Receiving the 2018 World Hunger Leadership Award (WHLA) from Rise Against Hunger was a strong validation of what my dad told me before he passed away a long time ago: to not give up on my dreams, whatever they are, or whatever they will be. He said,
When you believe in the beauty of your dreams, they become true.
This is so true — it is happening. The WHLA gave me extra courage to work harder, to inspire and to show people that it is possible to start from the bottom and reach your goals. I became convinced that we can all rise above our circumstances; we just can’t let them define us.
Growing up in a refugee camp and experiencing hunger was not life — it was survival. Food became a rare commodity, and life became horrific. At times, my family spent two to three days with no food, only swamp water. During those times of hardship, at age 11, I told myself that if I survived that situation, I would become an expert in agriculture to improve agriculture systems and fight hunger and malnutrition in my country. I was not sure if I would survive; I was being an optimist and dreaming big. But like my dad said about dreams, I survived, and I am now a PhD student in Agronomy-Crop Science.
I decided to follow my dreams to study agriculture and learn how I could contribute to alleviating hunger and malnutrition in Rwanda and around the world. As an undergraduate in 2012, I developed a nutrition and wellness program with a Canadian NGO called Building Bridges with Rwanda in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. We designed an improved concept of a kitchen garden that provides vegetables year-round, which was adopted and scaled out in different parts of the country.
By this time, I clearly understood the link between food security and the ability to work productively. Food security is the foundation for a productive society, and if Rwanda or any country in the world is to reach its sustainable development ambitions, feeding its people is a top priority.
Recalling the trauma of experiencing hunger in my childhood, I decided I would do whatever it took to find a solution so children and families would never be held down by a lack of nutritious food. In 2015, I developed another agricultural community development project in Rwanda in collaboration with the Sustainable Seed Systems Lab at Washington State University. We have introduced quinoa as a complete protein and climate-resilient crop to help address food and nutrition insecurity.
In 2016, I was awarded the Borlaug LEAP fellowship, allowing me to develop strong collaborations with international and in-country partners on the quinoa research project, and this has led to an expansion of the project in other countries including Uganda and Kenya, where we are working in collaboration with CIAT Rwanda and CIAT Uganda as well as Research Scientists at KALRO (the Kenyan Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization).
My vision for my continued efforts to fight hunger is to enhance mass production and availability of nutritious food in Africa, ultimately creating a food- and nutrition-secure Africa. I want to work with farmers there in a participatory manner at the community level, and help to provide tools and information for mass food production. This will enable people to be self-sufficient in food and nutrition security, as well as in agricultural economic development. I do not like to see people going through what I went through. I am inspired to make a difference, rather than to make a living, because I believe that life is not days and years; it is what you do with time and with all the goodness and grace that are inside you.
This makes me strongly believe that to make a difference, it is not what is in your pocket that matters — it is what is in your heart that truly matters.
Together we can create a world with zero hunger.