By Matthew Rwahigi, Rwanda Red Cross

Hundreds of families whose homes and sanitation facilities were badly damaged during heavy storms in April are rebuilding a safer community with support from the Rwanda Red Cross.

During a rapid assessment following the storms, the Rwanda Red Cross identified 135 badly-damaged households in the eastern Gatsibo district.  Vulnerable families were supported with relief goods and psychosocial support.

Assessments showed the community’s problems went further than the storm damage – there was an acute lack of sanitation infrastructure, particularly latrines, raising the risks of cholera and other waterborne diseases.

Response for resilience

The Red Cross decided that its disaster response should go hand-in-hand with a programme to equip the most vulnerable households with a standard latrine, to improve health conditions and build resilience ahead of Rwanda’s second rainy season.

However, funding constraints meant that only 105 latrines could be provided, for a community of 811 families. So, a new strategy was developed with the local authorities – in consultation with affected families – to provide roofing so that community members could dig and build their own latrines.

In August, the Rwanda Red Cross distributed 1,622 iron sheets and 270kg of nails to create latrine roofs for the 811 households.

Angelique Murungi, Rwanda Red Cross’ Disaster Management Coordinator, said that volunteers and staff were also increasing their community preparedness work to ensure vulnerable families know how to stay safe during the next rainy season.  “As well as trying to support with relief and recovery materials, we are also working hard to share good disaster preparedness practices that can prevent such devastations,” she said. “For example, we are using mobile cinemas to screen messages to change mindsets and equip the community with information that can reduce their risks in the future.”

From recipients to volunteers

Maria Nyirambonimpaye, one of the villagers helped by the project, said: “The Red Cross came to our aid at the moment we needed them most. This has made me resolve to become a member of the Red Cross and to support my National Society in its efforts to support fellow Rwandans who are devastated by disasters and other challenges.”

Jean Bosco Butera, another recipient of the support, also spoke of his intention to become a volunteer with the National Society, adding that the community sensitization work had encouraged him to become an environmental protection advocate. “I have planted 70 trees since the disaster and I will continue planting and advocating for their protection,” he said.

The Rwanda Red Cross continues to seek financial support to extend its efforts within the community ahead of the next rainy season.