From a Refugee Facing Hunger - To a Student Learning To Fight It

Zero Hunger is ambitious, but it’s achievable. Working together, we can help change people’s lives for the better, and we can reach our goal of ending hunger by 2030. Today, we’re sharing some of the success stories that prove that we can help create a brighter future not just for individuals, but for the world.

Cedric Habiyaremye, 29, has big dreams. As a graduate student at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, he’s researching crops that will help improve nutrition and make farming systems more sustainable. There’s a reason he’s making this his life’s work, and it all began two decades ago when he was a young boy in Rwanda

A new life as a refugee

Cedric was eight years old and about to enter second grade when the genocide in Rwanda began in 1994, forcing his family to flee home. He headed for a refugee camp in Tanzania with his mother and older brother. They were separated from his father, but they met up with him three weeks later. Over the next three years, his family lived in three different camps in Tanzania.

The Rwandan genocide was the mass killing by the Hutu-led government of up to 800,000 people, primarily of the Tutsi minority. Lasting about 100 days, the genocide began in the capital city of Kigali and spread quickly to the rest of the country. Millions of people like Cedric, who prefers not to say what ethnic group his family belonged to, were displaced during the conflict.

Refugee life was different from what Cedric was used to. In Rwanda, his parents both earned an income, his father as a pharmacist and his mother as a social worker, but their stability was ripped away when they had to leave their home behind.

The family had little access to food at first. “We started looking in the forest to take any green thing and try to boil it to survive,” Cedric says. But humanitarian organizations like the World Food Programme soon began delivering assistance.

“As kids, when we saw the WFP trucks, we began to sing, ‘WFP, WFP, WFP,’ full of joy and happiness..."

At left, Cedric is pictured with his brother in 1993. At right, Cedric is pictured with his mother and brother in 2012. Cedric is on the left in both photos. (Photos courtesy Cedric Habiyaremye)

Cedric’s family received food from WFP, including corn flour, beans and oil. “WFP saved me and impacted my life. Without WFP’s assistance, I am not sure I would be alive today,” he says. “Thanks to the support we received from WFP staff, I am well and my family in Rwanda is safe and sound.”

These WFP food deliveries helped make life in the camp somewhat better. “As kids, when we saw the WFP trucks, we began to sing, ‘WFP, WFP, WFP,’ full of joy and happiness because we knew that the food was coming, and we would have something to eat,” he says. “The importance of your work will be forever remembered in the lives of the people you are saving.”

A difficult return home

In July 1997, Cedric’s family returned to Rwanda, but it was not the stable environment they expected. His father was killed shortly after they returned, and access to food remained difficult. “I recall times we spent more than two days without food. It wasn’t a life. It was survival,” he says. Cedric and his family continued to depend on WFP food assistance for the following year as they got back on their feet.

Though Cedric felt hopeless, his mother encouraged him and his brother to dream big and pursue an education. It was then that Cedric set a goal to study agriculture, so he could help fight hunger by teaching people to make the most of their land. “I decided that as a personal mission, I would do whatever I could to find solutions so that children and families would never be held down by lack of food,” he says.

Changing his life through education

Cedric went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Engineering and Environmental Sciences with a double major in Soil and Water Management from the University of Rwanda College of Agriculture, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Medicine. During his undergraduate studies, he began working for a local community organization called Building Bridges with Rwanda. The organization worked on a joint internship with Washington State University.

The program built an ecological latrine to turn waste into organic fertilizer, a food dehydrator to help in post-harvest preservation, and two types of compost systems. This experience helped open doors for Cedric, leading him to receive a scholarship to pursue a graduate degree at Washington State University.

In 2013, Cedric helped build kitchen gardens with Building Bridges with Rwanda. (Photo courtesy Cedric Habiyaremye) 

Prior to moving to the United States for graduate school, Cedric also worked as an intern and field assistant for another development organization called Good Neighbors Rwanda. During this time, the organization worked on a community development project supported by WFP and the Republic of Korea that helped local farmers improve their assets through things like land terracing.

Today, Cedric is wrapping up his graduate studies in crop science at Washington State University and beginning a doctoral program. His research is on the production of five crops — amaranth, barley, millet, quinoa and teff — to enhance human health and improve food systems. These studies are taking him even closer to reaching his goals.

“My goal is to work with the community, mostly those in developing countries, to help them become self-sufficient by giving them skills and educating them on mass production in agriculture,” he says.

Cedric is pictured studying quinoa in 2014. The crop is one of the main focuses of his research at Washington State University. (Photo courtesy Cedric Habiyaremye) 

Cedric’s mother and brother still live in Rwanda. Like Cedric, his brother, now 30, is making his own impact on the world as a pharmacist with Partners in Health. When he completes his studies, Cedric plans to return to Rwanda or somewhere else in Africa where he can help people improve their lives.

“I don’t want to see anyone else starving or struggling,” he says. “I want to work where people need my help.”

One Future, #ZeroHunger

Thanks to WFP food assistance, Cedric has built a bright future for himself – and his research has the potential to improves the lives of countless others. In ending hunger, we can help people like Cedric not just survive, but thrive. Help us achieve our goal of Zero Hunger by 2030. Visit our Zero Hunger page and be a part of a movement that secures the world a better future.