Sylvester the Beekeeper

Meet my new friend, Sylvester. As you can probably guess by the honey comb in his hand, Sylvester is a beekeeper.

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Sylvester began tending his first hives in 1969 while was living with his family in Uganda. However when war broke out under Idi Amin in 1978, he was forced to return home to Rwanda. Ever since, he’s been here keeping bees and caring for his countless hives dotting the Rwandan hillsides.

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Just by looking at Sylvester, you wouldn’t easily guess how successful his business is. His quaint house is tucked away down a dirt path on a small patch of land overlooking the river.  It’s so peaceful and quiet; all you can hear are birds chirping and bees buzzing.

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Every year Sylvester’s bees produce 600kg, about 1,323lbs, of honey, which he sells for 2,000RWF per kilogram. That totals almost $2,000 a year.

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Rwandan beehives don’t look much like the beehives we’re used to seeing in America. Instead of rectangular, white boxes, Rwandan hives are long and circular. The inside is made of twigs woven together, which are then covered in banana leaves. When they are tucked up in a tree, they blend in with the foliage, but if I look carefully, I can spot them around my site.

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Sylvester currently has 76 hives, spread out across his property and other fields around the area. A few years ago, he sold a huge number of hives and is slowly increasing his numbers. In two years, he hopes to increase his production to include 1,000 hives in all.

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As Sylvester showed me around, I asked how he keeps from getting stung. He only has a beekeeper’s hat to protect his face, but he assured me it’s not a problem. He explained that his bees know him and allow him to open the hives without incident. However if a stranger approaches them alone, the bees will become very agitated.

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Today I only had a short visit with Sylvester, but I really enjoyed it. I told him when Dad comes to visit, we’ll have to come back for a better visit. I’m sure Dad will have all sorts of questions to ask. And he’s promised to share some honey the next time he harvests!

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