Idjwi is the 2nd largest inland island in Africa, it is home to approximately 260,000 people and to most, it looks like paradise. While I was there I took at least 500 photos, just of the different mesmerizing views. The people of Idjwi are extremely friendly, happy and open. And to the common eye, this island may seem like true paradise. But there is more than meets the eye.
Despite the rich soil and the mountains being packed with minerals, such as tungsten and tin, the conditions are very tough. 82% of the Idjwi population lives on less than a dollar a day, malnourishment is continuous battle especially amongst the children. The families are large and only of few of the children get the chance to go to a overly crowded school.
But, it doesn’t have to be like this.
About 18 months ago, Falling Whistles started working with a Idjwi coffee cooperative called CPNCK. During the time, CPNCK was organized of about 100 farmers who hoped that one day they could start selling coffee on the open market instead of risking their lives while smuggling the coffee to Rwanda. By working with us this past year and a half we have helped CPNCK through this process. We have also provided the funding for them to get started filling containers of coffee to bring to the market. So far, two containers of conflict free coffee have been exported, and one more is on it’s way. The goal for next year is 6 containers!
These numbers may seem small but for the Idjwi community they are huge because getting a fair price for the coffee grown on the island will have a significant and long lasting impact. Not only will it keep the farmers safe from smuggling but it will help shift the financial climate on the island.
During my visit to Idjwi, I was able to meet up with CPNCK to do some productive training sessions and business planning. I also was able to visit the coffee farms and the new washing stations that were being built. The washing stations are used to help increase the quality of the coffee produced. This is essential because the higher the quality then the higher the price for the same amount of work. It was exciting to see how far along CPNCK has come and to see Gilbert, the Congolese who runs the cooperative, continue to do a great job.
The continuous smuggling to Rwanda has played a significant role in the widowing of many women on the island. Men experience extensive danger while smuggling to Rwanda, the water itself can be very dangerous and even if the men are to make it over, it has been known that many times the buyer on the other side may kill these men to take the coffee rather than buy it from them. My eyes were opened to these dangers of smuggling after my visit with Mama Katanbara, a Congolese widow who emphasized the fact that life on the island is hard enough as it is but it gets much harder once you become a widow.
After spending some time on the island with individuals such as Gilbert the coffee cooperative manager and Mama Katanbara, one thing was made prevalent to me; that even through all the hardship and heartache, Idjwi still has a sense of community. We, here at Falling Whistles, are always talking about the importance of community, but instead of talking about it, these Congolese individuals in Idjwi are living it out each day. Each day these individuals realize that their faith and own survival is directly connected to the people they are surrounded by. They understand the concept of teamwork and how it all makes sense for them to work together for the common good.
I was truly inspired by the people I got to connect with on the Idjwi island and I can’t wait to work further with the widows, the coffee makers and the community. See you soon, Idjwi.