Life and loss in Rutaka
After days of torrential rain in March 2008, the Nyagako River had burst its banks. Linking the two communities on either side of the valley were two logs. In their shadow resided the skeleton of a concrete bridge that had previously been washed away. Such is the force of the flash flooding in the steep catchment.
Innocent Rurangwa was 22 years' old when he was washed off the makeshift log bridge. His body was never found. He left behind a newly born child and wife. Innocent was attempting to cross the river with his brother-in-law to tend to crops. Only his brother-in-law returned from the crossing that day.
His story was told by his elder brother Pascal who asked him to tend to the crops that day. A guilt he expressed:
"Sometimes one can have great sorrow. To reduce the burden I will share this sorrow. This is why I am happy to share this story of my brother."
The images and text presented are from an interview completed with Pascal as part of a bridge build with the non-profit organisation Bridges to Prosperity. Bridges to Prosperity aim to end rural poverty by building footbridges in communities that are isolated from essential services during the wet season.
Rwanda is referred to as the Land of a Thousand Hills. Rutaka Valley is a typical rural Rwandan landscape. Defined by a mosaic of crops and terraces, the Nyagako River cuts its way through the valley leaving an extensive floodplain in places. A constant reminder of the transformation of the landscape during the wet season.
Life in Rutaka
Following an initial discussion with Pascal he extended an invitation into his home where we were offered banana juice from a jerry can. Pascal and his wife live in a single room adjoined to a courtyard which has a pen for their cow. Scripture is written above the doorway to the single room.
During discussions in the sole room, he expressed sorrow for his brother, but also highlighted the ongoing yearly struggle brought by the wet season. He stated that he loses approximately 100kg of various crops during the wet season by not being able to cross the river to maintain his crops.
With the building of the bridge he hopes to harvest an additional 100-150kg each year which he will sell at market. This additional income will help to fund his grandchildren's education.
"I am very happy for the building of the bridge. If my grandchildren study engineering maybe they will contribute to other communities in this way"
Tragedies such as the passing of Innocent are common in communities throughout the developing world. In the period 2013 to 2016 four people have died attempting to cross the Nyagako River in Rutaka. In June 2017, Bridges to Prosperity worked with a team of 10 volunteers from the UK, Bridges to Prosperity in-country team and community members to build a footbridge which will rectify this problem.
As conversations closed, Pascal requests a number of photos. He puts on his sole suit jacket and has a number of photos with his wife, sister and grandchildren. Photos from this visit were printed and returned to the family.
As we exit Pascal's home, we pass by Innocent's abandoned house. It sits unattended on a plot overlooking the valley.
As we head further down the valley the hum of activity from the construction site of the new bridge grows louder. As the structure takes shape, discussions with Pascal fresh in mind gives light to the significance of the new bridge.
*Consent from Pascal and Elizabeth was obtained to share this story and images of them and their family