The title of this story is a statement of one of the group members when he was trying to describe the long and hard journey they traveled after attending sociotherapy. I was very happy for the pride they have related to what they achieved after struggling a lot.
These two ladies are members of the cooperative
The cooperative “ABITANAHO Mvura Nkuvure”, is located in Muhanga district, Cyeza Sector, Nyarunyinya cell. It has 7 members, four men and three women. After graduating from sociotherapy in 2014, it was very difficult for them to separate. They feared that they could go back in isolation that they lived in before joining sociotherapy. Therefore, they decided to stay together and keep on meeting. One of the group members had the land which was unused because she had no one to help her. This land was full of couch grass which was also discouraging her. When seated on that green land near the river, sharing again experiences of their lives and from sociotherapy, the idea of exploiting that land came. They started growing vegetables on that land. “When I was alone, I had failed to use this land. It was full of couch-grasses. We put together our efforts and we achieved what I could not have achieved alone” the land owner said. Though they had an economic development idea in mind, the key goal was “keeping themselves together”.
After noticing that vegetables were less profitable, they got a new idea of growing banana trees on the same land. They tried first two different types of banana trees and they grew up well. In this pilot phase, too much sunshine affected the two kinds of banana trees and they decided to water them and they won.
After harvesting two big bananas from the two first trees, they decided to grow both types on that land. At the beginning, they had many challenges like the hardness of the land, and not everyone could get appropriate hoes but they decided to borrow from each other, which was difficult for them. Another challenge they faced was to get fertilizers since the land needed to be fertilized; but they worked together to overcome those challenges. Everybody had to bring a basket of composts the day of cultivating. The good looking of the plantation and the first harvest from it proved that everything is possible when people put together. They decided to buy new hoes to every group members to be used not only in the shared plantation but also in their personal fields. They also bought much manures and banana mulch to increase the fertility of the land and extended the cultivated land. The remaining amount of money was used to pay the health insurance (Mutuel de santé) for the group members and their families.
After extending the plantation, they also started intercropping bananas with tomatoes. Today, they can get a lot from their plantations. When they meet every Thursday, they estimate value to all bananas so that anyone who gets a customer can sell it at the agreed prices. The plantation keeps them together and they continuously solve together problems one of the group members may face. When one of the group members need a banana to feed the family, s/he can get it and pay when s/he gets money. When I was leaving them, one of the women who had attended that day approached me and showed me her husband with whom they are cultivating together in the cooperative. “You cannot understand how much we used to fight with my husband before joining sociotherapy but today we are cultivating together in this cooperative. People do not understand what happed. I am very happy today because I am no longer beaten. We do everything together”.
The production also helps them to sustain the principle of “Caring” they learned in sociotherapy. When someone is sick, they take one banana to his/her home as the support. When one has a ceremony, they do the same but everybody also brings his/her personal contribution. The impact was also extended to the neighbors. One of the neighbors who observed what they achieved, decided to learn from them since he did not think that they could have such an amazing banana plantation on the hill. They decided to coach and plant for him banana in his land. They have now designed and signed a contract of using the land between the cooperative and the family owning the land. They also have some internal regulations. Though they still have some challenges like shortage of manures, knowledge on cooperative management, and tools to transport manures like wheelbarrows, they plan to buy the cooperative’s land and domestic animals that can help get enough manures.
Story by Diogene Karangwa (Sustainability and Evaluation Officer Muhanga)