When Agnes was a child, only around one in ten families had a toilet in Gitwa. “Everyone used to go anywhere and it caused flies to go on our vegetables,” she remembers. “Diseases would attack the families and people were dying. Mostly kids. At one point, up to five children a month.”
One of the barriers to building a toilet was the cost. “Nobody knew how to make bricks back then. Bricks were a luxury. Those who were poor couldn’t afford them. This is why we didn’t have a toilet.”
But in Agnes’ recollections of the past, what looms largest is the genocide. Agnes was in her early forties, and married with two children, at the time. “We hid indoors. We didn’t go anywhere.” The consequences of the brutality are still apparent. “It is mainly women who are left,” she says. Genocide widows in Gitwa include her sister and a neighbour. Neither have remarried. But out of that chaos has come change.
“Many things are improved,” says Agnes. For example, the roads, “Now if somebody is sick we call a motorbike to take them to hospital.” There is also more practical and emotional support.
“Before the genocide we used to travel long distances to find someone to solve our problems. The administration and leaders were very far away. But now, any time we need something, the leaders are here.”
Agnes, herself, was widowed around ten years ago, and since then the community has rallied around to build her a new home and for the first time in her life, a toilet.
“I am very happy because I can sleep without rain leaking and I don’t have to go and collect grass every morning to put on top of the roof,” she says. The roof of her toilet is also made from corrugated iron. “I didn’t have a say in the design,” she says, “I’m just grateful it’s there. It’s not easy as a widow, but the community helps a lot. I am grateful.”
She has a pension, and her granddaughter for company (Agnes’ older daughter has remarried, and Diane, her daughter from a previous relationship, chose to live with Agnes).
All that she’s missing is a shower. “I always wait until night to wash, because I have to do it in the open.”
1/4 Agnes Muhishire’s toilet. The community rallied round and built it for her.
“Up to five children were dying a month.”
2/4 Agnes describes the reality of living without clean water and decent toilets.
3/4 Agnes Muhishire is a widow, she has two daughters, and lives with her granddaughter, Diane, 11.