By Matt Leffingwell, ONE Government Relations Director
In 2006, Rwanda was a country in the middle of a global health crisis.
HIV/AIDS was one of Rwanda’s most formidable challenges following the genocide. Having HIV/AIDS meant being admitted to the hospital, and most who were diagnosed were simply waiting to die. There were multiple children forced to share hospital beds and inadequate access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs).
Nearly ten years later, the narrative has changed and Rwanda today is not only a success story in our progress to end HIV/AIDS on the continent—but we are winning in hunger and energy, as well!
Just a couple of weeks ago, ONE met up with Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and a bipartisan group of members of both the House and Senate to show them how minimal U.S. investments in Rwanda have dramatically changed that country’s story.
Our day with Senator Coons started at a hospital in Kigali that had seen the devastating impact that HIV/AIDS had 10 years prior. Today in the children’s ward of the hospital, children were only inpatient for the chronic ailments that accompany HIV/AIDS, such as diabetes. In many cases, what we saw were children able to live their lives, grow up to have their own families, and who have released themselves from the shackles of a disease that was a death sentence just 10 years ago.
U.S. investments through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund mean the hospital is a no longer a place of despair, but a place of hope!
The day eventually took us to a solar facility an hour outside of Kigali, where a solar field constructed in the shape of the continent of Africa sparkled in the sun.
Several years ago, a neighboring school established for orphans from the 1994 genocide provided the land to an American company to construct the solar field. With an investment of more than $20 million dollars from development finance entities including OPIC, the profitable solar field is proving to be a critical investment that will return a profit to the American taxpayer.
The energy collected from the solar facility provides more than 8 percent of Rwanda’s electrical grid capacity and is an important part in ending energy poverty in Rwanda, where 80 percent of the population is still without electricity.
The Rwandans we met throughout the day repeated that access to energy remains one of the biggest hurdles to development and prosperity there.
At a small farm where a woman has built a life for herself by working with Feed the Future, she was able to install a simple biofuel system at her home that—from cow manure—is able to provide 24-hour electricity and cooking gas inside her home. For her, the days of dangerous indoor fires are in the past. Feed the Future has transformed the lives of many of the farmers we met throughout our journey.
Through the knowledge of USAID staff, in partnership with Minnesota-based Land O’ Lakes Company, one farmer was able to increase her milk production and increase her income from $90 dollars to $180 dollars a month! This has allowed her to hire staff and send her kids to school. The skills being taught are sustainable and have opened the door to opportunity and progress for those Rwandans living outside of Kigali.
Sign the petition and support the Electrify Africa Act, then read more about the momentum in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other preventable and treatable diseases.