“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world”. – Desmond Tutu
Do you ever feel like the connections we make in life sometimes seems like fate? The more I work in this tiny niche of social good travel bloggers, the more amazed I am by the incredible friendships and network I’ve made online. I’ve met countless inspiring bloggers and humanitarians online through blogging and social media. One such person is Maria Russo, founder of the award-wining online media platform for travel and social good, The Culture-ist and the non-profit Humanity Unified. It all happened because I follow her on Instagram where I noticed the amazing photographs her organization was posting on women and girls during a trip to Rwanda.
I commented on the photos and began a relationship online that resulted in an interview and a post on her and her husband Anthony’s work as the founders of Humanity Unified. I was instantly drawn to Maria and Anthony’s passion for making the world a better place by starting at the grassroots level by improving the lives of women and girls in Rwanda. I have been working with Maria ever since.
This past International Women’s Day (on March 8th), I held a fundraising dinner to support Humanity Unified and I was elated by the results. In one night, we raised over $400! Although that may seem like a small amount to you and me, in Rwanda that money goes a long way. Roughly 70 % of Rwandans are substance farmers who rely on their harvests for income and with unpredictable weather, environmental disasters and climate change, a good or bad harvest can make a tremendous difference. Humanity Unified is trying to change this reality by empowering rural communities to rise out of poverty through education, food security projects and economic opportunities. They start by investing in women.
Since 2015, Humanity Unified has been working in Rwanda with their partner Aspire Rwanda, a local NGO that empowers poor women to rise above poverty. The two organizations share similar missions dedicated to poverty alleviation through education, food security projects and economic opportunities.
Currently, the organization is empowering 110 women through a farming cooperative project that will ensure each woman earns a self-sustaining, livable income after completing a one-year intensive educational program.
The program provides the women with the skills and knowledge necessary to triple the cooperative’s yields over the course of one year. The 100 women enrolled in the cooperative, most of whom earn less than a dollar per day, are also attending workshops on gender-based violence, women and children’s rights, nutrition, positive masculinity (which includes male partners) and workshops designed specifically for single and widowed women. The program also provides training in cooperative management, financial planning and effective agriculture methods.
The cooperative project is having an incredible impact on the beneficiaries who now understand their rights as women, wives, and mothers. The women are also learning how to be leaders in managing the needs of the 25-hectare farm to ensure that yields increase dramatically over the coming years.
The Rwandan genocide caused deep divides among the Hutus and Tutsis, so employing the cooperative model to bring women from different ethnic backgrounds together to work towards common goals resulting in financial benefit is a win-win. This type of structure creates tolerance, compassion, and a sisterhood among the women enrolled.
A small team from Humanity Unified went back to Rwanda this past February to visit the women and produced a mini-documentary called “The Story of Us”, which depicts the lives of a group of women farmers in Rwanda who are survivors of the genocide and are fighting together to overcome the traumas and poverty in a post-conflict era. The team gives an intimate account of how humanitarian work has changed their lives and the lives of the communities they work with.
Take a look at the short documentary here (you can click to enlarge and view on YouTube):
Spring is in the air and come June a new batch of vegetables will be harvested. This will be the first time the women planted a variety of vegetables with the support of an agronomist. I look forward to hearing an update from Maria after the harvest.
If you would like to learn more about Humanity Unified, click here.