farm-hands, meaning even more people will have a chance to better their lives. While people like Muhire they may never be able to forget the past, they can now look forward to the future.

For more information, please go to www.comicrelief.com or www.gov.uk/dfid

To watch a short film from Caroline's trip, click below.