As an HIV-positive widow, Francoise understands the hardships of being a single mother while simultaneously managing to stay on HIV treatment and remain virally suppressed. When Francoise was linked to the USAID-funded Adolescents and Children HIV Incidence Reduction, Empowerment and Virus Elimination (ACHIEVE) project, her life began to change for the better. As a beneficiary of the project, Francoise received guidance and care from a case management volunteer responsible for designing a comprehensive plan of HIV preventive, care, and social services for families of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC).
As part of the OVC care plan, Francoise joined a savings group ‘Agaciro Kacu’ (which translates to ‘Our Value’ in Kinyarwanda – the native language of Rwanda) along with 24 other women. Through the savings group, Francoise became financially self-sufficient. It also led her to another life-changing opportunity – the Farmer Field School (FFS). Through a group-based adult learning approach, FFS teaches farmers agriculture techniques and how to be more resilient in the face of challenges to improve agriculture production.
"The techniques have allowed me to increase food production, which has improved our diet at home."
ACHIEVE’s implementation includes training FFS volunteers on different agricultural techniques such as crop rotation, contributing to improved production and livelihoods, and how to tackle agricultural challenges in the face of climate change. The volunteers then cascade the training to FFS members, like Francoise.
“I was taught different techniques through FFS that can be applied in kitchen gardens at home and on different plots of land, no matter their size,” said Francoise. “The techniques we have learned allow us to canalize water, fight erosion, and contribute to crop rotation while facing climate changes. The techniques have also allowed me to increase food production, which has improved our diet at home. The product harvested is then shared with other FFS members and the neighboring communities who also learn from us.”
Since joining FFS, Francoise has helped increase the efforts of FFS by volunteering to convert her plot of land at home into a demonstration plot for the FFS group. Collectively, the group planted carrots, spinach, cabbage, red onion, beetroot, and harvested product sold at 30,000 Rwf ($30) minus the product shared by the members and their neighbors. Earnings gained from the product have been reinvested into the saving’s group.
Today, Francoise works as an accountant in her saving’s group and continues to use the skills she gained through FFS to increase her food production. Through support from ACHIEVE, she has also suppressed her viral load by adhering to her antiretroviral medicine. Further, by serving as a peer educator, she has done the same for other beneficiaries of ACHIEVE, two of which she helped mentor and are now virally suppressed. Francoise hopes that her continued efforts will make a lasting difference for women like her, where they can gain the tools and knowledge to create effective financial solutions and own their future and stay virally suppressed.