Making Tough Choices
This blog was written by Evariste Bagambiki, and was originally published by FoodTank. To view the original blog, click here.
In Kabuga, Rwanda, as twilight settles in, farmers return home from their fields. While others go to the nearby evening market, Vital Mucyo Irasubiza, a 16-year-old student and son of a smallholder farmer, arrives home from school. Still wearing his school uniform, Vital immediately sits down in the living room and opens his notebook to study for the Rwandan national exams.
Studying after sunset was not always part of Vital’s routine. He started secondary school in 2012, and quickly realized that studying after school was going to be a major challenge.
“Teachers would often give more than two tests per day, and the probability was that I would only succeed on one of them, since there was just not enough light to review my lessons each day,” Vital says.
Each day, Vital had to make a tough choice. His classes would last until dusk, until there was barely enough remaining daylight to complete his hour-long walk home. Torn between reviewing his lessons and getting home safely, Vital would stay at school and study for as long as he could before it became too dark. But he never had enough time to fully review his lessons, and wasn’t doing well as a result.
Part of the problem lay in the fact that Vital often couldn’t find light to study by at home. To light their home, his mother, Josephine Nyinawumuntu, would use either candles or a kerosene lamp. Purchasing candles and kerosene for a week would cost her the equivalent of one U.S. dollar, which is enough to buy both lunch and dinner for most Rwandan smallholder farmers.
“Sometimes my mother would not be able to find the money for the fuel, so we would pass the whole week without light because we had to choose eating instead of lighting. Also, because my mother had to pay school fees for me, most of the time there was no light at home in the first days of the trimester, after fees were due,” Vital says.
Creating Extra Time to Study
In 2013, Josephine happened to meet a One Acre Fund field officer. She learned that if she enrolled with One Acre Fund, she would have access to agriculture trainings and high-quality fertilizer and seed on credit. She also learned that she would have the option to purchase additional add-on products on credit, and that solar lamps were one of the available add-on products.
Josephine enrolled with One Acre Fund that same year, purchasing her first solar lamp just as Vital began his second year of secondary school.
“I started that academic year full of joy. My target was to make great improvements at school since I would have light to study at home. My mother had to make sure the lamp was fully charged during the day, and then it was up to me to decide how long I needed to take for reviewing,” Vital says.
That year, Vital performed well at school and graduated to the next class in 2015. Buoyed by her son’s success, Josephine bought a second solar lamp.
November of 2015 proved a special time for Vital. Like all Rwandan students his age, he had to take national exams to qualify for continued study in his field of choice. His plan was to study mechanical engineering, but he needed high scores to qualify.
Vital was confident going into the test. “The solar lamps helped us a lot. I can review my lessons whenever it is dark, and my mother no longer buys kerosene or candles. The money that she would use for fuel is now saved for buying seed,” Vital says.
When the results came in, Vital’s score was high enough to do mechanical engineering, but he was instead selected to study carpentry at a Technical Secondary School.
"I felt happy with the results, and I am so proud. I wouldn't have gotten this higher score if I hadn't had a chance to review my lessons at night," Vital says.
With a solar lamp at home, studying is no longer a problem, but school fees are another matter. Vital is worried about his parents being able to afford the school fees to keep three children in secondary school. In spite of his worries, he’s focusing hard on his studies and staying hopeful, even after dark.