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How Women's Empowerment Helps Restore Landscapes in Rwanda

by Diana Chaplin August 13, 2021 8 min read

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Kula Fellowship Combines Reforestation and Women's Empowerment in Rwanda

Between the intersection of reforestation and women's empowerment lie incredible opportunities to improve the lives of women and their families — and enact lasting change within local communities and environments. While many of our reforestation projects benefit women and communities, our Kula project in Rwanda stands out. 

Through this ongoing project, we're working with Kula to provide coffee and shade trees to three communities of smallholder coffee farmers in Rwanda. The project will provide an increase in harvest and income, empowering over 200 coffee farmers to invest in their futures and create thriving communities. Together, we've already planted 160,000 trees, and are planting an additional 150,000 trees this year. 

As we like to say, reforestation isn't just about trees — it's about improving the lives of local communities. And as part of our ongoing work in Rwanda, we're proud to unite with Planet Women to support a unique program developed by our planting partner: the Kula Fellowship. 

Learn More About the Kula Fellowship

A 15-month fellowship program led by Kula Project and supported by One Tree Planted and Planet Women, the Kula Fellowship provides industry training, business investment, and life & leadership skills in order to empower our fellows to build profitable businesses, raise healthy families, and provide an education for their children.

Women farmers are also trained by expert agronomists in tree canopy management, coffee tree and variety characteristics, soil productivity, harvesting, erosion control, weeding and waste management, composting and amendment, shade trees and more. 

Meet the Kula Fellows

Each of the 5 women involved in the Kula fellowship has a unique story to tell, but one thing they all have in common is a powerful drive to improve their lives and the lives of their families through sustainable agroforestry coffee farming. We're honored to support them in this work, and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them. 

anita Kula fellowship rwanda agroforestry

Anita Tuyishime

Anita is a young mother and brand new coffee farmer in Kayonza. She and her husband have a sweet three-year-old boy named Fabrice and are currently working together to cultivate their coffee farm of 500 coffee trees.

She told us that although the Kula Fellowship has only recently begun, she has already learned so much. Before beginning farm training, she would plant crops without knowing any of the best practices. Now, she knows how to plant properly including knowing the correct measurement of the holes, spacing between other crops, etc. She’s also learned about the importance of record keeping within her farm and business in order to monitor her farm’s success. Her relationship with the Kula Mentors and experience with personal development training so far as been focused on Self-Esteem training. While having admittedly, a struggle for her, she knows it’s a journey and looks forward to gaining more and more as she continues to grow.

Her vision for the future is to first develop herself so that she has the self-esteem and strength to move forward. Second, she dreams of paying school fees for her son throughout his education. And third, in addition to bettering her coffee business, she hopes to also own a shop to generate supplementary income in order to support herself and her family throughout the year.

louise woman empowerment Kula fellowship rwanda agroforestry

Louise Dusengiyera

Louise is a 27-year-old coffee farmer in Kayonza, the Eastern Province of Rwanda. She and her husband, Jean Damascene, have two children, Ernest and Jean Damascene. Louise is a new coffee farmer and they currently have a coffee farm with 350 coffee trees. She told us that they grow coffee because they want to change their lives, and because of the opportunity through coffee farming, they believe their business can take them to a new phase of living. She first wanted to join the Kula program when she heard that Kula provides coffee and shade tree seedlings to those who participate in the program and she thought it would be a smart way to grow her business. Now, she is so excited for all aspects of the Fellowship and is so thankful for the mentorship and training.

She and her husband told us that for those who don't have parents, like the two of them, the Kula mentors have become like parents to them. She told us she is currently working hard to develop confidence within herself because through Self-Esteem training provided by Kula mentors, she is learning that she is capable of doing anything. She is learning she is strong enough to speak in front of others and wise enough to explain what she's feeling. Louise also told us that she's learning how to be a good leader, one that cooperates with those she leads, one that accepts advice from others, and one that can lead her family closely and openly. Through agronomy training, she is currently learning record keeping and is excited to create systems in her business that allow her to actually see and record what they are gaining vs. what they have lost.

Louise said they used to work without a vision for the future, but now that has changed. She and her husband want their coffee business to thrive so that their children can also thrive. They believe a strong coffee business will allow them to pay school fees for their sons through university, and we look forward to watching them make that happen.

Theodette Kula fellowship rwanda agroforestry

Theodette Uwizeyimana

Theodette is an inspiring and bubbly single mother of three children. While her life has been anything but easy, Theodette has the most indomitable spirit. Even though her husband left when her kids were young, leaving them without a home and any form of income, she has had and continues to have a strength that moves her forward. Theodette has worked extremely hard to provide a good life for her children through growing food crops and rearing goats, and now lives in one of the nicest homes in her community.

Before starting the Kula Fellowship program this year, she received 500 coffee seedlings from Kula’s partnership with One Tree Planted in November of last year, which she has planted and is currently learning the best ways to take care of in order to ensure healthy, sustainable growth.

Theodette told us that Kula came in a time that she needed us most and she will work hard on her coffee farm to make us proud. So far, she has been very touched by the Self-Esteem training provided, and now, even though she is alone, she feels strong and confident in herself. She also expressed how happy she is to be able to spend time with other people in her community, especially after the separation of last year.

She dreams of continuing to develop herself, her household, and her family to provide a beautiful life for herself and her children through her businesses.

janet Kula fellowship rwanda agroforestry

Janet Mukamushumba

Janet is a 30-year-old coffee farmer in the Eastern Province of Rwanda and a new Fellow in our program. She is married to her husband, Everest, and they have two beautiful sons, Jovani and Gad. Her husband first heard that an organization called Kula was working with women in their community to support coffee farming businesses and immediately told Janet about the opportunity. Together, they decided that she would actively participate in the Kula Fellowship program. Janet told us that being loved by Everest is a blessing, and that they share all things and work to develop their home and their family together. So much so that Everest also attends all offered trainings with her because he is so excited about the program.

Janet has been farming coffee for three years, but neither she nor Everest have ever received any agronomy or coffee farming education. She is already so thankful to Kula's agronomist in Kayonza, Felicien, for beginning to explain coffee farming best practices to her step by step, and she looks forward to not only improving her coffee farm and business, but also growing it. She also expressed how thankful she is for the support of her mentor, Assumpta, who she felt immediately connected to. Assumpta will walk alongside Janet throughout the 15-months of this program, providing personal development training as well as one-on-on support and guidance.

At the start of the Fellowship, Janet and her family worked together to discuss their vision for life after the program and set the following goals. First, they want to grow and improve their coffee business and strengthen their passion fruit and tree tomato business. Second, because agriculture businesses tend to only produce harvest and therefore income in certain seasons, they want to create an additional side business of owning and operating a shop that will produce income throughout the year. Third, they very much want their businesses to provide education for their children. They truly want both of their sons to have the opportunity to become whatever they want to become, and they believe that starts with education. Finally, Janet has her own dream of their coffee business one day being able to support her to go back to school herself. She loves mathematics and chemistry and wants to continue learning in the future.

vestine and naomi kula fellowship rwanda agroforestry

Vestine and her husband Boniface live in Kayonza with their six children. After noticing other families in their community having a lot of success earning income through growing coffee, Vestine became motivated to grow coffee herself. She and her husband are now new coffee farmers, starting a small farm with the 270 coffee seedlings they received last November through Kula’s partnership with One Tree Planted. They are so hopeful for what this could mean for their future.

Through the Kula Fellowship, Vestine plans to drastically transform the lives of her family members. Currently, she and her husband are unable to provide the funds for all of their children to go to school, so some of them are attending school while others are not. Additionally, they currently don’t have enough money to buy land in order to grow more food crops in order to feed her entire family, so they are only eating one meal per day. Because of this, Vestine dreams of earning enough income through her business to be able to pay school fees for all six of her children and buy additional land in order to provide more nutritious food to her children. She and her husband are so motivated and excited to work hard to be able to bring these dreams to life. We are so humbled and honored to walk alongside them as they do so.

After learning the stories of each of the Kula Fellows, we're sure you're feeling just as inspired as we are. Want to support reforestation and women's empowerment in Rwanda? Plant a tree today!

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