PhD Candidate in the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience tells us about his research and community work in Rwanda.
My name is Gerard Nyirimanzi; I am an educator, poet and community worker in Rwanda. I chose to study for my PhD at Coventry University because of its diverse staff and student body and the groundbreaking research carried out. I will be starting my PhD in January 2021 in the Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience, working with Dr Geraldine Brown who will be my Director of Studies. I am looking forward to the journey ahead.
Research aims and objectives
My doctoral research aims to identify effective ways of building resilience and response to food-related crises. My specific objectives are to:
1) Contribute to food security and nutrition of the (Rwandan/African) population by building resilient food systems.
2) Identify core traditional values employed by communities and their use in responses to food-related crises
3) Consider how cultural values can be used to address complex issues such as genocide consequences, protection of the environment, climate change etc., in addition to food security issues.
Wanting to make a difference to Rwandan Society
I see my work as a way to support decision-makers, disaster-prone communities, national governmental and non-governmental actors and international agencies including donors. The desired outcome is to strengthen resilience and response to crises, be they natural or man-made, mainly using cultural values and customs that foster resilience. The project is interested in identifying innovative ways to build resilience, and reducing the human and economic costs of crises, using new and traditional ways of working.
The originality of this research is its aim: to better understand how communities in Rwanda, who are affected by the combined effects of political, climate and environmental changes (population, urbanization), can build resilience drawing on new and traditional human resources.
Why this is an important area of study
Since the end of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans have embarked on a journey to build a strong nation for the present and future generations at all costs. Rwanda is said to have the most compelling turnaround story in Africa (Taiwo in New Africa, 2018). This study will highlight components of one of the most important aspects, traditional values, and help to demonstrate how they can serve as the basis for sustainable development. It will highlight if and how traditional values can be used to solve not only common challenges faced in Rwanda but also more complex issues such as; protection of the environment and gender-related issues.
Rwanda is viewed as the most successful country in post-conflict development, economic progress, reconciliation and women empowerment after the Genocide against Tutsi (African Development Bank, 2014). Between 2010 and 2011, Rwandan GDP reached a record 8.2% and the poverty rate dropped by 57% with over a million Rwandans pulled out of poverty (Taiwo, op. cit,). The reasons for the significance of cultural values are complex; there are no clear explanations for, and convincing arguments in favour of prioritizing cultural values in the development processes (Chandima, 2010). There is research that shows that resilience and protective factors have increased by 85 per cent, and cultural values have played an important role.
This research highlights how cultural values have been important in supporting children of mothers diagnosed with severe mental illness, families confronted with chronic illness and families experiencing an economic decline in the Midwest (Tebes, et al 2010 Carver, Smith, Antoni, Petronis, Weiss, & Derhagopian, 2005, Conger & Conger, 2002). Yet, the role of cultural values and the ways minority cultures use cultural values as mechanisms of resilience is an area that remains under-examined (Merranda Romero Marin and Enedia Garcia Vazquez, 2012). I want my work to fill this gap by examining how, in Rwanda, cultural values and traditions serve as a mechanism of resilience.
Rwandans are characterised as community-oriented people. Adekunle (2007) argues this is visible in social customs and family life, where interpersonal relations are the pillar of community life. There is a need to understand how individuals and communities transform Rwanda from trauma, how they have reinvent themselves, reconfigure their identity and self-processes, and forge new patterns of living with a sense of integrity, well-being, and wholeness’ (Wilson 2006, 421). Indeed, as Hoshmand (2007) states, more work needs to be done on assessing resilience at group and community levels. Alongside other (Paderta and Zakwoski (2008); Ward and Eyber (2009)), have pointed out the strong protective factors within Rwandan culture that contribute to Rwanda’s reconstruction. Zraly and Nyirazinyoye (2010) used ethnographic methods to show how the Rwandan virtues of kwihangana (withstanding), kwongera kubaho (living again), and gukomeza ubuzima (continued life and health) promoted resilience in a Rwandan organisation for survivors of rape. This study continues that line of research investigating resilience in Rwanda, in particular, resilience within the context of food systems and sustainable development.