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A day in rural Rwanda

Today I am heading out to see what life is really like for rural Rwandans living in poverty.

I meet Alphonsine, 50, who lives just outside Nyanza (about two hours drive south-west of Kigali).

A typical morning

Alphonsine gets up every day at 5am to walk three hours to her shed, where she tends to her land and her cow.

Her youngest child, eight-year-old Francine, is with her this morning, wearing her blue uniform ready for school that afternoon. She tells me she wants to be a Doctor when she is older.

Alphonsine milks her cow in the morning, getting around two litres.

This would be valuable nutrition for her family, but she cannot afford to drink it herself.

Instead we walk the short distance into the village where a shop called “Happiness” buys her milk  every day for around 600 francs (less than £1).

Working the land

We spend the rest of the morning hoeing the land to free it from weeds so Alphonsine can plant beans ready for the rainy season.

It is clear that we will not be eating today, just as Alphonsine does not eat every day.

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Keeping a home

Later, when we rest under the shade of a tree, overlooking an idyllic-looking valley, green and lush, I strike up a conversation.

Alphonsine was chased out of her house by her violent husband when Francine was just a few months old.

Now she cares for Francine and her three older children, but she often can’t afford the rent on their home. Each time she misses payments, the family is kicked out.

They have been evicted eight times since 2003. Each time Alphonsine moves her family on.

She desperately wants a piece of land where she and her children can build a house.

Not enough food

But worse than that, she says her family are not getting enough food.

She leaves her cow at 6pm to make the three-hour walk home (in the dark, along winding mountain roads).

Once home, she cooks the daily family meal of beans, Irish potato, maybe a bit of maize, and then collapses from tiredness by 10pm, only to do it all over again the next day.

Women’s strength

In the afternoon we attend one of the bi-weekly meetings of Alphonsine’s cooperative: a group of around 20 women, of varying ages from their late 20s to 60s, who have suffered violence at the hands of their husbands and partners.

They meet to discuss their entrepreneurial projects, from bee-keeping to growing vegetables to sell.

I am so humbled by their strength, motivation and the power of the collective. There is teasing and laughing, as well as sadness and a few tears shed during the opening prayers.

They finish by saying thank you to us for coming to visit, when it is us that have gained so much. And they dance for us – the cow dance.

“Her name is Pretty”

The cow is revered in Rwanda – it is a sign of wealth, and the offering and drinking of milk is a ritual. The government wants every household to own a cow.

I discover that in Rwanda to be told “you have the face of a cow” is a compliment.

When I have wiped away the tears of laughter, I ask Alphonsine if her cow has a name. “Her name is Pretty,” she says, and I think to myself, she is much more than that; she is a lifeline.

This year we’re urging David Cameron to lead a big push to end hunger by naming a day when he’ll host a global hunger summit. Please join us.

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