Gaining Perspective

I’ve always been aware that I live in a little bubble here in Rwanda. Although Peace Corps seeks to integrate its volunteers into the community as much as possible and have them adopt a lifestyle comparable to their local counterparts, there are still many differences between the life of Peace Corps Volunteers and their neighbors.  I have my Peace Corps stipend to pay for day-to-day expenses. My school has reliable electricity and somewhat consistent running water in a sink in my bedroom. I have my computer and use the internet every day. After dinner I’ve lately been sucked into watching hours of the West Wing.

Although there is poverty all round me, my life is very cushy compared with my neighbors who live just outside the school gates. I was recently directed to some government publications, detailing a variety of statistics in each district and comparing them to the national average. I spent this evening fascinated by the reports’ findings. I decided I would summarize the information with you so that you get a glimpse of what life is really like here on the ground.

Before I get to the statistics on my district, here is a quick comparison of Rwanda and the United States in general based on information from the CIA World Factbook.

Rwanda                                                      United States

Total area: 26,338 sq km                             Total area: 9,826,675 sq km

Population: 12,012,589 people                     Population: 316,668,567 people

GDP per capita: $1,400                               GDP per capita: $49,800

Population below poverty line:                       Population below poverty line:
44.9%                                                         15.1%

Population growth rate: 2.7%                        Population growth rate: 0.9%

Birth rate: 35.49 births/1,000 pop.                 Birth rate: 13.66 births/1,000 pop.

Maternal mortality rate:                                 Maternal mortality rate:
340 deaths/100,000 live births                       21 deaths/100,000 live births

Infant mortality rate:                                      Infant mortality rate:
61.03 deaths/1,000 live births                       5.9 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 58.85 yrs                 Life expectancy at birth: 78.62 yrs

Total fertility rate:                                          Total fertility rate:
4.71 children/woman                                      2.06 children/woman

Source for Rwanda                                         Source for United States

The statistic here that jumped out at me the most is the maternal mortality rate: 340 deaths compared to 21 deaths per 1,000 women. This past Saturday, I had a long conversation with my friend Donatha about maternal care in Rwanda. Each village has three community health organizers, and Donatha is the maternal health worker for her village. She shared some really interesting information, and I hope to write more about our discussion soon.

After that brief comparison of Rwanda and the US, I wanted to break down some of the numbers for my district of Ngororero. This information was provided by the National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda based on information collected between 2010 and 2011.

Households that use an improved drinking water source: 63.7%

Households that live within 15 minutes walking distance of an improved water source: 36%

Houses that have an earthen floor: 93.8%

Households that use electricity as the main source of light: 0.4%

Households that own a mobile phone: 40.4%

Average time it takes to walk to primary school: 32.1 minutes

Average time it takes to walk to a health center: 64.5 minutes

Households that have one savings account: 30.6%

Employment rate for people over 16 years of age: 92.7%

People over 16 years of age who work as independent farmers: 72%

Households that raise livestock: 81.1%

People over six years of age who have received some amount of schooling: 81.1%

Literacy rate for people over 15 years of age: 63.8%

Computer literacy rate: 1.2%

Percentage of people with a major disability: 4.4%


These statistics also astounded me. In over half of the topics named in the report, Ngororero District ranked in the bottom five out of all the districts in the country. In many of these indicators, Ngororero fell below the national average.

Learning about this information further proved to me how different my lifestyle is from that of everyone around me. I know I live much differently from the rest of my village, but I also believe my village is generally better off than many other villages in the rest of this district. My village has a small health center, several schools, and a large catholic church with many nuns and priests. I am located within easy access to a paved road, so there is much more traffic in and out of my village.

This new-found insight has definitely put things into perspective for me. I feel so grateful for my many amenities here at site and our countless blessings that we too often take for granted back in the States.

2 thoughts on “Gaining Perspective

  1. Steve and I recently had dinner with a PCV from our generation – she finds it interesting that you guys now have cell phones, computers and West Wing! In her day it was much tougher to communicate with the outside world and family. Great to hear from you! Much love- Aunt Alison XOXOXOX

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