Women living in the foothills of Volcanoes National Park are among Rwanda’s poorest. They walk over three hours per day to gather water, suffer from chronic neck and back pain, and have little time for revenue-generating activities. Children also often miss school to help with this strenuous task.
Water collection inside the park also threatens endangered mountain gorillas by introducing the risk of disease transmission and triggering habitat degradation. Gaining household water access is essential to this region.
Seeing this urgent need for local water access, Athanasie Mukabizimungu was the first to act. From her own life, spending hours a day fetching water, she knew water issues are women's issues. Mukabizimungu formed the women-led cooperative, Imbereheza Gahunga.
Meaning “better future,” Imbereheza trains cooperative members to construct household rainwater harvest tanks. Most of the work is done by women, showcasing a successful women-led model. The cooperative also prioritizes those most in need, such as low-income, elderly, and disabled families and those living closest to the park who are most likely to collect water in gorilla habitats.
Wild Earth Allies is partnering with Imbereheza Gahunga to build household rainwater harvest tanks in the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, delivering value for women, their families, and wildlife. The goal is to improve the lives of the community and reduce threats to mountain gorillas by investing in women-led water solutions.
Funding for this project delivers household access to safe water and drives economic empowerment, creates social and educational opportunities, and protects the environment. To date, 287 water tanks have been constructed, reaching over 2,000 people.
Tangible actions include:
- Benefitting 6,000 people through 700 completed water tanks.
- Decreasing the number of children missing school (reports show that 78% of children missed school before the tanks were installed).
- Increasing access to capital for sustainable agriculture through the growth of a revolving loan fund.
- Reducing the pressure on mountain gorillas by lowering human entry into Volcanoes National Park.
- Keeping three million tons of carbon stock in storage.
Imbereheza Gahunga’s model creates a high-impact, culturally aligned roadmap that other organizations can use and adapt. As the cooperative grows, it spearheads new initiatives promoting economic prosperity and education for women and girls.
This is a sustainable model Wild Earth Allies hopes will be broadly replicated, and it also substantively meets the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, targeting Gender Equality.
Hear directly from Mukabizimunguand project beneficiaries in this short video:
To support the growing programs with Imbereheza Gahunga, Florence Mukantabana has been welcomed as a Conservation Fellow. She interviews all beneficiary families to document their stories and program impacts and assists the cooperative in managing and designing current and new programming.
Through such beneficiary interviews, this project is shown to work. Hygiene and health are improved, stress and hunger are reduced, higher income is created with increased crop yields, and park entry to gather water is decreased.
In supporting Imbereheza’s vision, Wild Earth Allies additionally organized a study tour around Rwanda. They met with five community-based cooperatives showcasing a range of diversified livelihood options. These groups were especially inspired to learn about revolving loan funds launched at the end of 202 to provide access to farming capital.
Furthermore, Rwanda’s Park Management Authority plans to engage stakeholders in developing a new master management plan for Volcanoes National Park, including buffer areas and park-adjacent communities. Wild Earth Allies will be involved in this master planning process through their Conservation Advisor, Eugène Rutagarama.
Water tanks and associated community projects with Imbereheza Gahungawill be part of the future park management plan. The scaling of this project with new investment would be incredibly timely, ensuring women-led initiatives are well-featured in this master plan.