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At dawn begins the ballet of vans and utility trucks. In the courtyard of the Solid’Africa factory, located in the Gasabo district east of Kigali, the Rwandan capital, employees carefully store bags and pots in the back of vehicles. Inside, soup, cheese, milk, potatoes. Every day, the NGO Solid’Africa distributes 2,700 meals to the most vulnerable patients in four public hospitals in Rwanda.
“Hospitalized people do not receive any meals except those brought by their families and sometimes they live far away,” explains Isabelle Kamariza, co-founder of Solid’Africa. There are restaurants around the establishments but they are often expensive. »
Isabelle Kamariza’s initiative says something about Rwanda, a country that has developed at full speed over the past decade, but remains one of the poorest in the world. A situation that has worsened the Covid-19 epidemic. “The country has made great progress in access to services and in human development indicators, writes the World Bank in an inventory published in April. But the crisis generated by the pandemic is at the origin of a severe increase in poverty. ” In 2021, estimates the institution, Rwanda, a country of 12 million inhabitants, should have 550,000 additional poor.
The meeting with “Mama Zuzu”
Today, the Rwandan population is classified into four categories, according to socio-economic criteria. In the lowest, which in 2016 represented 16% of the population, citizens have no official income. The Rwandan government covers them fully in the event of hospitalization, but no meals are served.
In the next category, each Rwandan must pay a mutual fund for an annual amount of 3,000 Rwandan francs (some 3 euros) and 10% of hospital costs. “To patients in these two categories we now provide three meals a day, welcomes Isabelle Kamariza. Social workers send us a daily list of these patients and their place of hospitalization. ”
Now 38 years old, Isabelle Kamariza was born in Burundi and studied law in Belgium. “Then I had a huge slump and an existential crisis, she remembers. I read the Bible and asked myself: “How can I help my neighbor?” By discovering the passage on the Last Judgment, I wanted to turn to the most disadvantaged and give meaning to my existence. “ She meets a homeless man of Afghan origin to whom she decides to offer a meal every day. A few weeks later, she convinces friends to do the same.
During a trip to Rwanda, her country of origin, she meets a generous woman whom everyone nicknames “Mama Zuzu”. “This is the meeting I was waiting for, remembers Isabelle Kamariza. I, who come from a wealthy background, discovered this courageous woman, from a difficult background and mother of eight children, who gave food to a hospitalized patient every day. “ Isabelle Kamariza decides to do the same. When the patient leaves the hospital, she decides to continue with another, then another, then dozens.
The project of a factory
In 2010, still in the company of “Mama Zuzu”, she founded Solid ‘(for solidarity) Africa. The two women prepare meals in their kitchen which they bring to the University Hospital of Kigali, the largest hospital in Rwanda. But they see it much bigger. Thanks to the D system and a spirit of solidarity, they manage to recover funds. They start to serve 60 meals a day then, over the months, they increase to 80 and then 160. Their kitchen then becomes too narrow.
“The idea of opening a factory came naturally”remembers Isabelle Kamariza. The municipality of Kigali provides Solid’Africa with a plot of land with a surface area of 2,600 m². To draw the plans for the factory, an architecture professor makes his students at the University of Kigali floor. It remains to find funding of around 360,000 euros. “I took my courage in both hands and went to see the first lady, Jeannette Kagame, says Isabelle Kamariza. She chairs the Imbuto foundation which aims in particular to improve the living conditions of Rwandan women. Unfortunately, she did not have such a sum at her disposal. »
A week later, drama. On an official visit to Rwanda, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, donates one million dollars to support the development of the country. “The first lady called me back to tell me that part of this money was going to be used for the construction of the Solid’Africa factory, testifies Isabelle Kamariza. And everything accelerated. “ Funders and donors, notably Turkish and American, complete the envelope which finally amounts to 510,000 euros with all the equipment.
4,350 meals distributed daily
On December 30, 2019, the factory was inaugurated: 1,200 meals were then prepared daily to feed 400 hospitalized patients. “Because we were in control of the operation, we started serving three more hospitals,” continues Isabelle Kamariza. In 2020, the arrival of Covid-19 again leads the project to change scale: “All the hospitals contacted us. In thirteen days, we were able to adapt to feed 900 patients three times a day! “
Solid’Africa now has 89 employees, from cooks to agronomists and a nutritionist, and above all 48 farmers. Because in addition to a land of 12 hectares on which are mainly produced fruit, the NGO also operates a land of 9 hectares where rice and vegetables are grown.
The association lives today thanks to about fifty members but also donations from factories, foundations … Recently, it invoices meals which are delivered to 1,650 employees of a textile factory located a few kilometers away. “Solid’Africa is not yet self-sufficient but we are getting closer, welcomes Isabelle Kamariza. In terms of production we provide 4,350 meals [2 700 dans les hôpitaux et 1 650 dans l’usine] every day of the year. “
What makes her most proud? Never missing a single day of patient delivery, even at the height of the pandemic.